Cablegate: Mosaic Under Pressure: Quebec's Identity and Religious

DE RUEHMT #0132/01 0781843
R 191843Z MAR 07




Ref: 06 Montreal 676, 06 Montreal 1202


E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Mosaic under pressure: Quebec's identity and religious
tolerance debate (Part 1 of 2)

This message is Sensitive but Unclassified


1. (SBU) An undercurrent of social conflict has emerged between
Quebec's identity as a "secular" province and the more overt
expressions of faith, particularly by immigrants whom Quebec has
received in recent years. While "reasonable accommodation"
originated in jurisprudence of labor relations between employers and
employees, it has become the political catch-all term for this
building tension, as Quebec's, particularly Montreal's, increasingly
multicultural society questions to what extent its society should
shape its rules and values to "accommodate" religious or cultural
considerations. The reasonable accommodation debate has built even
more momentum recently. Several high profile incidents have stoked
intense public discourse and political opportunism, especially as
QuebecQs provincial election hits full momentum, with politicians,
academics, media, religious leaders, minority advocates and everyday
Quebeckers all weighing in on what is "reasonable" accommodation of
racial, ethnic and religious minorities in an increasingly diverse
society. Even if the issue recedes slightly after the elections,
Canada's most recent census and ongoing academic, think-thank, and
policy planning assessments indicate that the reasonable
accommodation debate will continue, given immigration trends and
Quebec's reliance on immigrants for economic, cultural and political
influence vis-a-vis the rest of Canada and pro-Quebec federal

Behind The Reasonable Accommodation Debate

2. (SBU) Quebec's identity as a "secular" province, as well as the
emphasis placed on gender equality in public and private life, can
be traced to the "Quiet Revolution," the revolt against the Catholic
Church, which occurred during the 1960s. While traditional Quebec
culture tended to be patriarchal and a majority of Francophone
Quebeckers adhered strongly to Church teachings, the Quiet
Revolution of the 1960s produced a society that cast off Catholic
teachings (and religion in general) and elevated the status of
women. Although, according to Statistics Canada, 83% of Quebeckers
identify themselves as Catholic, only an estimated 20% of those are
practicing (compared to 88% of Quebeckers who attended Church on a
weekly basis in the 1950s). A prominent CBC radio personality and
political analyst commented privately to PAO: to be politically
correct demands that he "intellectually" understand the Quebec
Muslim woman's argument when she says she "chooses" (and is not
intimidated into) wearing the hijab, but he admitted that he and his
Quiet Revolution generation still have an emotional knee-jerk
reaction to anything perceived as challenging gender equality or
Quebec's cultural identity as a fervently secular society.

3. (SBU) Quebec also registers a strikingly low birth rate, among
the lowest in North America, (although it made modest gains last
year, which some attribute to new daycare subsidies). A
recently-released census snapshot of Canada's population shows that
Quebec's population grew by 4.3% between 2001 and 2006, a growth
predominantly fueled by immigration. Quebec has not kept up with
the 5.3% average growth rate in the rest of the country, producing a
slight decline in the province's overall share of the Canadian
population. In fact, this low birth rate is one of the main factors
behind the provincial government's proactive policy of attracting
immigrants, especially those from Francophone countries, to bolster
its workforce (reftel A). (Ironically, however, in Quebec, the
historical under-employment of members of ethnic minorities is most
acute in public institutions.) Quebec's reliance on immigration as
a source of population growth concerns some Quebeckers. One ADQ
candidate was dismissed from his party for stating that native
Quebeckers need to "boost their birth rate; otherwise the ethnics
will swamp us." This sentiment is far from universal, but reveals
the increasing tension related with incorporating immigrants into
Montreal's social fabric while it strives to maintain its identity
as a French-speaking minority within Canada.

Soccer, Spandex, Spoons and Shari'a: How far is too far?

4. (SBU) On February 26, 2007, a Muslim referee in the Montreal-area
town of Laval ordered an 11-year old Muslim girl from Ottawa to
remove her hijab or be prohibited from playing in a soccer
tournament. When the girl's team forfeited the match, in protest of
the referee's decision, the issue quickly gained national prominence
as the latest reasonable accommodation case. The Quebec Soccer
Federation sided with the referee, stating that all religious

MONTREAL 00000132 002 OF 003

headgear was prohibited for safety reasons. The International
Football Association Board (IFAB) ruled on March 3rd that Law 4 on
players' equipment covers the issue, in essence letting the Quebec
Soccer Federation's ban prohibiting the hijab because of safety
reasons - including the possibility of accidental strangulation --
stand. Many questioned the ban's rationale, charging it was less
about safety and more about politics regarding reasonable
accommodation. Ironically, Montreal and other cities across Canada
are to host FIFA's Under-20 World Cup Tournament this summer, and
Canada is vying for the Women's Soccer World Cup in 2011.

5. (SBU) This incident was only one in a series of situations that
have brought the long-simmering issue of reasonable accommodation to
a boil. Several Montreal schools and social institutions have
grappled for some time with the need to provide prayer space for
Muslims and allow for other tangible expressions of faith, such as
the wearing of Sikh ceremonial daggers or the hijab. Other events
have included: complaints from a Hasidic Jewish synagogue about
young men catching glimpses of latex-clad women working out prompted
a downtown YMCA to frost its windows (at the expense of the
synagogue) in November 2006; an incident at a Montreal-area school
in which a Filipino-Canadian boy was chastised by his teacher for
his eating habits (the boy's family claimed that his Filipino
tradition of spoon and fork eating caused the teacher to accuse him
of eating "like a pig") became front-page news in the Philippines
and even provoked a small gathering of spoon-and-fork-wielding
demonstrators at the Canadian Embassy in Manila in April 2006; and
in 2005, the Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled that private
schools did not have the authority to expel a young woman for
wearing her hijab and also rejected the use of Islamic tribunals for
the settlement of family disputes.

