Quebec's commission on the accommodation of religious and cultural minorities tabled its final report in Montreal on Thursday, urging people in the province to embrace their society's ethnic and cultural plurality.

The consultation commission on accommodation practices related to cultural differences was chaired by sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, who spent 31 days in public hearings last year, listening to people's views on so-called reasonable accommodation.

"There is nothing to indicate that Quebec has a bigger problem with racism or xenophobia than anywhere else," Bouchard said at a news conference where the report was made public.

But Quebec has to clarify what  kind of secular society it envisions, and lay down some rules of engagement  for all citizens, he said. 

The commission's 37 recommendations, in various areas, include:

Securalism:

  • Formally define secularism.
  • Remove the crucifix hanging in Quebec's national assembly and put it in another government building.
  • Judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers and prison guards should be prohibited from wearing religious signs and clothing on the job.
  • Teachers, health-care workers and students, however, should be allowed to wear hijabs, kippas or other religious wear or symbols, the report said.
  • Educational institutions are not required to offer permanent prayer rooms, but should grant temporary space on an ad-hoc basis.
  • Prayers should also be eliminated from all municipal council meetings.
  • The government should produce and distribute a multidenominational calendar indicating religious holidays.

Immigration:

  • Immigration quotas should reflect resources available to integrate newcomers into Quebec society and its work sector.
  • Increase funding to community groups that assist newly arrived immigrants, and organizations that promote intercultural dialogue.
  • Bring in measures to reduce the "extremely" high unemployment among Quebecers born in Africa who have been in Canada for less than five years.
  • Speed up the process of recognizing foreign-acquired professional skills and training.
  • Promote immigrant settlement outside the greater Montreal area, where nearly 87 per cent of the province's newcomers live.
  • Increase resources to help non French-speaking immigrants learn French.
  • Make information for immigrants more readily available.
  • Increase funding for organizations that support immigrant women.
  • Encourage volunteer work within immigrant organizations.
  • Rename the government department in charge of immigration to the Ministry of Immigration and Intercultural Relations.      

Interculturalism:

  • Launch a "vigorous campaign" to raise awareness of interculturalism in Quebec society.
  • The province should enshrine interculturalism in a statute, policy statement or declaration.
  • Encourage efforts within public institutions to craft  "concrete directives" guiding accommodation requests.
  • Increase accountability measures in public institutions for issues related to reasonable accommodation requests.
  • Ensure health-care establishments have sufficient funding to provide adequate interpretation services.
  • Establish "necessary mechanisms" in public institutions to apply practical expertise on handling reasonable accommodation requests.
  • The government should pursue its efforts to enshrine gender equality as a core value in Quebec society.
  •  Pay close attention to the arguments for faith-based schools.
  •  Encourage interaction between community groups to reduce stereotypes.
  • Establish a public archive documenting the lives of immigrants to Quebec.
  • Increase funding for academic research into intercultural issues.

Religious holidays

  • Encourage public and private organizations to adopt paid leave with compensation to respond to religious accommodation requests, and ask the Human Rights Commission to produce an advisory opinion on religious holidays.
  • Highlight best practices on accommodation in workplaces.

Learning diversity:

  • Increase funding to organizations with mandates to inform and protect citizens such as the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
  • Encourage projects that promote the presence of ethnic minorities in the media.
  • Increase financial support of non-profit organizations and projects that foster "intercultural" debate and action.
  • Increase provincial support for similar initiatives in the education and health sectors.

Other recommendations:

  • Create an office for "intercultural harmonization," which would play a role in sensitivity training and promoting dialogue.
  • Conduct more research into Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
  • Create accountability mechanisms for anti-racism and discrimination efforts in government agencies.
With files from the Canadian Press