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A sign at the entrance of this rural Quebec town says: Herouxville welcomes you.
Unless, that is, you plan on stoning a woman to death, sending your kids to school with a kirpan or covering your face other than on Halloween.
Town councillor Andre Drouin takes a walk outside his home in Herouxville, Que., Monday Jan. 29, 2007.
The town council of Herouxville, a sleepy town dominated by a towering Roman Catholic church, has adopted a declaration of “norms” that it says would-be immigrants should be aware of before they settle in this town.
Among them, it is forbidden to stone women or burn them with acid.
Children cannot carry weapons to school. That includes ceremonial religious daggers like kirpans even though the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Sikhs can carry kirpans in schools.
However, children can swim in a pool with other children — boys and girls alike because they can’t be segregated.
And for the record, female police officers in Herouxville, 165 kilometres northwest of Montreal, can arrest male suspects. Also part of the declaration is to allow women to drive, dance and make decisions on their own.
“We’re telling people who we are,” said Andre Drouin, one of six town councillors and the driving force behind the declaration passed earlier this month.
The small town, near Shawinigan in central Quebec, has only one immigrant family and wants more.
But Drouin said the declaration, which was posted on the town’s website website and sent to the provincial and federal immigration ministers, is the result of a number of recent culture clashes across the country.
In Montreal, a dispute erupted after the windows of a gym were obscured to block the view of exercising women from the Hasidic Jewish synagogue across the street and swimming pools have been asked for gender-specific swim times to accommodate religious groups.
Men were banned from prenatal classes at one Montreal community centre to accommodate Muslim, Sikh and Hindu women and a city police publication came under fire for suggesting female officers should defer to male colleagues when dealing with men from certain religions.
In Toronto, a judge caused an uproar last month by ordering a Christmas tree removed from a courthouse so as not to offend non-Christians.
Debate has raged in Quebec in recent weeks about so-called “reasonable accommodation” of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities and a Montreal police officer is facing disciplinary action over a song circulating on the Internet about it.
“I asked myself, ‘How is it that these people can ask for such things?’ And the only possible answer is that these people do not know who we are,” Drouin said.
According to the five-page declaration, in Herouxville children sing Christmas songs at Christmas and adults can drink alcohol.
Immigrants want to be part of Canada, Drouin said, and to do that they need to know what is acceptable and what isn’t.
It’s something the federal immigration department has failed to do, he said.
Drouin said the more accommodations made for minorities, the greater the divide.
“One of these days you will have (many divided) groups in Canada and groups in Canada, or groups in any country, doesn’t make a country,” he said.
Premier Jean Charest said Monday that in Quebec men and women are already equal under the law and that Shariah law has been rejected.
Quebecers are tolerant, Charest said.
“I think it’s an isolated case,” he said.
B’nai Brith Quebec deemed the declaration “an anti-immigrant, anti-ethnic backlash” and Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal, called it insulting.
“Why are they picking on Islam and Muslims?” he asked, adding he wonders why the Herouxville council hasn’t weighed in on society’s ills in general.
The declaration is full of stereotypes, he said, adding that his wife can drive a car and Muslim women do have rights.
Elmenyawi said Quebec is tolerant overall, but the Herouxville council is “confused and misguided.”
“I can’t imagine Muslims immigrating there,” Elmenyawi said.
But Drouin, who was juggling dozens calls Monday, said the town, which has just one immigrant family among its 1,338 residents, welcomes newcomers.
“We need them and we want them. And we also want them to have made the correct choice for them,” he said.
He said the town council has received about 2,000 e-mails, the vast majority supportive.
The declaration was the talk of the town, a typical Quebec village stretched out on a country road just north of Shawinigan.
“I’m not a racist but, at a certain point we’re all going to end up that way,” Carole Casabon, one of many local residents who support the declaration, said as she served up some regulars at the Pub 842.
“If we travel abroad, we try to adapt to their way of life. But when they come here, they abide by their own rules.”he central Quebec town.
Premier Jean Charest said today that Quebec is a tolerant society and the town’s resolution is an isolated case.
Quebec is in the middle of a debate about what is considered reasonable accommodation of racial, ethnic and religious minorities.
[You can visit Herouxville’s website here.]
(Posted on January 31, 2007)