A pointless, hurtful declaration (Editor’s notes)

Quebec town's list of norms drives away much-needed immigrants
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/20/2007

Some things go without saying. Apparently, this concept is lost on the small Quebec town of Hérouxville, located about 165 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

The town, which has a population of 1,300 and exactly one immigrant family, decided it would be a good idea to adopt a declaration of “norms” that immigrants should be aware of before they decide to settle there.

Among the list of norms, originally published in a five-page document, is the fact that women can drive, that it is forbidden to stone them or burn them with acid and that it’s not acceptable to hide your face unless it’s Halloween. They’ve since edited the declaration, removing the parts about stoning women and burning them with acid, but the bulk of it remains intact.

Children aren’t allowed to carry weapons to school. This includes ceremonial religious daggers like kirpans. (Apparently the town council isn’t aware, or frankly doesn’t care, that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Sikhs have the right to carry kirpans in schools.)

The declaration also pointed out that boys and girls often swim in the same swimming pools. When it comes to workplaces, it offers this bit of sage advice:

“The employers must respect the governmental laws regarding work conditions. These laws include holidays known and accepted in advance by all employees. These work conditions are negotiated democratically and once accepted both parties respect them.

“No law or work condition imposes the employer to supply a place of prayer or the time during the working day for this activity. You will also see men and women working side by side. We wear safety helmets on work sites, when required by law.”

André Drouin, a member of the town’s council, has said the town is simply “telling people who we are” and that the declaration is the result of a number of recent culture clashes across the country. Drouin argued the town is simply telling immigrants what they need to know if they’re going to be a part of Canada, something the federal immigration department has failed to do.

Hérouxville isn’t alone. At least five other small municipalities in Quebec are considering drafting similar declarations.

It’d be laughable if it wasn’t so demeaning. B’nai Brith Quebec, a Jewish advocacy group, called the declaration “an anti-immigrant, anti-ethnic backlash.” Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal, told the Canadian Press it was insulting. He asked, quite rightly, why the town was picking on Islam and Muslims and not weighing in on society’s ills in general.

It’s hard to say exactly what Hérouxville was hoping to accomplish when it drafted this declaration. But it’s easy to see what it got. First, it got a lot of press. Stories appeared across Canada, throughout the U.S. and overseas, often under the banner of “weird news” about this tiny Quebec town. Second, it got a black eye. While Drouin claimed to have received more than 2,000 e-mails in response to the declaration, almost all of them positive, the impression one now has of the town is tainted with a touch of racism. Third, it probably destroyed any chance immigrants — especially Muslim families — will choose to settle in the town anytime soon despite Hérouxville’s claim it wants more immigrants.

None of this is helping to solve the very real problems facing immigrants to Canada. Instead of passing nonsensical declarations, towns like Hérouxville should be putting a spotlight on the problems immigrants face in getting foreign credentials recognized. They should be pushing programs to help them improve fluency in English and French so they can break the cycles of poverty that plague many immigrant families.

Plus, there’s one glaring omission from Hérouxville’s declaration of norms — Canadians don’t usually publish declarations stating what their opinion of “normal” is. We usually leave that to the government, the courts and common sense.

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