MONTREAL — Canadian Jewish Congress disagrees with the Bouchard-Taylor commission’s recommendation that judges, Crown prosecutors and police officers should not be permitted to wear religious symbols.
Victor Goldbloom, Congress’ Quebec region president, said such attire is a matter of religious freedom and a ban would effectively bar, for example, an Orthodox Jew from being named to the bench
Overall, however, Goldbloom found the report to be “positive and balanced.”
“We are pleased that a number of things we put before the commission in our brief have found their way into the report. We recognize that reasonable accommodation should not be a one-way street. It should not only be the obligation of the majority to make adjustments for minorities, which is the perception many francophone Quebecers have.”
Goldbloom welcomes the co-chairs’ specific recommendation to combat anti-Semitism, but he thinks negative attitudes toward Jews are largely a result of lack of contact with the community.
While the hearings did “provide a platform for a handful of individuals to say unpleasant things,” Goldbloom said he is disinclined to accuse the process of fanning anti-Semitism or to exaggerate the problem of anti-Semitism in the province generally.
He said he thinks commission co-chairs Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor were slow at first to check such comments, but later on in the hearings, they intervened more readily.
“We would have preferred to have had more control over the open-microphone sessions, but the co-chairs are absolutely decent people, and in no way can they be considered to have condoned any of these negative things.”
Goldbloom has undertaken to travel outside the Montreal area, where there are few or no Jews, to speak to francophone groups about the community’s deep roots in Quebec and its “common values” with Quebecers. So far, Goldbloom has been in Drummondville, St. Jean, Quebec City and Trois-Rivières.
“I’d like to emphasize that we must recognize and respect the existential anxiety of our French-speaking brothers and sisters over their language and culture.”
B’nai Brith Canada, which has drawn a direct parallel between the commission’s activities and a rise in anti-Semitism, said the report offers an “overly simplistic and naïve prescription” for overcoming inter-community problems through dialogue and exchange.
“The real and pressing issues surrounding reasonable accommodation will not go away now that this report has been tabled,” said Allan Adel, national chair of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights. “The ugly face of bigotry and racism that manifested itself during this process must be confronted head on if we are to constructively move forward on the path of reconciliation aspired to by the authors.
B’nai Brith recommends the immediate introduction of a province-wide educational campaign to counter prejudice and discrimination.
The report was genuinely welcomed by Alex Werzberger, head of the Coalition of Chassidic Organizations of Outremont.
“It’s definitely going to improve the atmosphere, especially because it is coming from two really respected people,” he said.
“It’s now up to the politicians and other opinion makers to take a leadership role a guide the province in the right direction.”
Werzberger said he is especially glad to see that the commissioners debunked some of the media stories about reasonable accommodation that appeared over the last couple of years, including one about how the YMCA building in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood that frosted windows on a women’s fitness room so as not to offend the sensibilities of its chassidic neighbours in a nearby shul and yeshiva.
“The frosting of the YMCA windows [for example] was blown way out of proportion. The stories made it sound like the chassidic congregation was forcing the Y to do something, when in fact there was an agreement between two neighbours and everybody was getting along. It was not at all the way the media painted it.”
Notwithstanding “the garbage” that was voiced by a minority during the hearings, Werzberger is convinced the majority of Quebecers are willing to live in peace with people of different cultures.