New Canadian Media

Religious Accommodation Still a Struggle in Quebec

Written by  New Canadian Media Monday, 04 April 2016 19:51
Rate this item
(0 votes)
A Hasidic Jew out for a walk in Mile End, Montreal, a district where many cultural communities live in harmony side by side. Though an insular community, the Hasidic Jews live here in the same neighbourhood as the general population.
A Hasidic Jew out for a walk in Mile End, Montreal, a district where many cultural communities live in harmony side by side. Though an insular community, the Hasidic Jews live here in the same neighbourhood as the general population. Photo Credit: Elvira Truglia via NCM Stock Photo Library

by Elvira Truglia in Montreal

On one of the final stops during its two-year, cross-country “Our Canada” workshop series, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) held an open conversation about faith and social inclusion in Montreal last month.

According to Thomas Gallezot, francophone communities and outreach project officer for the organization, the CRRF aims to promote diversity and social inclusion through community dialogue. The objective of the workshop is to improve the ability of participants to manage workplace and community situations arising “out of conflicting religious practices and cultural values.”

While still predominantly Christian (65.8 per cent), more Montrealers now affiliate with religions other than Christianity (Islam: 9.6 per cent, Judaism: 2.4 per cent, Hinduism: 1.4 per cent, Buddhism: 2 per cent) according to the 2011 Census.

As non-Christian religions have become more visible, debates about culture, faith and values have heated up in Quebec’s public sphere. The proposed 2013 Quebec Charter of Values was an attempt to draw lines in the sand about secularism.

Most recently, a Quebec Human Rights Commission survey on diversity showed that 45 per cent of respondents had a negative view of religion. Forty-three per cent said people should be suspicious of anyone who expresses their religion openly, and 48.9 per cent said they were bothered by women wearing a veil.

Obstacles to social inclusion

A multi-faith panel, including Imam Shaykh Omar Koné, Rabbi Reuben Joshua Poupko, Father Engelbert Fotsing, Reverend Wilner Cayo, and David-Roger Gagnon, former spiritual and community animator at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) discussed whether faith is an obstacle to social inclusion during the workshop.

Networking at an after-work “5-à-7” (Happy Hour) is a common practice in Montreal, but “to go with work colleagues is problematic when you are practising Muslim who doesn’t drink.”

In the Muslim community, Koné said negotiating how to co-exist in a Judeo-Christian world is not always easy when your way of living is different than the majority. Networking at an after-work “5-à-7” (Happy Hour) is a common practice in Montreal, but “to go with work colleagues is problematic when you are practising Muslim who doesn’t drink,” he explained.

Optics is another challenge. “Employment, which is the first factor in integration, is problematic when we have a name that sounds Arab-Muslim,” Koné added.

Recent statistics back this up. Visible minorities make up 31 per cent of Montreal’s population, but they represent only 11 per cent of the City of Montreal’s workforce. The unemployment rate of North African immigrant women in Montreal is five times greater than women who are not visible minorities.

Poupko said recognizing different beliefs and believers is “vital to communal harmony.”

“Last year a young woman came to see me, a medical resident at the Royal Victoria Hospital. She's Jewish, but she doesn't look Jewish,” he shared.

The student told her supervisor that she was going to Jewish General Hospital on her medical rounds. Poupko said the supervisor responded, “I can't stand those people, they are so aggressive.”

The next day, the student arrived at work wearing a large Star of David. The employer was left speechless. 

“Anytime this [kind of thing] happens we’re still shocked by it,” said Poupko. “We all know this woman is going to be fine, she’s going to be a doctor … she's going to have a prosperous, secure life … no police is going to pull her over … because she looks suspicious.”

He said the doctor’s comments don’t compare to the discrimination and violence other minorities face in Quebec and across Canada.

"[I]t’s not necessarily their religion or their culture that people sometimes react to, but is the fact that they are spiritual or religious at all.”

Gagnon wants people to understand, “that it’s not necessarily their religion or their culture that people sometimes react to, but is the fact that they are spiritual or religious at all.”

He says this has to do with Quebec’s particular history and break with the Catholic Church after the Quiet Revolution. That “left deep scars,” said Gagnon. Acknowledging this history “will help the dialogue,” he added.

Best practices

There was consensus among the panelists that schools are the best place to be pro-active.

Gagnon gave credit to Quebec’s Spiritual and Community Animation program in elementary and secondary schools. As a former spiritual and community animator at the EMSB, he said focusing on spirituality rather than religion provides “a window to talk about what we have in common.”

The program was introduced after Bill 118 (2000) deconfessionalized public school boards and introduced a mandate to promote diversity and pluralism.

“There’s always this push and pull,” said Poupko. “I think it has do with asking what’s reasonable and expecting a common sense response.”

That’s the approach Cristina Bajenaru takes as Project Coordinator at the Centre d’Encadrement pour Jeunes Femmes Immigrantes, a community organization that helps young immigrant women integrate.

Bajenaru said her clientele comes from 60 countries so she has to take a common sense approach to accommodation. If her training workshops coincide with Muslim holidays, she explained, “I can’t tell them to come, but I can’t tell them not to come either.” She said she lets them decide, and roughly half the class ends up staying home.

Through community consultations, the CRRF compiled dozens of other real scenarios that have come up in workplaces across the country. These are included in the Faith and Belonging Toolkit, a resource for workshop participants to encourage discussion and develop appropriate responses to accommodation.

Using the resource, Gagnon said he was impressed at the ability of the group to come up with solutions to complex scenarios.

“Spirituality in the public sphere, in [the] workplace, in society, when we talk about it reasonably and calmly, we find solutions,” he said.


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

Zo2 Framework Settings

Select one of sample color schemes

Google Font

Menu Font
Body Font
Heading Font

Body

Background Color
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Top Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Header Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainmenu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Slider Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainframe Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image