Quebec immigration commission seeks to avoid 'what happened in France'

Thursday, October 25, 2007

TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. - For the first time in a road-show that has taken them across Quebec since early September, Gerard Bouchard and Charles Taylor Thursday spelled out explicitly where they stand and what they hope to do with their commission on the "reasonable accommodation" of religious immigrants and ethnic minorities.

"We want to avoid what happened in France," Bouchard told one presenter Thursday in Trois-Rivieres. "We want to avoid the creation of ghettos, that people get rejected by society, that they be condemned to live in the margins of society, and that they then turn against their society, and with reason."

Bouchard was talking to local retiree Henri Pepin, who had come to tell the commissioners publicly what he and many other Quebecers felt that rising numbers of Muslims and other immigrants were swamping Quebec

"In 100 years, I don't think there will be many Quebecois left," Pepin said.

"That, sir, is just a fairy tale," Bouchard retorted, losing a bit of his cool. "You're raising these fears for nothing."

"Just wait until what's happening in France happens here," Pepin replied.

Bouchard had heard enough, and spelled out how Quebec can avoid the strife that France - an officially secular state - has gone through with its millions of Muslim immigrants from the former colonies.

In Quebec, "we have a duty to make sure that all immigrants become as integrated as possible in our society, that they share our fundamental values," Bouchard said.

"And the way to do that, sometimes, is to perhaps grant them an accommodation, to make their life easier, so that they stay in our milieu... that they submit to the lifestyle that is our own, and that they can more easily assimilate our fundamental values."

Assimilate - it was the first time either co-chairman had mentioned the term as a something they wish for immigrants and minorities.

"If you give them the means to go into the margins, they'll never have the opportunity to assimilate our fundamental values," Bouchard continued.

"It's a fact that you should keep in mind," he told Pepin, one of 11 people to address the commission Thursday. "It's more complicated than you say."