Words of Prey (March/April 2007)

Tracing the roots of 'reasonable accomodation' in Quebec

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By Brendan K. Edwards

Within a relatively short period of time the phrase reasonable accommodation has morphed from a political weapon wielded by minorities seeking the protection of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to a concept that has been hijacked by Quebec politicians who claim immigrants are manipulating society.

A recent arrival to Quebecers’ lexicon, the phrase ‘reasonable accommodation’ began to proliferate in March 2006 when the Supreme Court struck down an absolute ban on the wearing in school of the kirpan (the symbolic dagger that baptized Sikhs must wear).
Fast forward to February 2007: the small town of Hérouxville takes centre stage with their guidelines for immigrants, including that women should not be stoned and that they only cover their faces on Halloween. The phrase morphs from an argument for the reasonable expression of minority rights to a tool to stir up fear of minority ethnic groups among xenophobic voters.

Mario Dumont, whose ADQ party has just five of the 125 seats in the legislature, has argued that “Quebec should quit bending over backwards for minorities.” Premier Jean Charest is on the record as saying that for the majority, "recognizing the other doesn't mean effacing oneself before the other."

Although they certainly played their parts in keeping the reasonable accommodation debate alive, politicians were not the first to get it twisted. Thanks to the Quebecor media machine the phrase was thrown about for months in the endless effort to attract more eyeballs. All the while editors pretended that they were moderating an urgent debate that in reality didn’t exist at all.

The media hype has given rise to a growing number of Quebecers attempting to be granted ‘reasonable accommodation’ in areas far outside the realm of individual minority rights. So far, this new political ploy has been epitomized by Cardinal Marc Ouellette’s suggestion that these types of accommodations be applied to the province’s Catholic and Protestant majorities because their rights are being neglected.