May 22, 2008 / 8:01 PM / 9 years ago

Commission says Quebec must do more for immigrants

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Quebec must do more to combat discrimination and help immigrants integrate into its mainly French-speaking society, a government commission on minorities and cultural differences said on Thursday.

The 300-page report by sociologist Gerard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor said it is time to reconcile concerns about protecting Quebec’s dominant French-speaking identity and the demographic forces moving the Canadian province toward a more secular, pluralist society.

The Quebec government created the commission last March after a number of incidents in which some in the Canadian province of 7.6 million bitterly opposed “reasonable accommodations” for minorities, such as letting Muslim girls wear headscarves in soccer or martial arts competitions.

The most glaring backlash came in the small town of Herouxville, which in January 2007 published a “code of life” to remind immigrants that it is not permissible to stone women to death, burn them alive or throw acid on them.

After a year that included sometimes boisterous public hearings, the commission concluded that the foundations of collective life in Quebec were not in crisis.

“What we are facing, instead, is the need to adapt,” the report said. “Our society is sufficiently divided at present and we must seek to reduce splits and tensions instead of exacerbating them. The time has come for compromise, negotiation and balance.”

ANXIETY OVER CULTURE

Some of the anxiety over the future of Quebec’s French-speaking culture stems from the declining proportion of Quebecers of French-speaking origin in the province -- from 80 percent in 1901 to 77 percent in 1991, the report said.

To better integrate immigrants, the commission recommended that the government speed up the process of recognizing skills and diplomas acquired abroad. Advocacy groups have complained that immigrants often cannot find work in Quebec that matches their qualifications.

“Our consultations reveal that members of the ethnic minorities are seeking employment much more than accommodation,” the commission said.

The report has political implications for the minority Liberal government headed by Jean Charest.

Charest, whose party wants Quebec to stay in Canada, said he planned to act quickly on the recommendations.

But the two main opposition parties, took a harder stance.

Pauline Marois, head of the Parti Quebecois, which wants Quebec to separate from Canada, said the report fails to address the question of what constitutes Quebec identity.

Under its own draft legislation, the Parti Quebecois has previously proposed withholding “Quebec citizenship” from immigrants, including those from other parts of Canada, who not have an “appropriate” knowledge of French.

Failure to demonstrate French language skills would prevent immigrants from holding public office, raising funds for a political party or petitioning the legislature to redress a grievance.

Mario Dumont, head of the Action Democratique du Quebec party, called for the creation of a Quebec constitution that would “show everyone who we are.”

The commission’s 37 recommendations included suggesting that judges, prosecutors and police officers be prohibited from wearing religious signs to promote secularism. But people like teachers and health professionals would be allowed to do so.

Editing by Janet Guttsman

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