6. (SBU) The Montreal police has prided itself on (and often been
praised for) its positive engagement with various cultural
communities. However, the city's police force fell into the debate
at the end of 2006 when an internal Montreal police magazine
suggested female officers step aside to let male colleagues deal
with male Hasidic Jews. The publication's advice drew criticism by
those who viewed the suggestions as setting an institutional policy
in direct conflict with the traditionally-held Quebec value of
gender equality. At the same time, some members of the Hasidic
community dismissed the advice as unnecessary, noting that there had
not been any complaints from their community with regard to
interactions with female officers. A Montreal police contact said
that the suggestions formed part of a series of brochures to help
police officers deal with members of various cultural communities,
and noted that there had been no complaints by female officers.

Herouxville: Propagating Negative Stereotypes, Xenophobia?

7. (SBU) The remote town of Herouxville (population 1,275 according
to the most recent census; its citizens include one black family
among a population that is otherwise exclusively white and Roman
Catholic.), 100 miles north of Montreal, became the center of the
controversy when its city council adopted a controversial code of
conduct for immigrants, apparently aimed at Muslim immigrants, in
January 2007. A hodgepodge of social norms and values, the code of
conduct prohibits head coverings (but not applicable to Catholic
nuns attire), the stoning of women, and female circumcision. As
international, Canadian and Quebec media descended upon the small
town, Herouxville presented a political and societal challenge to
Quebec's multicultural model of diversity and tolerance, which
Herouxville's council claimed has reached its limits. On February
11, a delegation of Muslim women, wearing head scarves, visited
Herouxville to educate town council members and residents about the
Islamic faith and to appeal for changes to the town's "code of life"
which the women argued unfairly targeted religious minorities. The
town toned down portions of the code, removing references to burning
women with acid and stoning women to death, but claimed the code of
conduct was misinterpreted by media.

8. (SBU) The Herouxville controversy is still causing ripples of
reactions. For example, a young Lebanese Montrealer's poem for an
Arabic-language newspaper that praised Muslim women for wearing the
veil and criticized Quebecoise women for drinking and promiscuity
provoked another round of reflection. Likewise, bloggers' comments
show how raw and emotionally-charged the issue is, especially to
those who view it as part of a larger trend of religious concessions
to Muslim immigrants in what should be a secular state: "I think
that anyone who comes from another country, for whatever reason, and
wants to benefit from all our freedoms and social benefits, should
act like one of us" reads one. "This is ANOTHER attempt by some
religious fringe trying to impose their religious habits on the
general population. Either fit in or get out!!!"

MONTREAL 00000132 003 OF 003


9. (SBU) Some analysts and commentators have described the recent
firestorm about reasonable accommodation as a purely media-created
phenomenon resulting more from news competition than real citizen
concern, or as a fickle, easily manipulated election issue that has
no real impact on the lives of Quebec 7.6 million residents. Others
have stated that Quebec is simply catching up to other parts of the
Western world on the issue, citing similar multicultural societies
growing pains and debates in France and the Netherlands.
Regardless, drawing on historical identity and religious
sensitivities, Herouxville and youth soccer were the incendiary
events that have guaranteed reasonable accommodation's place in
Quebec's provincial election rhetoric (see septel).

10. (SBU) The debate about reasonable accommodation reveals deeper
concerns in Quebec about the integration of immigrants into society,
and also illustrates the vast differences in how immigration and
multiculturalism are perceived by Quebec's urban and rural
inhabitants. Even in Montreal, Quebeckers have begun to question
whether the "mosaic" model of multiculturalism, so prized as a
component of Quebec and Canadian society, might have unforeseen
consequences for social cohesion and whether the accommodation of
diversity in Quebec society should, at some point, be subject to
limits. One Montreal human rights law expert summed up the current
situation, in which small, relatively innocuous symbols have taken
on provocative meanings, as stemming from Quebeckers' tendency
towards "not caring what color you are, or what religion you
practice, so long as you act exactly as we do." The insatiable
popular appetite, as reflected in hyperactive media coverage,
academic discussion and popular culture, coupled with QuebecQs
religious history, immigration trends and public policy assessments
indicate reasonable accommodation will continue to touch nerves and
be a major component of Quebec's social, political and cultural
discourse on its identity.


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Swing States: Gordon Campbell On Why The US Needs MMP

After the bizarre events this week in Helsinki, the world will be hoping and praying that the US midterm elections in November can put a restraining brake on the presidency of Donald Trump. This may happen, but there’s a highly undemocratic reason why such hopes may be frustrated. More>>


putin, trump scalpGordon Campbell: On The White House Romance With Russia

Tough on Europe over trade, at the G-7. Tough on Europe over defence, at NATO. And utterly smitten as usual by Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit. More>>


Gordon Campbell: On This Week’s NATO Debacle

For someone routinely cast as a clown presiding over an administration in chaos, Donald Trump has been very consistent about his agenda, and remarkably successful in achieving it, in the short term at least. More>>


NZ Law Society: Rule Of Law Threatened In Nauru

“The recently enacted Administration of Justice Act 2018 is another clear sign of the deterioration of civil rights in Nauru,” the Law Society’s Rule of Law Committee convenor Austin Forbes QC says. More>>


'Fixing' Family Separation: Executive Order Imprisons Families Indefinitely

Amnesty: President Trump signed an executive order today mandating for children to stay with their parents in detention while their asylum claims are processed. More>>