Australian Views Canada’s Multi-Culti
IF you doubt that the fine notion of a human right is degenerating into a greasy little phrase used to hold Western mores to ransom, it’s time to return to the birthplace of multiculturalism. Canada, the country that invented multiculturalism more than 30 years ago, has been consumed with another doctrine in recent weeks. Canadians call it “reasonable accommodation of minorities”. Translated into Australian, the question becomes: at what point should we tell minorities “You’ve had a fair go, pal, now stop asking for special favours”?
To understand this fertile debate, you need to dip into Canada’s multicultural chronicles. A Montreal YMCA agrees to frost the windows of a room used for exercise classes so that teenage boys at a neighbouring synagogue will be saved the indignity of glimpsing Lycra-clad women doing Pilates and aerobics classes. An Ontario judge orders the removal of a Christmas tree from the entrance to a Toronto court to avoid offending non-Christian sensibilities.
The Supreme Court overturns a Quebec school board’s ban on Sikh students wearing a kirpan – a ceremonial metal dagger – to school because it infringes a boy’s religious freedom. Female police officers in Montreal are requested to let their male counterparts deal with Orthodox Jews who find it offensive to be touched by a female. A Filipina mother complains to the Quebec Human Rights Commission about her son being chided at school for the way he eats. The school said they were targeting bad manners. The mother said it was the traditional Filipino way of eating. And……….. on and on it goes.
Against that background, a small town in Quebec caused quite a stir last month by issuing a set of standards so newcomers understand “the social life and habits and customs” of life in their new country.
The provocative statement issued by Herouxville says that a “woman can drive a car, vote, sign cheques, dance, decide for herself, speak her piece, dress as she sees fit … walk alone in public places, study, have a job … However, we consider that killing women in public beatings or burning them alive are not part of our standards of life.”
The statement explains that townsfolk listen to music, drink alcohol and decorate Christmas trees. Boys and girls play games together, men and women ski on the same hill, and “if you came to my place we would send the kids to swim together in the pool”.
“Don’t be surprised, this is normal for us,” the declaration says. It seems that Herouxville, a town with no migrants but in need of immigration, has been watching events unfold in Europe. Mayor Claude Dupont told one newspaper that the standards are “saying out loud what some people are thinking quietly but don’t have the balls to say”.
But when a small town in Quebec does the talking, it is depicted as insular, racist hicksville by Canada’s left-leaning media. When respected academics such as Francis Fukuyama say more or less the same thing, even keen multiculturalists will slowly nod their heads and concede there may be something to this argument about realigning the unruly rights debate.
Writing in the Journal of Democracy last year, Fukuyama pointed out that “some contemporary Muslim communities are making demands for group rights that simply cannot be squared with liberal principles of individual equality” on which Western societies are built. The kinds of accommodation include demands for sharia law, or at least Islamic family law, the right to exclude non-Muslims from certain types of events or the right to challenge free speech in a pluralist society, he explained.
…meanwhile, back to Australia’s experiment in Mult-culti