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Quebec's uncomfortable multiculturalism

12/05/07 12:00PM By Jane Lindholm
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Quebec, like the rest of Canada, has officially encouraged immigration. Twenty percent of Montreal residents are non-native born. While the U.S. talks about a "melting pot" ideal, Canadian governmental policy supports immigrants in maintaining their ethnic and religious identities. Now, this policy of “reasonable accommodation” is mired in conflict over competing needs and sensibilities.

Canadian journalist Shelly Pomerance reports on the recent events in some Quebec towns that have passed ordinances around cultural practices of immigrants. Then, join the conversation with our guests, Jeff Heinrich of the Montreal Gazette and Canadian social anthropologist Pierre Anctil, as we examine the issues, the history behind them and the work of the controversial Bouchard-Taylor Commission that’s been taking input from all sides.

Later in the program, Quebecois folk singing. Michele Choinere and Deb Flanders give an a capella performance from the French-Canadian tradition. Choiniere is performing Friday, December 7, at the Church Street Cafe in Lennoxville, Quebec. (819-875-5696)


Listener emails about this program:

Noel from Montreal wrote:

I think one way to assimilate newcomers to Quebec is to have English and French languages on public signs so that when one reads titles they can learn either language. I have lived in Montreal since 1964 and am reluctant to learn or speak French because I am told to do so. I would be willing to understand the language because French wording for a shoe shop, a rug store, a moving van, et cetera, would be notated. In other words, association is one-half the effort to learn another language.


David from Middlebury wrote:

Last year I noticed a curious thing. In France, the school system was trying to prohibit the wearing of hijab and other religious symbols by students. The reason given by French officials was separation of church and state! But that is the very principle that would probably lead U.S. school to NOT prohibit such symbols. Two very different views of how to keep church and state separate. Does Quebec have France's or America's view of church/state separation?


Tim wrote:

In the 1970's Quebec writers Dominique Cliff and Sheila Anopulous wrote a booked called "The English Fact in Quebec." The book was widely distributed in Quebec Schools and won a Governor General's award. The last chapter of the book was entitled "The Trojan House." This chapter pretty well predicted what is happening now....that the immigrants, or Allophones will eventually undoe Quebec's attempts to defend the French language and will prevent a vote for independence.

This is the background of your discussion. Underlying everything is the fear of Quebecois that their cultural and way of life will eventually undermined and Quebec will become much like any other area of North America.

Related Links

Bouchard-Taylor Commission
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