Muslim Council to get communities to participate and be vigilant with the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on Reasonable Accommodation

August 19, 2007

Montreal, Quebec, August 19th, 2007 - After a day-long discussion with some experts and more than 150 members from different spectrums of the community, the Muslim Council of Montreal (MCM) will undertake to mobilize both Muslim and non-Muslim Quebecers to participate in the consultations of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation.

The MCM will also form alliances with other ethnic and religious communities as well as groups representing the disabled, women and others to ensure that the Commission focuses on the issues in a manner that is balanced, inclusive and faithful to its original mandate.

The decision was made after discussions with key speakers such as Jack Jedwab, Executive Director of the Association of Canadian Studies; Marie McAndrew, director of the Ethnic Studies Chair at the Université de Montréal; Pearl Eliadis, an international human rights expert; Patricia Rimok, Chair of the Quebec Intercultural Council; Sameer Zubeeri, coordinator of CAIR-CAN, and Fo Niemi, Executive Director of CRARR.

Many speakers discussed concerns and problems with the Commission's consultation document which include:

* An obvious bias towards the French Canadian majority and a disregard of the concerns and views of ethnic and religious minorities in Quebec;

* A failure to provide a historical perspective on discrimination, intolerance and successful experiences in accommodation of ethnic and religious differences in Quebec;

* An exclusionary view of Quebec that excludes Aboriginal peoples and anglophones and that further balkanizes society along ethnic and geographical lines;

* A failure to properly explain reasonable accommodation as a legal concept to avoid discrimination not only against ethnic and religious minorities, but also against women, the disabled and seniors; and

* An excessive focus on immigrant integration while the Commission's mandate is specifically about reasonable accommodation and other practices related to diversity in broader terms.

Participants also expressed serious reservations about the Commission's consultations which will begin this Fall in regions outside Montreal first before holding public meetings in Quebec's largest city. According to many, this process will create a stacked deck against minorities, most of whom are in Montreal and that French-language media will further fan the flames of anti-immigrant sentiments and racism throughout the province before Montrealers will have a chance to express their opinions.

According to MCM President Salam Elmenyawi, "There are very serious and deep concerns about how the social climate in Quebec has evolved in recent months, to the point where Muslims and their non-Muslims friends not only feel like second-class citizens, but that they have been also the main target of racism and xenophobia."

"Many Muslims want to participate but hesitate because the process not only seems biased, but the way the Commission is made up and addresses the issues lets them feel that it is futile. However, after today's meeting, we feel less marginalized and we will work in partnership with Quebecers of all origins to ensure that the Commission addresses the real issues in a more balanced way," he added.

Acting on today's recommendations, the MCM will join other groups in the coming days to meet with the Commission and ask it to change its consultation's process and issue other consultation documents that better reflect minority groups' concerns.