MONTREAL — Former Parti-Québécois leader André Boisclair, right, was among a group of Canadian academic figures who were to leave for Poland and Israel on March 20 to attend conferences in each country on how immigrants can achieve a sense of belonging in their new communities.
Boisclair said in an interview that he welcomed the opportunity to describe for Poles and Israelis how the Quebec model for integrating immigrants has worked so well, despite obvious challenges.
“I think Quebec has shown the way it can be done,” he said.
Israel has also shown a keen interest in how immigrants and other minorities adapt, and it seemed a logical place to describe the Quebec model, he added.
Boisclair, who is also a former immigration and cultural communities minister, now teaches strategic communication at Concordia University’s school of public affairs. This is his first trip to both countries.
Other participants from Canada include former Quebec Superior Court justice Herbert Marx, president of the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS); York University history professor, Irving Abella; Victor Rabinovitch, head of the Canadian Museum of Civilization; historian Jocelyn Letourneau of Université Laval; Environics Research head and best-selling author Michael Adams; and Gerald Gall, an expert on constitutional law and civil liberties who teaches at the University of Alberta and is a regular CJN columnist.
ACS executive director Jack Jedwab said the trip came about as the result of an overture made by the Ruppin Academic Centre in Emek Hefer, an academic institute located between Hadera and Netanya on Israel’s coastal plain.
Also involved in the initiative was the Canadian-based Metropolis Project, described on its website as “an international network for comparative research and public policy development on migration, diversity and immigrant integration in cities in Canada and around the world.”
In Poland, the conference, called “Canada & Poland: Diaspora and Diversity,” is taking place at the Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora in Krakow, and includes leading Polish academics in the field.
The Israel-based component has a slightly different focus, consisting of a comparative examination of “immigration, integration and identity” in Israel and Canada. As in Poland, prominent Israeli academics in the field will be participating. In addition to the conference, in Poland, the group will visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, and the schedule includes a visit to Pabianice, the hometown of Jedwab’s mother Bella, an Auschwitz survivor who will also be on the trip, along with Jedwab’s daughters, Tamara and Romy.
The Canadian delegation will be accompanied – both in Poland and in Israel – by a Polish crew producing a documentary film for television funded by Omni Film Productions.
In Israel, the itinerary will include meetings with Israeli immigration and absorption officials and with Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen.
Although Boisclair received some criticism in 2006 for participating in a Montreal rally in the wake of the Israel-Lebanon conflict that was considered anti-Israel by many and saw the brandishing of Hezbollah flags, Boisclair said he considers it a privilege to visit Israel for the first time and take part, with other scholars, in a conference on immigration and minorities.
He also said he hopes to meet with Israeli government officials during the visit.