What is reasonable about "Reasonable Accommodation"?

Apart from some 650,000 officially enumerated remaining native Canadians, everyone else living in Canada is either an immigrant or the descendent of immigrants. Beginning several centuries ago, this country’s founding white European settlers, including those from France, managed to wipe out the majority of indigenous inhabitants; those who survived were forced into ghettos called "reserves" and became second-class citizens. Even Canada voted against a UN resolution which recognize their rights.

Aboriginal leaders cannot ask the rest of Canada, including Québec to even just sit down and seriously discuss the issue of "reasonable accommodation" taking native traditions as the norm. This is because Canadian natives are still severely marginalized and have virtually no political power or influence.

Yet now, a segment of Québecers who are almost exclusively white, Catholic and French-speaking, want the authority to define what it means to "reasonably accommodate" the cultural and religious needs of other Québecers. Unlike the minorities for whom they want to legislate cultural adaptive norms, this group is the one with the most political clout and the loudest public voice.

In Québec, as in the rest of Canada, immigrants laid the foundations of our society. As time went on, these immigrants came from increasingly diverse cultures and faith traditions. Today, many of their descendents fill the ranks of universities and professional vocations, adding to knowledge-base that fuels the Québec economy.

It only stands to reason then, that when one immigrant group (the white Francophone Catholic community) turn on their less-numerous and more visibly diverse fellow citizens in hostile, unreasonable and unaccommodating ways, the results could be disastrous. Those whom Québec rejects will provide a skilled workforce welcomed with open arms in Ontario or Alberta.

And, before Québec go this negative route and find itself short of an adequate population to maintain its quality of life and economic infrastructure, those closet racists who loudly denounce accommodation should know that today the only source of qualified new French speaking immigrants are non-European, non-white and largely non-Christian.

Given this very plausible scenario, why is Québec’s new Reasonable Accommodations Commission posting a survey whose questions will only invite racists, bigots, white supremacists and fear-mongers out into the public forum and into the limelight of media and international attention?

Premier Jean Charest clearly failed to show leadership or even short-term vision when he neglecting to take this opportunity to emphasize that Québec’s population consists not only of white, French-speaking Catholics, but that Quebec is Canada’s most inclusive and culturally diverse province, one that should be proud to respect and accommodate all of its citizens – without exception. Instead, he has remained silent and absent when hijab- wearing girls in his province were barred from soccer and judo, and when racist comments were made about Jews in Québec.

And then he shelved the whole issue of "reasonable accommodation" and lamely handed it over to a commission, which began hearings this past week.

The Commission on Reasonable Accommodations is trying to find out from Québécois what they think constitutes fair treatment (i.e. "reasonable accommodation") of the province’s minorities.

To this end, the Commission asks them on its website to: "take part in a brief simulation exercise by submitting to your judgment a list of harmonization requests based on actual cases. You will put yourself in the position of judges, managers of public institutions such as schools, hospitals, government or municipal services, or the directors of organization such as businesses or sports associations, who wish to satisfy the needs of their clienteles."

"To ensure that you benefit fully from this exercise, we invite you to assess the requests bearing in mind all facets of harmonization practices, i.e. human rights and freedoms, the values of the host society, the notion of secularism, models of intercultural relations, and the dynamic of integration."

Here are 10 sample questions that the Commission posted for Québécois to answer, according to various levels of agreement or disagreement. So far, this process may seem quite innocuous; after all, Canadians are surveyed frequently by many groups and agencies. But the issues raised here have enormous implications to be considered.

For example: What if most responders strongly disagree with the actions offered below? What would the Commissions recommendations be then? What would politicians say, or do in response? How would the rest of Canada react?

Consider carefully these questionnaire items:

"Allow, for religious reasons, a child to eat food other than what is offered on the regular menu in his day care centre or school cafeteria.

For religious reasons, schedule separate swimming lessons for girls and boys in the schools.

Authorize a student to abandon an optional course to register in another one because the content of the first course conflicts with certain of his religious beliefs.

Modify for certain students the scheduling of an exam, which coincides with a religious holiday.

In a school, use frosted glass in the windows around a swimming pool or gymnasium to prevent boys or men from seeing girls in bathing suits or sportswear.

If conditions allow, officially designate a room as a place of prayer in a university.

Allow Muslim students to wear headscarves in class.

Allow Sûreté du Québec police officers to wear turbans.

Allow Muslims to wear headscarves during sports tournaments, assuming that doing so creates neither an advantage or a disadvantage nor risk of injury.

Allow the kirpan to be worn in school wrapped up and attached under the clothing."