Image

About 180kms north of Montreal along the St Lawrence River, is the tiny parish municipality of Hérouxville. It has 1300 Catholic Francophone souls who live and work around 22 farms, 13 shops and 3 factories.

As in many small villages in the Quebec hinterland, or any back country anywhere in the world for that matter, foreigners are generally not made to feel at home should they want to move there, full-time. (Anyone other than a French-speaking white Catholic Quebecois is considered a foreigner there).

In any case, there are no immigrants living in this little municipality.

I don’t think that Hérouxvillians are racist rednecks. They are simple farm folk who just don’t feel comfortable around outsiders, that’s all. It must be pretty much the same thing in rural areas all over the world. A European visiting Darbhanga in India would feel just as unwelcome if he thought of settling in.

If you are simply passing through Hérouxville however, you are very welcome and in fact, shown every courtesy, as long as your stay is temporary. By all means, stop over for a sumptuous breakfast at a quaint road-side café named Café Divin or something and try to chat up the plump pink-cheeked blue-eyed waitress who is always smiling and then move on over the horizon, in a cloud of dust and tumbleweed.

Why do they always have blemishless pink cheeks in the countryside? Must be the organic farm produce, the fresh milk and the ponies. Anyway, don’t think of a quickie please. Under that puppy fat, the waitress is tough as nails. She’ll bounce you into the St Lawrence where a passing humpback will sieve you through his baleen and filter-feed on you. Humpbacks can be non-vegetarian. But I digress. I apologize. At 59, one’s mind tends to wander.

I have a story, a personal experience with two hillbillies who came to my rescue when I had a flat once. That happened in another part of the Quebec countryside but the folks are the same everywhere in the hinterland. I am saving my anecdote up to tell you later if you are good. Watch out for My Quebec – Two hillbillies and me. Take it easy, don’t watch out for it right away. I haven’t written it yet. When you see a bright flash in the sky, you’ll know I have posted it. Kidding, I’m too full of myself.

For a short while in the winter of 2007, Hérouxville gained international notoriety when its town council passed controversial by-laws banning practices which it they deemed unacceptable. The town council promulgated a code of conduct for immigrants who wish to go there with the intention of settling down, though why any immigrant in his right mind, especially a non-white, non-Catholic, non-Francophone immigrant, would want to settle in this hick town with zero opportunities, is something which beats me.

The code forbade carrying a weapon to school even if it was just symbolic. Read – the Sikh Kirpan. Or covering one’s face. Read – the Muslim niqab. Or performing prayers inside schools or other public premises. Read – the daily Muslim namaz prayers that they are urged by their religion to perform wherever they might be. The code then turned into an ignorant stereotypical taunt of Muslims in general. It prohibited the stoning to death or burning alive or mutilating the genitals of women. It was quite clear that most of the venom in the Hérouxville code of conduct, was clearly directed toward Muslims.

 

Image

 Just the sort of thing Hérouxvillians don’t want to see on their streets (Photo courtesy: wikimedia)

The document even had a clause that took a dig at Jehovah’s Witnesses (those folks who go door to door, distributing religious pamphlets, dressed in black suits and ankle-length dresses). It decreed that nurses henceforth would not need to seek permission to perform blood transfusions. I understand that Jehovah’s Witnesses consider blood transfusions a sin and therefore that clause.

The code of conduct was created at a time when a debate on ‘reasonable accommodation’ was already raging throughout the province of Quebec. The term ‘ reasonable accommodation’ is used to mean an adjustment made by a government to ‘accommodate’ or make the system fair for individuals of every background and especially minorities.

The logic for ‘reasonable accommodation’ was that, if immigrants can integrate into the Canadian way of life quickly, they can settle down and become productive citizens sooner. It is solid logic, one that I would agree with completely, since I am an immigrant myself. The initiative meant that the government would be obliged to let immigrants retain their own cultural traditions and way of life, thus giving Canada a truly multi-cultural flavor.

Reasonable accommodation can however, go a bit too far sometimes, turning it into a farce and leaving all sides disgruntled.  A few years back, there were reports of a YMCA branch in Montreal whose gym faced some private houses across the road. These houses were occupied by an ultra-orthodox sect of Jewish families, know as the Haredim. On one of the floors, the gym has floor-to-ceiling sheet glass on the side that faces the street.

On that floor, a Zumba aerobics station throbs with motion throughout the day while other members stretch and exercise their abs on floor mats right next to the glass panes facing those houses. The Haredim Jews across the road, complained that the youngsters in their families were getting ‘corrupted’ by the sight of skimpily-clad women exercising literally in their face.

Ultra-orthodox Jews are fanatical pieces of work, like Wahhabi Muslims or the Catholic Opus Dei or even the VHP. If you get to know a Haredim, you might begin to find even the Taliban decadent. YMCA took cognizance of the complaint and clouded the windows. Now you had gym members, who had been enjoying the beautiful panoramic view of a tree-lined street and the lively traffic on it, suddenly left staring at nothingness.

I understand that the Haredim sect expects women to exercise ‘tziniut’ or modesty, in the form of dark, drab, ankle length dresses, etc. Women in gym attire are symbols of moral corruption, to be kept away from the impressionable eyes of their young. In this respect, the Haredim are no different than Ayatollah Khamenei’s Iran. Correct me if I am wrong.

Shortly after Hérouxville’s code was released to the media, a delegation of Muslim women from the Canadian Islamic Congress visited the town and met the locals at the town-hall. Probably because members of the international press accompanied the delegation, the interaction was amicable and the town council decided to withdraw the promulgation.

Image

Muslim delegation to Hérouxville has its say (Photo courtesy:the counterargument.wordpress.com)

I have heard nothing more from the sleepy hick town. Hérouxville’s infamous code of conduct has however, accomplished what it had been written for – it has left a bad taste in the mouth.