How the Xenophobic Town of Hérouxville, Quebec, Fell in Love With Immigrants

HÉROUXVILLE, Quebec — For many years, the small town of Herouxville rural Quebec embodies the province’s deep, indigenous animosity towards immigrants.

The town doesn’t have any immigrants, but it once adopted a behavior rules that leaves no doubt that they, and their perceived customs, are not welcome.

Hérouxville, the code warned, does not tolerate “stoned women to death in the town square” or “burn them alive” or “treat them like slaves.” It warned the people of Hérouxville to celebrate Christmas and not to cover their faces, maybe except for Halloween.

The legislation struck a chord with widespread fear in Canada’s only French-speaking province that immigration would dilute its culture and also cause a landmark change in the province. government committee seeks to build consensus on the “reasonable accommodation” of ethnic minorities.

So it may come as a surprise that Hérouxville is now welcoming immigrants and willing to accept them.

“We have escaped from the past,” said Bernard Thompson, by Herouxville mayor and former code supporter. “Now we want as many immigrants as possible.”

The dramatic change in attitudes for this small town comes as Canada is looking to further open its doors to immigrants as a key strategy for its economic vitality.

Federal Government of Canada yes announced plans to welcome a record number of new immigrants over the next three years, with the goal of adding 1.45 million immigrants to the country’s total population of 39 million. In contrast to other Western countries, where immigration has divided society and fueled the rise of political extremism, Canada has a broad consensus on the merits of immigration.

The only exception is Quebec, where politicians have arouse anti-immigrant sentiment by capturing the fear of losing the cultural identity of the French electorate of Québécois.

But even in Quebec, amid changing demographic needs and social attitudes, there are signs of change in places like Hérouxville.

Hérouxville’s reversal of immigration stems from a combination of factors, including an aging population, low birth rates, the need to fill a severe labor shortage, but also profound change. in the perspective of the younger generation and the personal journey of individuals like Mr. Thompson.

The mayor said, if requested, he would even allow Muslim immigrants to use an empty office in the city hall building as a prayer room – although he is not legally bound reason to do so.

“If we can’t respect each other’s culture, whether it’s religion or not, I think that’s a mistake,” the mayor said. “We have to show openness.”

Mr. Thompson is also the county’s top elected official Mekinac — includes Hérouxville and its population of 1,336 as well as nine other small towns, some of which have supported Hérouxville’s code of conduct. Far from the past, when perhaps one or no immigrants settled in the county in a given year, Mékinac has attracted a record number of immigrants in the past two years — 60 — from South America, Africa, Europe and other places.

One of them, 40-year-old Habiba Hmadi, arrived in the district over a year ago from Tunisia, with her husband and their primary school-going son and daughter. Both speak French, the other speaks Arabic at home, Mrs. Hmadi works as an insurance agent and her husband works as a welder.

Ms. Hmadi said being away from family is the hardest thing during Ramadan and other holidays. Ms. Hmadi said she had never heard of Hérouxville’s code of conduct and was warmly welcomed by locals.

“We get a lot of phone calls or even someone knocks on our door to ask if we need anything,” Ms. Hmadi said. “One of our neighbors knocked on our door with a big bag of toys for our kids. We don’t even know her. We are still moving in.

The influx of immigrants as a result of a sweep pro-immigration policy adopted by the county in 2017 — a decade after Hérouxville adopted the code of conduct in 2007.

Officials working with local companies began actively recruiting foreign workers to settle in an area inhabited mostly by French Québécois and far from multi-ethnic cities like Montreal. They also began to prepare the local population for new arrivals and set up programs to help immigrants settle in the area, including at a newly expanded social center called House of families.

A few months ago, the county even won the government reward praised its policies towards immigrants.

“The arrival of these 60 people has opened up a lot of our own environment,” said Nadia Moreau, economic development director for the county. “Sometimes they have different values ​​and customs that they share with us and make us see reality from a different angle.”

“We hope that they will take root here, but we don’t necessarily want to change them,” added Ms Moreau.

