HUBERT BAUCH, The GazettePublished: Tuesday, February 06, 2007
"So did you ever hear of Herouxville before this?" asked Carole Casabin, who's tending bar at Pub 842, a convivial watering hole just down the main street from the town hall.
"No? I didn't think so. But a lot of people have heard of us now."
And so they have. Little Herouxville, a village of 1,300 in Quebec's Mauricie region, has been in the news worldwide since its town council adopted a set of standards aimed at immigrants, spelling out what is acceptable comportment in the municipality and what is not.
What grabbed the most attention is that the list includes a specific prohibition against stoning women in public and burning them alive and an interdiction against face covering, except at Halloween - measures clearly aimed at Muslims, even though the town is almost entirely old-stock Quebec francophone and there isn't a single Muslim resident.
Andre Drouin, the town councillor who instigated the measure, raised the ante on the weekend when he appeared on a popular Quebec TV talk show and called on the provincial government to declare a state of emergency to protect Quebec culture from distortion by foreign pressures.
The Herouxville initiative has elicited considerable support, but has also exposed the town to ridicule from others.
Yesterday, Premier Jean Charest, reacting to Drouin's latest sortie, said the furor has gone too far and is provoking dangerous excesses in the current debate in the province over what accommodations for immigrants are reasonable in Quebec society.
Drouin, however, was unrepentant at a council meeting last night, where the council unanimously stood by the initiative and called on Charest to take action on setting rules for immigrants that would apply to the whole province.
"It's what the people want," Drouin said.
"There are 95 per cent of people in Quebec who want this. Now it's up to him to act."
Drouin said he has received hundreds of supportive phone calls from residents and more than 5,000 emails from all over.
He insisted Herouxville is not an isolated case.
"It's a world problem.
"What we did seems to have pulverized the planet. We took a decision and the planet is surprised. All we're doing is standing up and saying this is who we are."
The Muslim Council of Canada and the Muslim Forum of Canada have threatened to lodge a formal complaint with the provincial human rights commission that the Herouxville measures are in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights.
But the happy hour crowd at Pub 842 is enthusiastically in favour of the initiative, and revelling in the town's newfound notoriety. The bar was buzzing yesterday with talk about the publicity it has generated and about who was on what TV network.
Yves Trudel, who runs a bed and breakfast in the town, says the rules laid down by the council are a preventive measure that others, notably Montreal, should consider.
"For them, it's probably too late to adopt a code of behaviour because things have gone too far. Here, we're saying this is the way it is and you respect it. This is our home, we're at home here and this is the way we do things here.
Some people are calling us Heroville," he added, confiding he had an appointment later with a correspondent from the French newspaper Le Figaro.
Steve Lafontaine, a local electrician, said if others aren't following suit, it is because they are afraid to speak up and stand up for the Quebecois way of life.
"Some others aren't going along because they get subsidies from the government that they don't want to get cut off. All the big cities are the same."
"The people who are laughing at us don't want to say what they they really think," said Pierre-Luc Seguin, a construction worker. "But a lot of others are for what we're doing.
"There was a guy here from Montreal last week who wanted to buy a Herouxville flag. He said we've got guts here. He wanted to put it up on the Jacques Cartier Bridge."
Donald Masicotte, an electrician in training, said he doesn't feel strongly about the issue one way or another.
"I don't think we're going to have Muslims moving here en masse the week after next," he said. "But it's causing a lot of talk. Anyone from outside moving here is more likely to be European."
The council initiative was also heartily applauded by the two dozen local residents who attended last night's meeting.
The only critical voice was from Lise Larivee, who agreed with its overall purpose but found some of the proposed rules were misdirected.
"I'd like to know how many women have been stoned in Canada since it was founded," she said. "It was hardly sophisticated. It made us look like racists."
Louise Trudel, who also attended the meeting, insisted there is nothing racist about the Herouxville initiative.
"I have nothing against immigrants, I know a lot of immigrants. But at one point there has to be a limit to accommodating them. If they came here, it must be because they like the way we live.
"We took our religion out of everything, the schools, the government. Why should they try to bring in theirs?"
The most common attitude in town is foursquare behind the council initiative.
"You either do catch-up or you do prevention. We're doing prevention," said Claude Veillet, a retired police officer. "We don't want this to turn into a tower of Babel."
Herouxville Mayor Martin Perigny said he fully supports Drouin's initiative and is delighted with the publicity that has rained down on the town.
"It's great," he said last night. It's been like a bomb.
"I hope we've woken up the government and that they'll do something now."