Putting Out a Fire

Tuesday 10 June 2008, by Ceyda Turan

The much-anticipated Bouchard-Taylor report on reasonable accommodation was published last month with its 37 recommendations calling for a review of interculturalism, immigration, secularism, and the theme of Quebec identity.

The report was a positive one for minorities. It identified French Quebeckers’ anxiety of accommodation as a “crisis of perception.” It added that while the identity inherited from the French-Canadian past was perfectly legitimate, it could no longer occupy the Quebec identity space alone. “It mush hinge on the other identities present, in a spirit of interculturalism.”

The commission, initially set-up by the Charest Liberals to calm down a political uproar, refrained from making any real radical recommendations. Nonetheless, the admission of the existence of Islamophobia by a public inquiry is an important step towards one of the ultimate social ills that must be confronted if all Quebeckers are to live together in harmony.

Even though it was not part of their mandate, one of the most important outcomes of the report was the acknowledgement of the major problems immigrants and ethnic minorities have integrating in Quebec society. The symptoms include a high unemployment rate, a lack of recognition of foreign diplomas, skills devaluation, and labour market discrimination. The authors, however, did not suggest any possible connections between Islamophobia and the high unemployment rates among educated French-speaking immigrants from the Maghreb. Their unemployment rate - 27% - is more than four times higher than that of native-born Quebeckers. Nevertheless, the commission’s recommendations for measures to accelerate the process of recognizing skills and diplomas acquired abroad would remove one of the main hurdles, so long as it does not fall on deaf ears or become bogged-down in bureaucratic red-tape.

Premier Jean Charest recently pledged an amount of $22.7 million to improve and extend French language classes for immigrants over the next three years to help them find employment in their professional fields. We would hope he would have read the Association for Canadian Studies’ latest census study that found knowledge of French “may not be the principle obstacle in securing employment and hence in ensuring ‘successful’ integration.” Among allophones who speak French but not English, the unemployment rate was 23% compared to 2.6% among native Quebecers who speak only French. The fact that the group studied was university-educated and between the ages of 35 and 44, suggests something else other than French language skills are the crucial factor in securing employment. Another report published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy at the University of Montreal is enlightening in that matter, as it informs us of employers’ unwillingness to offer skilled and long-term jobs to immigrants and the inadequate government programs to combat this resistance. The $22.7 million might be put to better use if it is spent on a public education campaign to fight discrimination and the so-called “crisis of perception.”

Similarly, the report is highly unlikely to change the discrimination faced by minorities and immigrants, since the political will to do that seems to be practically absent. Instead of struggling to address immigrants’ integration problems, the debate continues to be a race to see which party can best preserve Quebec’s fabled francophone identity. Premier Charest’s rejection of the commission’s call for the removal of the crucifix from the National Assembly to reassure religious minorities of the legislature’s religious impartiality demonstrates his preoccupation with fighting the opposition’s claims that he is not adequately protecting Quebec’s identity. His fear that he might be handing the next elections to the sovereigntist opposition ADQ if he sides too closely with the report’s conclusions makes us wonder, are we back at where we started?

À propos de Ceyda Turan

Titulaire d’une maîtrise en développement international de l’Université de Londres (SOAS) en Angleterre, Ceyda détient également un diplôme en science politique et développement international de l’Université McGill. Originaire de Turquie et ayant étudié dans le monde en développement, elle connaît bien les enjeux du développement international. Elle a un intérêt marqué pour des questions touchant les droits humains et a entre autres collaboré au Kurdish Human Rights Project de Londres comme traductrice en plus d’assumer le poste de secrétaire de la section locale d’Amnistie Internationale à SOAS. Avant de se joindre à l’Institut des politiques sociales et de la santé de l’université McGill en tant qu’assistante de recherche et de communication, elle travaillait au sein du programme immigration et employabilité d’Alternatives. Elle continue contribuer au Journal Alternatives.

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