Two academics heading a commission looking into how Quebec should accommodate religious and cultural minorities must now come up with recommendations after public hearings held across the province ended Sunday.
Sociologist and historian Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor — co-chairmen of the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences — have heard from more than 3,000 people since the provincewide public hearings began in September.
On Sunday, more than 200 people, including Asmaa Ibnouzahir, turned out for the last public hearing held in Montreal.
"There was a lot of respect in the discussions and a lot of open-mindedness," she said. "That's why I came."
But it hasn't always been that way. The commission, which held public hearings in more than 20 communities, has heard some controversial and outrageous comments from hearing participants, such as a conspiracy theory about Jews in the Supreme Court of Canada.
"As the hearings unfolded and people came to the microphone and said whatever they wanted to say, and most of it went unchallenged, I was concerned that this kind of discourse could become accepted in a society like ours," said Victor Goldbloom, Quebec regional chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
At other times, comments made at the public hearings showed a growing divide between rural and urban Quebecers. Some people vowed to boycott the commission while others protested.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who announced the commission last year, had to take the unusual step of writing an open letter, reminding Quebecers and his political opposition that the province's global reputation was at stake.
The theme of Sunday's hearings was more about what people share than what separates them.
"At the beginning I thought the Bouchard-Taylor commission was something completely ridiculous," said Jacqueline Romano Toramanian, a commission participant. "But now I think it's okay. It has allowed people to express themselves."
The commission is expected to submit a report and make recommendations to Charest on March 31.