Ingrid Peritz, Globe and Mail, December 5, 2011
One of Quebec’s biggest cities is throwing out the welcome mat to immigrants with a 16-point guide to local values, which range from refraining from bribing officials, killing people for honour, to cooking smelly foods.
The city of Gatineau says its newly released “statement of values” is aimed at helping newcomers integrate. But critics say it infantilizes them and treats immigrants “like they came out of a cave.”
The guide is already drawing comparisons to the controversial code of conduct adopted by the Quebec village of Hérouxville during the heat of the province’s reasonable accommodation debate in 2007. Unlike Hérouxville, however, which banned stonings even though it only had a single immigrant family, Gatineau is home to about 250,000 and has seen a surge in international immigration in recent years.
The administration of Mayor Marc Bureau says it published its list of “essential values” to help the newly arrived fit in and learn “how to interact” in their new environment, according to the guide.
“We are basically saying: Thank you for coming to Gatineau, we’re very happy you’re here, and this is how things work,” said Mireille Apollon, the councillor responsible for cultural diversity in the city, which lies within the National Capital Region across the river from Ottawa.
“We receive immigrants from diverse horizons and cultures,” Ms. Apollon, who herself immigrated from Haiti decades ago, said on Sunday. “Behaviours aren’t uniform around the globe. There can be irritants.”
Some of the dos and don’ts of becoming a resident of Gatineau cover familiar ground for newcomers to Canada. Men and women are equal. In Quebec, French is the official language. Canadian and Quebec values include freedom, democracy and justice.
But the guide, which received funding from the Quebec government, also takes stands that typically remain outside the purview of civic officials.
On a page titled “Children are our most precious good,” the guide says that no-nos include “excessive punishments, corporal and sexual abuse, confinement, neglect, forced labour, humiliation, willful malnutrition,” among other things.
The section on punctuality says it’s best to show up to appointments on time or even a few minutes early. Under freedom of expression, the guide tells immigrants that journalists in Canada have the right to openly criticize their government. Religion, it says, is a private affair and religious indoctrination is “often not well perceived.”
One page mentions that it’s not okay to offer bribes. Under “hygiene, cleanliness and quality of life,” the guide says respecting others extends to curtailing smells like cigarette smoke and “strong odors emanating from cooking.”
The most detailed section, meanwhile, informs newcomers that violence is not justified in the name of “ancestral rights,” “safeguarding honour,” or “culture or religion.” The guide doesn’t mention particular immigrant groups by name, but notes that simple matters that are obvious to some people “might surprise others.”
Immigration has picked up speed in Gatineau in recent years. Fewer than one in 10 residents is foreign-born, but projections call for the number to increase. Immigration leapt 28 per cent last year over the previous year in the metropolitan region, the biggest rise in Canada after Edmonton. The city has seen a large increase in immigrants from Africa, including those from the French-speaking Maghreb.
Some critics say the guide is both of questionable value as well as redundant, since both Canada and Quebec already spell out the rights and responsibilities for immigrants. The latest edition of the federal government’s citizenship guide says Canada’s “openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”
Fo Niemi, head of the Centre for Research Action on Race-Relations, a Montreal-based rights group, denounced Gatineau’s guide, saying it was reminiscent of the church’s “paternalistic” attitude toward aboriginals in past decades. He said that immigrants to Quebec are selected for their high levels of education and professional achievement.
“This infantilizes them,” he said on Sunday. He says he knows many native-born Canadians who could use a lesson about punctuality, and at a time when bullying is at the forefront of national concerns, guidelines for overall civic responsibility would be useful.
“This singles out immigrants and treats them like they came out of a cave,” Mr. Niemi said. “It practically portrays them as being Neanderthals.”