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The Smelly Souvlaki or the Appropriate Poutine?

In recent weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that La Belle Province has not gotten over its conflict over reasonable accommodation of immigrants and ethnic minorities. Five years after Bouchard-Taylor, the two-man commission tasked with the responsibility of investigating policies of accommodation for new immigrants, it is clear that the divide between Quebecois and Quebecer identity continues to be a source of tension. A recent complaint by a man to the Quebec Human Rights Commission regarding the City of Gatineau’s “immigrants’ guides” demonstrates this reality.

Among the guides’ instructions for “proper” conduct in Canadian and Quebec society are advisories against cooking smelly food, stoning women, and withholding food from children as a form of punishment, and injunctions that immigrants be punctual and maintain good hygiene. Despite the supposed generality of these “warnings”, not to mention the ridiculous assumption that somehow these are novel to immigrants, it is undeniable that they are primarily directed at immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. This trend of advisory “warnings” is not new to Quebec, or Canada, but rather a persisting thorn in a country that boasts of its reputation as one of the most successful multicultural societies, in contrast to the failed integration policies of European countries.

So the question is whether Quebec is moving toward these very failed policies of nations such as France or Germany, towards “interculturalism,” or if these “immigrants’ guides” simply reflect Quebec’s expectation that immigrants should respect its “guiding principles?” The apparent inner “conflict” we all have about eating “smelly foods” like Falafel, Souvlaki or Smoked Meat over an “appropriate” Crepe or Poutine shows the true absurdity of this debate. While the issues of gender equality and domestic violence among certain recent immigrants groups indeed are problems and completely reprehensible, the dissemination of these pamphlets does not accomplish anything, but rather has the harmful effect of reinforcing the ugly prejudices we tend to have toward people we do not know or understand.

At the same time that the City of Gatineau began releasing these “advisory” warnings, the Harper government announced plans to scale back immigration backlogs, cutting down on the number parents and grandparents of recent immigrants allowed into the country as well as lowering the overall immigration rate, as Canada apparently does not have the “capacity” for new immigrants. That issue aside, recent hostility towards immigration in Quebec may be tied to other problems in the province, notably its crumbling infrastructure and the prevalence of have-not statuses. As history demonstrates, immigrants make easy scapegoats for the ills of society. Although credit can be given to the many towns and cities throughout Quebec that did not publish this pamphlet, the publication in Gatineau does demonstrate that prejudices still run deep.  Asked personally whether I prefer a smelly souvlaki or an “appropriate” poutine, I choose the former.

–  Cody Levine


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  1. Great article!

  2. Mmmmm, my favourite is shish taouk with its smelly onions and garlic sauce.

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