Pontiac, Big-Hearted Quebec Country

Posted 04.03.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | We are a land, a region, and a city of immigrants: all our families have come from somewhere else, at some point. Even aboriginal people were on the move, migrating. So why are many people upset with immigrants today?

This is a serious question, and Quebec has been at the forefront of the whole world in dealing with it and related questions.

"Reasonable accommodation" was Quebec's goal and the debate continues; this year Quebec is banning certain religious clothing in public places. We say "religious", but we mean "immigrant." If we really objected to religious paraphernalia in public places, we would ban yarmulkes, turbans, crucifixes, necklaces with crosses, and so forth.

Specifically, the new laws propose that we should be able to communicate freely with public persons within public services -- and good communications includes seeing eyes and faces. It's as if this legislation puts body language into the law.

Not everyone is hostile or fearful of new arrivals. Our rural Quebec neighbours in the Pontiac held a multicultural day, March 12, in Campbells' Bay where newcomers to the Pontiac were invited to bring food and music from their original homes, and to take part in local culture, as well as in the culture of other immigrants. Food from southern India, for example, is likely as strange to a Japanese immigrant as it is to a fifth-generation Pontiac resident.

The day was a great success, and, I understand, the newcomers left not only with a basket of local samples -- maple syrup, honey, candles, etc-but with a feeling of being accepted and respected. Perhaps this works only in a rural area where there are no alienated crowds, and none of the hyper-ventilating media which thrives on exaggeration and the florid.

Pontiac faces serious problems -- kids leaving, shortage of services, and of professionals, lack of jobs and markets, and so forth. Immigrants address those problems -- they buy goods and property, increasing the marketplace, they hire, they invest, and they bring high levels of education and an admirable work and family ethic that we locals would do well to imitate. Some immigrants bring old customs, beliefs, and old hostilities, creating the problems the new laws hope to address. But to see only problems here is to ignore the self-destructive behaviour we locals create within our own communities -- from alcohol and drugs to anti-social and uncooperative attitudes. No one culture has a monopoly on problems, and none are pure. Look at the difficulties the Pope faces today for the abuse under his watch.

Focusing on what's positive, welcoming, and on tolerance will benefit all of us. Bravo for Pontiac's vegetable soup mix: the MRC, CREP, CSSSP, plus the Youth Table, Thanks for the lesson, country cousins.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/04.10