Wednesday, August 15, 2007

PQ leader wants complete control

Immigration; Quebec not a bilingual province, Marois insists

MARIANNE WHITE, CanWest News Service

Published: 19 hours ago

Quebec should have total control over its immigration to send a clear message to newcomers that the province is a francophone state, not a bilingual one, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois said yesterday.

The comments came as Action Démocratique du Québec leader Mario Dumont continues to take heat for suggesting the province has reached the limit of immigrants it can assimilate, and as a politically-charged commission starts to look into the whole immigration issue and how to accommodate for religious and cultural differences. The issue is widely referred to as reasonable accommodation.

Marois believes Quebec needs to attract more immigrants, especially to cope with a declining birthrate and employment needs, but she stressed the province has to send a very clear message to those who decide to settle in Quebec.

"Many of them believe that they are settling in a bilingual state. It's not true. Quebec is a francophone state that respects the rights of its anglophone minority. And when you live in Quebec, you live in French," she said.

She pressed Premier Jean Charest to negotiate with the federal government to gain control over the 40 per cent of immigrants to the province that it does not already handle. Under a 1991 agreement, Quebec can choose the immigrants who have money to invest here and decide how it integrates them. But Ottawa keeps dealing with refugees and immigrants coming to reunite with family members.

Marois argued it's fair to ask for that since Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government recognized Quebec as a nation. Having additional powers would allow Quebec to choose immigrants that will more easily blend into Quebec's culture and values, Marois added.

Immigration Minister Yolande James said the province already picks 60 per cent of its immigrants and can target the specific types of workers most needed.

"We have all the power we need to select our immigrants," she said after a cabinet meeting.

The PQ leader also joined the Liberals in asking Dumont to clarify his statement that the limit on immigration has already been reached. "It's easy to say something like that, but when you have to prove it, it's more difficult," Marois said.

Dumont has so far refused to explain his comments.

- - -

Flashpoints: How we got here from there

Several incidents during the past two years illustrate the difficulties of reaching reasonable accommodation with minority groups:

Jewish General Hospital

The Quebec Human Rights Commission this year recommended the hospital, its auxiliary and an unnamed third party pay $10,000 in moral damages to two ambulance technicians ejected from a kosher cafeteria two years ago after one worker took in his own non-kosher meal. Noting the absence of public signs for the non-kosher eating area, the commission found the hospital had not done enough to accommodate the ambulance workers. In April, the hospital settled with the ambulance workers, agreeing to pay them $7,500 each. The hospital has also set up a public lounge for people who take in their own meals, kosher or otherwise.

Hérouxville resolution

In January, the council in Hérouxville, a small town about 40 kilometres north of Trois Rivières, adopted a "code of conduct" which discourages special treatment for newcomers of different religious or ethnic backgrounds. The Hérouxville norms permitted Christmas tree displays and coed swimming, and forbid the stoning of women or the covering of faces, apart from at Halloween. Several neighbouring towns adopted resolutions supporting Hérouxville. But municipal officials in Huntingdon, about 60 kilometres southwest of Montreal, responded in February with a resolution in favour of immigration and multiculturalism, and opposed to mixing religion and politics.

Hijab in sports

A Quebec soccer referee sent off 11-year-old Asmahan Mansour during a tournament in Laval in February after the Ontario girl refused to remove her hijab. Mansour's team withdrew from the competition in protest. The Quebec Soccer Federation went on to prohibit hijabs permanently. Two months after the soccer incident, five Montreal girls were stopped from competing in a tae kwon do tournament in Longueuil because they would not remove their head scarves. A referee told the girls he was applying a World Tae Kwon Do Federation rule forbidding scarves, bandannas and jewellery under a helmet.

YMCA tinted windows

The YMCA on Park Ave. and St. Viateur St.installed frosted windows in February 2006 so that male Hasidic Jewish students at a nearby building would not see women exercising. The Congregation Yetev Lev on Jeanne Mance St. paid $1,500 to have the frosted windows installed. In response to some members' complaints, petitions and a poll, the YMCA decided this year to revert to its previous practice of using clear windows with blinds.

Veiled Muslim women

Following intense media coverage and threatening phone calls, Quebec's chief electoral officer, Marcel Blanchet, changed the election law in March to oblige everyone who votes to show their face. Blanchet had originally said Muslim women who wear full-face veils, known as niqabs, would not be required to remove their veils to confirm their identify at a voting station. Blanchet said he made the about-face to preserve "the integrity and serenity of the electoral process" during the March 26 provincial election.

Montreal police

An internal Montreal police department newsletter, l'Heure juste, suggested in its Oct. 30 edition that female officers defer to male officers when dealing with Hasidic men out of respect for a religious culture that discourages fraternization between males and females. The police department later said the advice was not official policy, but merely a possibly useful scenario based on anecdotal evidence. Yves Francoeur, president of the Montreal Police Brotherhood, rejected the notion of different treatment for different groups as potentially discriminatory, both to the public and to police officers.

Kirpan in schools

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in March 2006 that barring Montreal student Gurbaj Singh Multani from wearing his dagger-like kirpan to school violated the federal Charter of Rights and could not be considered a reasonable restriction on his right to freedom of religion. The kirpan challenge dated to 2001, when Multani, then 12, attended Ste. Catherine Labouré elementary school in LaSalle. His kirpan - a symbol of Sikh faith - previously undetected, fell to the ground while he was playing in the schoolyard. Efforts to reach an accommodation between the Marguerite Bourgeoys school board and the family failed, and the case ended up in the courts.