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We examine five real-life cases that Quebec's "reasonable accommodation" hotline had to deal with. You can read more about it here: When multiculturalism doesn't work.

Case 1: Lingua franca on the production line

A group of employees on the production line of a medium-sized business speak among themselves in their native tongues - Russian, Arabic and Haitian Creole. The foreman can't understand them and doesn't know if they understand his regulations. He feels production would work more smoothly if his employees spoke French or English.

Jacques Beauchemin, university sociologist, adviser to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, and member of Intellectuals for Securalism, which oppose religion in the public sphere: "The fact they're speaking neither English nor French illustrates the effects of multiculturalism. It's harmful, because a society needs to unify people around common things, not only around differences. We need to rally around certain core values. This case shows that our societies are less and less able to integrate (newcomers) around the central issues of language and culture."

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The human-rights commission solution: An employer can't force staff to speak English or French when they're talking among themselves. Quebec's language law, Bill 101, imposes French as the official language of work, but it applies only to fields such as signs or customer service. The foreman instead should try to meet with his multilingual staff, lay out his expectations about their work performance, and follow up if they commit errors.

Case 2: A veiled appearance

A college student wears a Muslim face veil, or niqab, that covers her entire body except for a slit for the eyes. She has agreed to pose for her student i.d. bare-faced, but doesn't want the image to be entered into a college-wide computer database. The college seeks a policy that balances its security needs with the student's wishes.

Julius Grey, veteran Montreal human-right lawyer, who has argued several civil rights cases before the Supreme Court: He would accommodate the student's request, though he doesn't approve of the face veil.

"It's not too onerous to keep her out of the database. But the same time it's not conducive to integration. Covering one's face is like carrying your own ghetto wall. I'm not in favor of it because it should be possible to identify somebody, and everyone should be known by their face."

Gerald Larose, social work professor, former union leader and head of the Quebec council on sovereignty: He says the woman's request should be denied.

"We shouldn't sanction this kind of behaviour. We're talking about the fringe of a cultural group. If we have to sanction this behaviour, social cohesion could come into question. This works against integration."

Human-rights solution: The student's photo id, without the veil, should be entered into the computer system but restricted to college administrators only; security services could consult it if needed.

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Case 3. Jewelry or article of faith?

A Sikh employee in a food warehouse wants to wear a kara - a bangle-type metal bracelet that represent an expression of the Sikh faith. The warehouse has a ban on jewelry for employees who handle food, for hygiene purposes. The company wants to know if it should accommodate the employee's request.

Julius Grey: First, get scientific data about whether the kara poses a threat to food safety. If not, the Sikh employee should be allowed to wear the bracelet.

"If it were made up of material like asbestos, of course it should be illegal. But if it's something that could be disinfected when he comes in, there's no problem. It's a question of religion and therefore it's a question of conscience, and if they don't make an exception (for the employee), he won't be able to work and will integrate less well."

Jacques Beauchemin: The employee should remove the kara, period.

"This shows that the employee's ethno-religious identity is more central to him in his mind than public hygiene. This is what we're talking about with multiculturalism: Individuals for whom their cultural identity trumps everything else. Our society has become so fearful of the idea of violating freedoms of identity, we don't know what to do any more."

Human rights commission: The employer should find a way to accommodate. The employee could wear the kara as a pendant around his neck during his work shift, or don a glove that would cover the bracelet.

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Case 4: Prayer time vs. class time

A Muslim schoolteacher requests each Friday afternoon off to attend prayers at his mosque. The school board wants to know how to accommodate him.

Human rights commission solution: The school should call on a substitute teacher to let him attend prayers. The time off for prayers should come out of the teacher's bank of holidays, and when they're exhausted, he should seek unpaid leave. The agreement should be renegotiated each year and be the subject of a signed agreement by both parties.

Case 5: Last-minute holiday

Ten employees who all practice the Christian Orthodox faith ask for a day off to celebrate Orthodox Easter. The request comes in only days before the holiday. A work manager says his production chain could be hurt from the absence of so many staffers.

Julius Grey: Give them all the holiday.

Gérald Larose: The boss should find a way to accommodate the employees since it's a private company. The same wouldn't apply to a public service.

"If it were in the public sphere, I wouldn't tolerate a demand like this. I disagree with disrupting the delivery of services for a religious request. Public services take priority over religious demands."

Human Rights Commission solution: The request is reasonable though the short warning time is not. Still, the business should try to give at least some of the 10 employees the day off. They could make up for the lost production the following day; alternately, employees on a backup list could be called in to replace them. (The company ended up giving the holiday to five of the ten).

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About the Authors

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

Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More

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