Us vs. Them

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Maple Leaf— So, we (want) need immigrants. Preferably (young) not to old, (who won’t need any social help) educated, and (white) who will blend in easily. Oh, and (no terrorists) (preferably Catholic ) — no really, we don’t mind.

Last February, the Premier of Québec called a commission to gauge the province’s feeling on immigrants. Chaired by two academics, Taylor and Bouchard, it would travel across Québec and hear the people. After a provincial election dominated by various debates about immigration, it seemed like the right thing to do. I just wish I wouldn’t hear about it everyday, cause it really makes me doubt of the world we live in.

The provincial government inquiry (which full name is, please take a paper and a pen, I won’t repeat it — the Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodements reliées aux différences culturelles — really, French isn’t that long usually) is currently traveling in Québec and so far read about 120 briefs and heard more than 1 000 “witnesses” — citizens like you and me. And trust me, they do speak their mind about the “reasonable accommodations”.

The term “reasonable accommodation” refers to the obligation of society (employers, schools etc.) to change some general rules for certain people, under the condition that there is no “excessive constraint”.

A lot of people benefits from these “reasonable accommodations” everyday: guide dogs are usually exempt from regulations against the presence of animals in places such as restaurants and public transportation; most employers will try to put pregnant women in less strenuous positions and as a student you can usually ask for additional time for exams if you have a disability.

This is commonsense. The commission doesn’t challenge that and nor do most people… but things turn sour when religion is involved. Indeed, today’s issue revolve around the question of “reasonable accommodations” of cultural and religious minorities, and where the limits should be drawn.

Now, would you allow a Sikh to wear his turban when working with the public? Would you allow employees to take a day off to celebrate their various religious holidays? Would you allow Muslim girls playing soccer to wear a veil? Would you mind seeing kosher food in your local supermarket? Do you care if schools serve a variety of kosher meals, vegetarian meals, ḥalāl meal etc.? Is it okay for municipal employees to say a prayer before the council?

And so the commission is talking… From the clergyman who want to evangelize Quebec again to the hard-liner atheist who want to remove the cross on top of the Mont Royal; from the small town in the middle of nowhere which outlawed “stoning and excision” (!) to fed-up citizens who want to ban immigration altogether… — the “us vs. them” dichotomy has never been stronger. A few Quebecers already published an open letter, voicing their concern about growing expressions of intolerance toward minorities in Quebec. They don’t want to be associated with racists comments — I understand them.

The target of the rule is more often than not Islam: religious accommodations make the pill harder to swallow for most people.The Quiet Revolution secularized the province but Quebec still has strong catholic roots. A clash was bound to happen. Today (and not for the first time) Québec fears that its identity has been sacrificed at multiculturalism’s altar.

But immigrants are immigrants. We start from zero in a new country but we can’t really erase our memory, the years of tradition behind us. We have a past. “Adapt or go back home!” — I read that many times. It’s true… to a certain extend. Is adapting that easy, really? There’s a huge gap between the desire of some to turn their adoptive country into their native land and other that just want to see their personal freedom respected.

I like Canadian values: a secular society where we are all equal, the multiculturalism and the tolerance. I certainly wouldn’t challenge these values and true, newcomers and locals alike should be educated about them.

That said, I’m pretty sure I contributed to change the face of Canada. Sounds pretentious? Maybe. I did adapt to Canada: I don’t eat the same food as in France, I read English books, go to hockey games rather than to Art Galleries and my mindset changed as well. But I still buy cheese, borrow French books from the library, I can’t bring myself to queue at Tim Horton’s to get my cup of coffee and I certainly won’t eat before 8pm. Voluntarily or not, I brought a bit of my French upbringing in Canada.

We all do, to a certain extend. I’d rather not see women wearing the burqa, but I really don’t mind the veil. It’s none of my business if the bus driver chooses to wear a turban. And I know first hand that it’s not that easy to learn a foreign language, so I don’t always expect the first generation of refugees to speak perfect English or French. Chinese and Italians immigrants are well-known for their respective “Chinatown” and “Little Italy” where we can all sample ethnic food — who’s gonna complain about that? Even our vocabulary reflects the multiculturalism, with words such as “pasta”, “déjà-vu”, “dim sum” etc.

There are basic values that should be respected, but even as a atheist, I don’t mind people wearing a cross, a kirpan, headgear or Satan worshiping teeshirts for that matters. What you are allowed to eat is your business, not mine. And let’s just stress on the fact that a huge percentage of immigrants just want their share of the American dream and will blend in and enrich Canada’s culture. The world is changing. I don’t see a future for homogeneous, tight-knit societies. A country’s identity isn’t something still and unchangeable — it evolves through times.

Meanwhile, the commission looks more and more like a big public vent session. The majority fear the minority. Fear for its cultural identity. Fear that soon, they will be a minority, hosts in their own country.

But where are we going with that daily display of hate and xenophobia?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I’ve been trying to comment on this thing for half an hour now. … well, I’m just another stupid American, no one cares what happens to us anyway. I just hope Canada is paying attention.

