Accommodation Part II

By 
  • May 29, 2008

{mosimage}Last week, we offered some general comments on the report of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation in Quebec. By and large, the commissioners used common sense and open-mindedness in dealing with very real tensions over religious and cultural differences between immigrants and older Quebec communities.

But we have a few concerns. The dilemma faced by commissioners Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor is that of any state-commissioned body established to resolve social problems that don’t lend themselves to easy definition. In the end, they threw a bookcase full of government-type solutions at the problem, hoping that some might stick.

Some might stick. Some won’t. The worry is over which ones will stick and which won’t.

When the commissioners call on all Quebecers to open their hearts to immigrants, to accept that religious diversity means visible expressions of that diversity, to learn more English so they can open themselves and their children to the world beyond Quebec’s borders, or make it easier for foreign professional credentials to be accepted for jobs, they are on the right track. Such proposals are modest and don’t attack existing culture and customs.

But the commissioners go astray when they prescribe some changes to Quebec customs and symbols that would actually diminish the richness of that province’s religious and cultural heritage. Small wonder that Premier Jean Charest rejected the call to remove the crucifix from the legislature. As a politician, he knows well how deep that symbol is embedded into what it means to be a Quebecois (and a Canadian). Even though they may have abandoned the official Catholic Church in droves, Catholicism has not abandoned them; it remains a part of how they define themselves.

Culture and faith are organic. All manner of states , democratic and totalitarian, have tried at various times in history to impose from above ways of thinking, believing and behaving that are foreign to the people they rule. Occasionally, they have been effective. More often, they have failed. One has only to look at the resurrection of religious faith in the former Soviet Union to see how miserably their Stalinist governments failed to eradicate the deepest convictions of their citizens.

Regrettably, peoples, cultures, whole societies may and can lose their religion. However, it is even more tragic when governments try to hasten the process for passing intellectual fads or misdirected notions of equality. By jettisoning their own deepest markers of what makes them unique, such societies impoverish themselves and those newcomers who have been attracted by such characteristics in the first place.

Church and state should rightly inhabit separate spheres. But in trying to mark the appropriate dividing line between the two, the commission has erred on the side of a naked public square — one that is swept clean of those expressions of the most noble aspirations and history of the Quebec people. Surely, this is not what newcomers have asked for. Nor is it what Quebec society needs.

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