Moreau’s message and 2017 policy led to the official rejection of the code, which created an unbridgeable line between locals and immigrants. If the show enjoys support from some corners of Quebec, Hérouxville has also been derided as a bastion of gratuitous intolerance, most famously on a year-end TV show. skits of the public broadcaster, Radio-Canada, showed an unsuspecting Muslim couple stranded in Hérouxville.

The lead author of the code was a councilor at the time, André Drouin, who passed away in 2017. Mr. Drouin and Mr. Thompson, the current mayor, live across from each other. They met regularly and over glasses of wine, discussing the extent to which the majority of Quebec’s French Québécois should be receptive to immigrants and other minorities.

Hérouxville’s webmaster at the time, Mr. Thompson said he edited Drouin’s draft of the code, corrected spelling and grammar errors, and cut out what he deemed relevant too. much to the Christmas tree. He witnessed Mr Drouin, a charismatic individual, lead the council unanimously to ratify the bill and mobilize locals to support it.

“André could have sold a refrigerator to an Eskimo, as we say here,” recalls Mr. Thompson.

But Mr. Thompson – who has worked in telecommunications for decades in Montreal – said he was increasingly annoyed with the most dramatic parts of the code. He can’t deny that nearly everyone in Quebec is “the children of immigrants,” he said. He “admires” his brother’s longtime partner, a Muslim woman.

Thompson eventually broke with his neighbor and, after being elected mayor, pushed for the code to be dumped into the town archives. The mayor said he wanted to restore the town’s reputation and the urgent need to attract immigrants amid growing labor shortages affecting the agriculture, forestry, and forestry sectors. industry and services of the district of Mékinac.

“We need immigration to survive,” Mr. Thompson said. “We have no choice.”

Pascal Lavallée, 44 years old, is a co-owner of Boulangerie Germain, a bakery with two stores and 45 employees in the county. Short of workers but keen to expand his business, Mr. Lavallée is awaiting the arrival of three migrant workers from the West African countries of Togo and Burkina Faso.

Even in rural Quebec, young French Québécois are less worried about losing their identity, says Lavallée.

He added: “They are more tolerant of the emergence of new customs.

However, politicians have hit on anti-immigrant sentiment among older rural voters in recent provincial elections. Jean flower bouquet — who served as provincial immigration minister until recently and who is from next town to Hérouxville — lied that “80 percent of immigrants come to Montreal, don’t work, don’t speak French, and don’t adhere to the values ​​of Quebec society.”

Outside a convenience store in Hérouxville, a woman and a man smoking say they still support the code of conduct.

They say a group of Muslim cyclists once crossed the main road, not at a traffic light, but at a point where one of them stopped oncoming cars.

“Look, they’re not in their country,” said the man, 72-year-old Jean-Claude Leblanc.

They still boil over widely reported stories about street stalls — traditional Quebec food establishments and maple syrup makers — that have eliminated pork to attract Muslim customers. . They have even heard of Muslim patrons praying inside some road tents.

“Inside our sugar huts,” said the woman, who declined to be named. “Ours.”

However, for Eva-Marie Nagy-Cloutier, 32, of Hérouxville, cryptography is just a relic of the past.

“We belong to the generation where you can be who you want to be and with who you want to be,” said Nagy-Cloutier, who works in human relations at the University of California. Pronovosta local snow blower manufacturer and employs migrant workers.

Abdelkarim Othmani, 33, left his hometown in southern Tunisia nearly two years ago and worked the night shift in Pronovost as a mechanic. During the last month of Ramadan, he was allowed to take an early meal break so that he could fast after sunset.

Mr. Othmani said he socialized and worked out at a local gym with colleagues over the weekend.

“I like the atmosphere,” said Mr. Othmani, who was planning to get married and eventually bring to Quebec his Tunisian girlfriend — or his “blonde,” one of the Québécois slang terms he uses. switched to his French.

His best friend is 29-year-old Alex Béland-Ricard, with whom he carpools to work every day. A French Québécois born and raised in the county, Béland-Ricard said he was impressed by the newcomer’s strong commitment to friendship, family and hard work.

“Karim was the first immigrant I ever met,” said Béland-Ricard. “I hope more comes here.”


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