    Ghosty’s last blog post..Angry White Man

  2. I understand the aims of such commissions can sound a bit stupid but I think it’s a necessity when it concerns millions of people sharing the same country with significant changes everyday as a result of modern and fast means of communication along with the massive immigrations. You can’t always leave things to adapt by themselves as it could be the case when changes were slower and there were fewer people. Some clashes would be unavoidable so better try to bring some rules, as silly as they can sound at first sight.

    FroggyWoogie’s last blog post..Christmas Training

  3. The veil thing is an issue here in schools, and since there is no clear law about it, each school decides. So far, the right to education has prevailed and girls are allowed to wear their veils in school, but there are always people against this kind of thing. Right now there’s a big debate about what to do with immigrants who commit crimes, and the last I heard was that for violent crimes the government would send them back to their countries of origin. That in itself doesn’t seem like a bad idea because if you choose to live in a country you should respect it’s laws, but I hope that doesn’t lead to more racist behavior. It’s too bad that those few individuals spoil it for the rest who just want to have a decent life like the rest of us. A commission doesn’t sound like a bad idea, as long as part of its mission is to teach tolerance and help people see that on the inside immigrants are people just like them.

    Theresa’s last blog post..Which came first, the pumpkin or the kids?

  4. Ahhh, it is such a sticky situation. I believe that the human race aspires to be more logical and identify reasonable and practical solutions to the social problems that we face. The problem is we are emotional beings. We are influenced by fear, jealosy, envy, etc.

    We are afraid of becoming the minority and then lose our rights to dress, worship, believe as we want to. So our fear drives us to treat others in exactly the way that we don’t want to be treated.

    I personally believe that fear must be addressed through education. To learn about someone else’s culture doesn’t rob you of your own. As I learn about other cultures and religions, I am pleasantly surprised about how much we all have in common.

    We have similar issues in the US to which anyone who hears the news can attest. People are so sharply divided on it that I think any “discussion” on the subject would turn into a riot. Sometimes, I’d like to remind people that we are all immigrants. My ancestors hail from England and if the history books are right the native americans crossed over from Russia on the ice pack to Alaska.

    So, who is the immigrant and who is the local?

    Angela May’s last blog post..Please Pass The Pink Penguin!!

  5. HI ZHU,

    Thanks for this wonderfull photo, I visited your blog also the other day , but sometimes (like yesterday and friday) I could not find the comments’spot.. ooooopppss , now I found it to say that I Relly want to wish you a great SUNDAY!

    What do you eat in the morning?
    Look at my blog and see my Dutch(part of art ) breakfast:)

    Greetings JoAnn:)

    JoAnn Photography (HOLLAND)’s last blog post..In the morning…studio-works

  6. Im an immigrant myself here in Aus. So I know where ur coming from Zhu and I uderstant what u said here.

    But I also agree with Froggy’s comment. We gotta look at the population increase due to immigration etc and take action according to that, to cater for a ‘better’lifestyle for everyone in the country.


  7. Thoughtful post. And I think you put your finger on one of the main reasons these are “hot topics” – FEAR. Fear drives people to extreme positions. I see it here in the US every day!

    Art’s last blog post..Weekend?s Over

  8. Ghosty : no, you’re not a stupid American 😉 And everyone is entitle to his opinion, no problem here ! I just don’t see the big deal… I think the media are playing with our fears, and we all fall for it.

    Froggiewoogie : I don’t think the aims of the commission are stupid, but people’s reactions are quite scary in my opinion. Canada is a very peaceful country… huge place with a small population. Half of the people talking at this commission have never seen a foreigner their whole life. That’s stupid to me.

    Theresa : the veil was a big issue in France. To be honest, I have trouble to take position myself… two sides are conflicting : my atheist side and my multicultural side. Not sure there’s a best way to deal with that… great comment though, and thanks for sharing your thoughts !

    Angela : what a great comment as well ! I agree with everything you said. Very smart analysis ! I personally like to remind people here that the First Nations were pretty nice to the first European settlers here in the new world…

    JoAnne : I’ll be over to have a look at your latest pics. I’m bad… I don’t eat in the morning !

    Sir Jorge : I thought it was time to change 😉

    Keshi : thanks for understanding my point of view ! The issue is quite complex anyway, I don’t think there’s one way to deal with it. But being an immigrant myself gave me a new perspective, that’s for sure.

    Art : good point. Fear is everything here… but what do we exactly fear ??? I sometimes don’t get it.

  9. I have a nosey question for you Zhu: when you come back to France for some vacation, do you feel French or just a lucky stranger who can understand the language pretty well?
    I bet it’s a bit of both but which side is stronger?

    FroggyWoogie’s last blog post..Christmas Training

  10. I don’t really feel 100% French anymore… it takes me time to adjust when I go there. I’m too polite, to American, I have an accent (according to some of my friends !) and I lost track of the latest strikes and political dramas. Feels weird to be honest…

    I left as a kid as well, I was just 18. I’m different now… Probably more grown-up as well. According to my parents, I’m too capitalist and practical too 😆

  11. Great post! I think liberal immigration policies have been key in making the USA (and even Canada) a stronger and more prosperous nation than most. The pros of immigration are too many to list out, and most supporters of the concept of a “global village” do so because they like variety and diversity. However, it is because communities in our world were isolated from each other in the past, that gave rise to this diversity in the long-term.

