The first in a series of complaints has been filed at the Quebec Human Rights Commission over
the City of Gatineau’s controversial guidelines for new immigrants.
Four people, all of them immigrants, have reached out to an anti-discrimination organization for help.
“The first complaint has been filed this morning, and there are more to come,” said Fo Niemi on Monday.
Niemi, director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, a Montreal-based advocacy group, said it could take two years to come to a decision through the Human Rights Commission.
He declined to name the four people involved, but said that three of them are from the Maghreb area of Africa, while another is a black francophone from Africa. All have been in Canada for up to 10 years, having lived for the last two to six years in Gatineau.
“They felt singled out,” said Niemi. “When they read the handbook, they felt like they were being […] ridiculed and infantalized. And also, they feel like they are subject to all kinds of stereotypes. Not for what it says, but what it insinuates.”
New immigrants are counselled to avoid bribing officials, and not to commit honour killings. Children are not to be punished excessively, nor be physically or sexually abused. Some of the tips in the 16-point guide are found in the federal government’s guide for new immigrants, but others raised eyebrows. The guide warned against cooking food with pungent flavours and avoiding smells like cigarette smoke, and stressed the importance of punctuality and good hygiene.
“The fact that the book is targeted specifically towards immigrants – the assumption is that immigrants don’t share or don’t have these values,” said Niemi. “So that’s why these values are considered important to immigrants’ successful integration in society.”
Another issue Niemi took issue with was the line that “religion is a private matter.”
“This is contrary to the constitution and to laws, since there’s no laws that says that religion is a private matter,” said Niemi, unlike in countries like France, where religious symbols are banned from public space.
The guidebook also paints an unrealistic vision of the makeup of Gatineau, said Niemi.
“The code of values in the handbook presents Quebec society in Gatineau as if there are no anglophones, no First Nations people, and other groups that are equally important to what we call diversity. There’s not even mention of people with disabilities.”
In response, four different groups that help 2,000 immigrants a year in the city have boycotted the guidebook, including Accueil Parrainage Outaouais.
Gatineau is the fourth-largest city in the province, with over 240,000 residents. According to Statistics Canada, it saw an influx of over 5,000 immigrants from 2001 to 2005.
Comparisons have been drawn between Gatineau’s guidebook and the statement of values issued by the town of Herouxville, Que. in 2007. The controversial statement of conduct reminded newcomers that stoning was not permitted in the town, making Gatineau the second Quebec town to issue a statement of values targeted to immigrant newcomers, noted Niemi.