Quebec Town Defends Conduct Code for Minorities

Globe and Mail (Toronto), October 25, 2007

The stoning of women could happen in Quebec unless cautionary steps are taken, a proponent of the controversial Hérouxville code of conduct said yesterday, urging people to stop accommodating religious minorities.

“If we do nothing, my dear sir, in a few years we might have some here,” Hérouxville town Councillor André Drouin told Gérard Bouchard, the co-chair of a public inquiry into religious accommodations.

He was responding to Mr. Bouchard’s question about whether the Hérouxville code—which explicitly states that stoning or throwing acid on a woman are forbidden—wasn’t insulting to Muslims.

“We never mentioned any religion’s name,” Mr. Drouin said.

Mr. Drouin said at one point that even in France women had been stoned and burned.

But, facing skepticism from Mr. Bouchard, Mr. Drouin corrected himself afterward and talked instead of French victims of female circumcision.

The inquiry headed by Mr. Bouchard and his co-chair, Charles Taylor, was set up last year as Quebec plunged into a bitter debate over minorities and integration. Hérouxville, a village midway between Montreal and Quebec City, became a symbol of the backlash against newcomers.

With global warming, millions of people might be displaced in coming years and it is necessary to make it clear to newcomers the social mores in Quebec, Mr. Drouin said yesterday.

Either the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be amended to make it impossible to seek religious accommodations, or the province should separate, he said.

However, some participants yesterday struck a conciliatory tone. Jean-Marc Charron, former dean of theology at the University of Montreal, said politicians shouldn’t let themselves be swayed by the current uproar.

“Either a right is fundamental or it’s not. And if it’s fundamental, it can’t be less fundamental than others,” Mr. Charron told the inquiry.

Jacqueline Guillemette, a local woman who converted to Islam, said immigrants are in a thankless position when they come to Quebec. “We tell them to be themselves—but like ourselves. We want to welcome them, we’re happy they’re here. But they shouldn’t be seen.”

However, she and Mr. Charron seemed to be a minority.

Several said Quebec cannot be fettered by religious minorities invoking the federal Charter if the province is to remain French-speaking and secular.

Canada is now run by lawyers and judges, said Hérouxville resident Bernard Thompson, who testified alongside Mr. Drouin. “These are the new unelected gods.”

Another brief, by the local chapter of the nationalist Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, also pointed a finger at the Supreme Court of Canada, speaking of an “abusive” reliance on the judiciary.

With many participants demanding a stronger commitment to a secular society, drawing the line between private and public spaces was a challenge that came up regularly.

To the Saint-Jean-Baptiste delegation, which spoke in favour of secular society, Mr. Bouchard asked whether an employee wearing a type of yarmulke would be acceptable in a Jewish hospital. “There’s a way to find nuances,” replied SSJB representative Paul-Étienne Drainville.

There were also people yesterday who distanced themselves from the alarmist opinions. “For me, Hérouxville is proof of the failure of our education system,” said François Champoux, a former labour relations mediator.

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Hérouxville code

Excerpts from the Hérouxville code of conduct, which were included in a brief tabled yesterday at the Bouchard-Taylor commission:

We consider as undesirable and prohibit any action or gesture . . . such as: stoning or burning them alive in public places, burning them with acid, excising them, infibulating them or treating them as slaves.

Students are prohibited from carrying weapons or imitations of such, loaded or unloaded, real or fake, symbolic or not.

Regardless of the shape of the animal or its hooves, regardless of the shape of the fish, be it covered by scales or a shell, we will enjoy eating its flesh if it is prepared properly and presented tastefully.

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