Marian Scott, Montreal Gazette, May 22, 2009
One year after a provincial report on the accommodation of cultural minorities, a majority of Quebecers still say newcomers should give up their cultural traditions and become more like everybody else, according to a new poll.
Quebecers’ attitudes toward immigrants have hardened slightly since 2007, when the Bouchard-Taylor commission started hearings across Quebec on the “reasonable accommodation” of cultural communities.
The survey by Léger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies found that 40 per cent of francophones view non-Christian immigrants as a threat to Quebec society, compared with 32 per cent in 2007. Thirty-two per cent of non-francophones said non-Christian immigrants threaten Quebec society, compared with 34 per cent in 2007.
“If you look at opinions at the start of the Bouchard-Taylor commission and 18 months later, basically, they haven’t changed,” said Jack Jedwab, executive director of the non-profit research institute.
“If the hearings were designed to change attitudes, that has not occurred,” he added.
Headed by sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, the $3.7-million commission held hearings across Quebec on how far society should go to accommodate religious and cultural minorities. It received 900 briefs and heard from 3,423 participants in 22 regional forums.
Its report, made public one year ago Friday, made 37 recommendations, including abolishing prayers at municipal council meetings; increasing funding for community organizations that work with immigrants and initiatives to promote tolerance; providing language interpreters in health care; encouraging employers to allow time off for religious holidays; studying how to hire more minorities in the public service; and attracting immigrants to remote regions.
Rachad Antonius, a professor of sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal, said it’s no surprise the commission failed to change Quebecers’ attitudes toward minorities.
“Focusing on cultural differences is the wrong approach,” Antonius said.
Cultural communities need to achieve economic equality by having access to education, social services and job opportunities, he said.
“If there is greater economic integration, that is what is going to change things,” he said.
The poll reveals persistent differences between younger and older Quebecers and between francophones and non-francophones on cultural and religious diversity.
For example, 56 per cent of respondents age 18 to 24 said Muslim girls should be allowed to wear hijabs in public schools, while only 30 per cent of those 55 and over approved of head scarves in school.
Sixty-three per cent of non-francophones said head scarves should be permitted in school compared with 32 per cent of French-speaking respondents.
Only 25 per cent of francophones said Quebec society should try harder to accept minority groups’ customs and traditions while 74 per cent of non-francophones said it should make more of an effort to do so.
The poll also found Quebecers split on an ethics and religion course introduced last year in schools across the province. A coalition of parents and Loyola High School, a private Catholic institution, are challenging the nondenominational course, which they say infringes parents’ rights to instill religious values in their children.
Half of francophones said the course was a good thing while 78 per cent of non-francophones gave it a thumbs up.
When asked their opinion of different religious groups, 88 per cent of French-speakers viewed Catholics favourably, 60 per cent viewed Jews favourably–down 12 percentage points from 2007–and 40 per cent had a favourable opinion of Muslims (compared with 57 per cent in 2007). Among non-francophones, 92 per cent viewed Catholics with favour, 77 per cent had a positive opinion of Jews and 65 a good opinion of Muslims.
A national poll published this month by Maclean’s Magazine also revealed that many Canadians are biased against religious minorities, particularly in Quebec.
The survey by Angus Reid Strategies reported that 68 per cent of Quebecers view Islam negatively while 52 per cent of Canadians as a whole have a low opinion of the religion.
It found that 36 per cent of Quebecers view Judaism unfavourably, compared with 59 per cent of Ontarians.
The Léger Marketing survey of 1,003 Quebecers was conducted by online questionnaire May 13-16. Results are considered accurate within 3.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.