As the hearings into the reasonable accommodation of minorities wrap up, one has to wonder if the people who got the most media coverage reflected mainstream Quebec. Did extremist voices drown out moderate ones, or were they just natural parts of a healthy public debate?

The Bouchard-Taylor commission on the reasonable accommodation of minorities is to hold its final round of hearings this week in Montreal. Political parties, businesses and labour unions will get the bullhorn in what is arguably the hottest debate in Quebec. But the open-mike nights that provided 271 individuals and groups with unfiltered air time are over. Their comments, and those in 642 written briefs that were submitted, will be included in a final report due in March from the commission co-chairpersons, sociologist and historian Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor. The Gazette spoke to a supporter and an opponent of the commission's process.

Lamine Foura, 38, is an engineer and community radio host who says the commission is a distraction from the real issues facing minorities.

Gazette: What was wrong with having a debate about cultural accommodation?
Foura: The very set-up of this commission showed how (government leaders) are ignoring the real issues facing immigrant Quebecers: poverty and lack of jobs. ... The commission caused discrimination because people - including employers - watching it became more suspicious of immigrants. When (people at the hearings) said women who are veiled are submitting to their husbands, it was insulting. Of course they're not.

Gazette: How could they have avoided extremist views?
Foura: What they should have done at the start of the hearings is lay out some basic facts. For instance, many people think most immigrants are refugees, when only 15 per cent are. Most have gone through the system and paid their fees. They should have talked about how many actual accommodations there are. It's been three months of these hearings. Do we know how many accommodations there actually are and what they are for? The commissioners had the responsibility to speak realistically about immigration. Instead, the hearings just stigmatized immigrants further.

Gazette: Why do you think the hearings were held, if not to generate dialogue and understanding?
Foura: It was (Premier Jean) Charest wanting to save himself politically. But he created more of a problem. Immigrants want to respect the communities they live in, but if they can't find jobs because of discrimination, how are they supposed to do that? The forum was a political tool, but at what cost? I came here in 1999 and I don't recognize Quebec anymore. ... The problem is that people believe the sensationalism in the media, and they assume the worst. Quebecers need to give people time to adjust.

Source: http://www.canadacom/montrealgazette/news/saturdayextra/story.html?id=334dd99d-2798-4588-a9d4-6326f09b0947&p=2

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