Quebec's age-old language debate dominated the second day of the Bouchard-Taylor hearings on religious accommodation.
The commission, which launched its hearings in Gatineau, heard from dozens of people who stressed the primacy of French in Quebec's value system.
But some expressed concern about the public debate over reasonable accommodation and the risk it brings of pitting old stock French-speaking Quebecers against everyone else, including anglophones.
"If you look at the profile of the English-speaking community, its long-term survival is fragile," said Jean-Marc Mangin, head of international development agency CUSO. "They've brought a lot to Quebec, and we have to make sure that it's able to prosper and grow. "
Others presented a polar opposite point of view, arguing that immigrants settling in Quebec often choose to speak more English than French. "I don't see any threat to the English community or the English language in Quebec," said Jean-Paul Perreault, a member of language-rights group Impératif français.
"What I see is the opposite," he told the commission on Tuesday.
The phenomenon breeds linguistic insecurity among francophones, Perreault said, which in turn fuels tension between old-stock Quebecers and ethnic groups.
"There are three English universities in Quebec. If you open your television, you can get three English stations for every one French station in Quebec. This is not the language that is at threat," he added.
Clear rules needed: public servants
A group of mid-level federal public servants brought a different message to the hearings — the need for clear rules outlining the extent of cultural and religious accommodation.
"We believe that general rules must be adopted to avoid numerous exceptions, and piecemeal and arbitrary decisions," said Yohanna Loucheur, the group's spokeswoman.
"If the values being asked for contradict those that Quebec wants to give itself, then those demands must be refused.
Loucheur used the example of free association between men and women as a social value that must be upheld.
Others tried to define reasonable accommodation.
"A reasonable accommodation is when we do something different to permit someone who is different to eat along at his table," said community worker Gille Lagacé.
Sociologist Yao Assogba told the commission there is too much media attention paid to demands by Muslims or Jews, when Quebec Protestants have actually asked for more in the past.
"Jews and Muslims are asking for less but those demands are in the media," said Assogba, who teaches at the University of Quebec in Outaouais.
"Considering the history of Quebec and the current context, I think it should be secular, where demonstrations of religion should be prohibited in the public place," he said.
The commission, headed by philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gérard Bouchard, will travel to 17 provincial locations over the next three months to hear about religious and cultural accommodation.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest formed the commission in early 2007 after a protracted public debate on how immigrants integrate into the provice.
The commission moves to Rouyn-Noranda on Wednesday.