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Quebec City guide to help integrate newcomers derided as insulting, infantilizing

Mayor Régis Labeaume defended the guide for immigrants in Quebec City last week, calling it “completely normal.”

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Immigrants who settle in Quebec City are being offered a new guide to explain local customs, and the authors spare no detail in telling the newcomers how to fit in – for example, refrain from committing incest, wash with soap and use underarm deodorant to "control perspiration and bad odours."

The guide from city hall was made public last week and has already been condemned as insulting and paternalistic.

"It's a good idea to prepare something intelligent to help immigrants, but the way it was done is infantilizing," Anne Guérette, municipal opposition leader in Quebec City, said on Sunday.

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Quebec City is one of 13 municipalities across Quebec designated by the province to settle refugees from Syria. While Montreal remains the overwhelming destination of choice for newcomers, more than 550 state-sponsored refugees landed in Quebec City, 400 of them from Syria.

To help them integrate, city hall unveiled a guide last week, "Québec, Une ville pour moi" (Quebec City, A city for me) that spells out "common values" and ways of life in the province's second-largest city. Some of the values, such as the equality of men and women, are commonly recognized in Canada. Other rules in the booklet, whose contents were first reported in Le Journal de Québec, seem to treat newcomers as if they are joining the civilized world for the first time, or have never bathed.

The section on "Hygiene and body care," which is accompanied by a diagram of a dark-haired man with a beard, advises brushing one's teeth at least twice a day "with a toothbrush and toothpaste." Hand-washing is a must, "especially after going to the bathroom," among other occasions. Socks and underwear should be washed after each use. And when washing one's body, "pay particular attention to underarms, feet and intimate parts."

For household rules, the guide counsels limiting kitchen odours through the use of an oven vent, and removing shoes inside the house to avoid disturbing one's neighbours. In yet another rule aimed at removing "bad odours," the guide helpfully suggests opening a window.

Mayor Régis Labeaume defended the guide in Quebec City last week, calling it "completely normal."

"We could have just talked about sorting household garbage, but that is not enough," Mr. Labeaume said. "There are practices, ways, traditions that are different," he said. "There are laws and rules that exist here that might be different from the countries of origin of immigrants. So it's better to go this far."

The tips out of Quebec City come as the country debates the notion of defining "Canadian values," as the country integrates large numbers of newcomers, and as Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has proposed screening would-be immigrants for "anti-Canadian values."

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Quebec City's guide, which received funding from the provincial immigration ministry, also has a section on family violence. It says using violence against your spouse violates the Criminal Code, as is using "unreasonable" force or using a belt or ruler to punish your child. Sexual consent is necessary even among married couples. Incest is a crime.

"For example: Brother + sister = illegal. Parent + child = illegal," the guide spells out.

The guide is being distributed to organizations working with immigrants and refugees. Chantal Gilbert, a city councillor whose responsibilities include minority ethnic communities, says the individual sections can be made available to groups depending on their particular needs.

"There are communities to whom things won't necessarily apply," she said. "There are communities that might come from a place that is exactly the same culture as us, though they might need to know how things work for schooling. Even a French person from France comes here and can't figure out the schooling for their children."

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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