Leaked accommodation commission report sparks fury in Quebec

A Montreal newspaper has provoked fierce debate in Quebec over what it says are leaked portions of a final paper from the province's commission on the reasonable accommodation of immigrants.

A Montreal English-language newspaper has sparked fierce debate over what it says are leaked portions of a report from Quebec's commission on the reasonable accommodation of immigrants.

According to articles in the Montreal Gazette published over the weekend, chapters of the final report of the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences recommend Quebec francophones open their minds, get informed and learn more English.

"In this day and age of migratory mixing, of the Internet and globalization, it is to be greatly hoped that the largest number possible of Quebecers master English in addition to French," the Gazette quoted the report's chapters as saying.

The commission, headed by sociologist and historian Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, spent last fall travelling the province seeking the public's views on how to accommodate Quebec's religious and cultural minorities.

The two academics have heard from more than 3,000 people since the public hearings began in September.

The commission viewed the "discontent of a large part of the population" over demands by Muslims, Jews and other religious minorities as "the result of partial information and false perceptions," the Gazette quoted Bouchard and Taylor as writing.

The two academics also suggest that Quebecers shouldn't be looking to the past anymore to define themselves, the newspaper said. The Gazette promised to put the final draft of the report on its website on Tuesday, three days ahead of its scheduled release.

The Gazette's stories were published ahead of Monday's Patriots Day celebrations in Quebec, where some 200 people braved the cold and rain to remember the men and women who once fought for a French nation in North America.

Jean Dorion of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste said he doesn't like the commission's message. "That is Quebec-bashing once again," the Quebec nationalist group's president told CBC News on Monday.

Newspaper misstates commission's positions: adviser

Jacques Beauchemin, head of the sociology department at the Université du Québec à Montréal, who served as one of 15 experts on the commission's advisory committee, slammed the reports of the commission's findings, saying such conclusions fail to take the majority status of Quebec francophones into account.

"The report doesn't confront the natural tension that exists inevitably between the minority and majority in Quebec," he told CBC News.  

In an interview with the CBC's French-language sister network Radio-Canada, Prof. Daniel Weinstock, a member of the advisory committee to the Bouchard-Taylor commission, said the Gazette had misread the report.

Weinstock, an expert in political philosophy and head of the Université de Montréal's Centre for Research in Ethics, said he hasn't seen the final version, but the Montreal daily's interpretation isn't founded.

He said it's wrong to say the report blames Quebec's francophone majority for the province's problems with cultural accommodation.

He also said that the Gazette had overemphasized aspects of the report that appeared marginal to him, like a recommendation that Quebecers need to be more open and learn more English.

Weinstock said the commission will now have the tough task of setting things straight even as it presents its final draft.

A question of semantics

In its Monday edition, the Gazette said the commission's report also recommends vocabulary changes in the way Quebec society talks about itself. The co-commissioners want, for example, to see the end of the expression "Québécois de souche" ("dyed-in-the-wool Quebecers"), which they suggest replacing with the term "Quebecers of French-Canadian origin," according to the Gazette.

The phrases "visible minority" and "cultural communities" should also be phased out, the Gazette quotes the report as saying. Bouchard and Taylor want to abandon the term "accommodations" as well, which they propose replacing with "adjustments" or "harmonization," the newspaper says.

Premier Jean Charest, in France on Monday to celebrate events marking the 400th anniversary of Quebec City, refused to comment on the report until it is shown to his cabinet on Wednesday.