  12. On the one hand, the planet belongs to everyone and the whole package came without borders. Originally.

    On the other hand, if u want to see how bad democracy is, have a chat with a random stranger in the street (Churchill, I think it was)

  13. And since we are on the “us vs. them” topic, can I push it a little bit 😈 and ask for the Saltire (the Scottish flag) to appear along my comments instead of the Union Jack?

    Or is the software u r using too state-centric for these purposes? 😆

  14. this is also a burning issue here in Sweden, and i guess all over europe. the extreme rights are gaining grounds.

    what i don’t like about many “pioneer immigrants” is they often forget that their ancestors were the ones who usurped the country they claim to have “found”, in many cases almost decimating the native populace. i think people with that kind of hostile mentality towards new waves of immigrants with different cultural values are those who have inherited the smugness and arrogance of their forefathers.

  15. Hi,
    I’ve had a look around your site and would be interested in exchanging links with you. If this is of interest, please do get in contact.
    Best Wishes,

    Richard’s last blog post..Mark Ronson featuring Lily Allen – Oh My God

  16. Diesel: Sometimes I’m optimistic. And I think I love people.

    Keshi: and also a lot of personal feelings getting in the way… I think once you’ve gone through the immigration process, once you’ve understood what being a foreigner actually means, you see things differently.

    Shantanu: I like the concept of global village, but of course, it’s not all black or white. There’s room for educating people about the benefits of immigration though… do you have a lot of immigrants in India ? Just curious.

    Itelli: I love the quote ! 😆 Sorry about my not-so-Scottish-friendly flag plugin. I respect you guys so much, but no, don’t have the Scottish flag plugin yet… 😆

    Mogli: we forgot about a lot of things…. we have a short memory. How does Sweden handle the immigration issue ? I’ve always seen Nordic countries as pretty homogeneous, but I may be wrong. Just a stereotype…

    Richard: thanks and why not ! I’ll be over at your blog in a little while 😉

  17. you know, we see this all around our country (bahrain). its a tiny country, population of around 700,000 people, but with the amount of people coming in for jobs, citizenship, etc, the whole shape of society is being skewed. culture is being changed. the whole atmosphere has changed to accomodate all the foreigners (new locals).

  18. 🙄 🙄 🙄
    Hi Zhu I hope it has put my eyerolling “thang” up above like I asked it to…
    Your blog has changed and yet when I click on your image I get to your old one… O! I get it… different “blogger” thangs…
    How do I get my picture up here all trendy and like…
    I’m glad you said you liked my tagline or whatever the expression is… no-one else has even mentioned it!
    Many thanks for your expression…
    are you teaching French in schools though?
    Are most Canadians fully bilingual like Belgians then? I’ve noticed the English speaking portion don’t really seem ever to mention their francophone co-hortts…
    Then I saw Celine Dion speaking on TV from years ago and was genuinely surprised that she was bad at English… is Canada really such a divided country?
    Please tell me you can tell me privately on my email if you don’t want to leave a comment… bear in mind I spend about 7 years of my life studying French, Welsh and German (long story) so languages are a fascination of mine…
    🙄 🙄 🙄

    Gledwood’s last blog post..Brand New Gremlinerry/etc…

  19. Hey Zhu,

    Congratulations on such an important theme!

    I agree with you: I don’t mind the Sikhs wearing their turban (it’s their culture); employees have the right to holidays anyway, so let them manage those days (for religious people holidays are extremely important, so let’s respect that); I don’t mind the girls wearing veils (not burqas though); I don’t mind at all seeing kosher food in my local supermarket; Kosher meals are delicious (just like any other cultural dish); I am not against municipal employees to say a prayer in the workplace.

    We, westerners, claim to be more tolerant…so, let’s act that way for good. If we start saying “adjust if you want to leave here” we are being no different than Muslim countries that actually make us wear those veils and burqas when we visit their countries (it’s ok for them, they are used to it; but for us to wear them under extreme heat is torture) *nodding*.

    I am in favour of immigration cause it means development, cultural exchange and enrichment, and in Portugal it means population (natality rates).

    You are an excellent example of an immigrant, and asset to Canada, and thank God you kept your French idiosyncracies :).


    Max Coutinho’s last blog post..The Four Seasons of Truth

  20. Hi Zhu 😛
    “There’s a huge gap between the desire of some to turn their adoptive country into their native land and other that just want to see their personal freedom respected.” – very well said and very true, I think that the immigrants should go for the latter and the natives should tolerate for them. In my country, there are a lot of immigrants and quite a large number of them, mostly from the group with low education level, were involved in various crimes, but unfortunately, this group has caused people to look bad at the rest of them.

    zunnur’s last blog post..When I was away

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