Nearly two Canadians in three and nine Quebecers in 10 have heard of ”œreasonable accommodation,” according to an SES Research poll conducted for Policy Options.
In Canada as a whole, 63.7 percent of respondents have heard of the debate on accommodating religious and cultur- al minorities, while fully 90.2 percent have heard of it in Quebec, where it has been a hot-button issue since the March election campaign.
Awareness of reasonable accommodation was weak- est in Ontario at 51.6 percent, while 55.1 percent of Atlantic respondents had heard of it, with 58.1 percent aware in Alberta and the Prairie provinces, and 53.9 per- cent of British Columbians saying they were aware of it.
The on-line survey was conducted September 17 and 18, since the Bouchard-Taylor Commission began its hear- ings, which are receiving saturation coverage in the Quebec news media and wide coverage across the country. The ran- dom representative on-line sample of 1,083 Canadians is con- sidered accurate to within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
But none of the results to the questions in our survey comes anywhere close to the margin of error.
By significant majorities in Canada as a whole, and by overwhelming majorities in Quebec, Canadians and Quebecers declare limits to reasonable accommodation.
When asked whether it was reasonable to accommodate religious and cultural minorities or whether immigrants should fully adapt to culture in Canada, only 18.0 percent of respondents said reasonable accommodation best reflect- ed their personal views, as opposed to 53.1 percent who thought immigrants should fully adapt, and 21.3 percent who agreed with neither statement.
In Quebec (295 persons in the sample of 1,083), only 5.4 percent of respondents thought reasonable accommoda- tion reflected their views, while fully 76.9 percent thought immigrants should fully adapt.
”œIt seems that Quebecers have the strongest sense of Canada as a country of two founding peoples, two founding language communities,” observes Nik Nanos, president of SES Research, the national public opinion research firm based in Ottawa. ”œAnd when Quebecers look at a debate like reasonable accommodation, this is the lens they see it through. They see this vision of the two founding peoples being eroded.”
Nanos adds that the poll ”œshould be a bit of a notice to Canadians that we’re going to deal again with the vision of Canada as two founding peoples or whether we have become a multicultural country where the two founding peoples are subsumed within that.”
When SES asked, for example, whether the menu requirements of religious and cultural groups should be accommodated, only 5.6 percent of Canadians said they should be accommodated all the time, while 22.3 percent said they should be accommodated most of the time. However, 50.3 percent did say they should be accommodat- ed ”œsome of the time.”
On this last number, the glass of reasonable accom- modation appears to be both half full and half empty. A majority of Canadians believe these menu requirements should be respected some of the time, but only some of the time. And 13.9 percent believe they should not be accommodated at all.
In Quebec, opinion that menu requirements should be accommodated all the time (4.1 percent) or most of the time (13.6 percent) was not all that different from that of Canada as a whole, while those who thought these requirements should be accommodated at least some of the time (50.8 percent) were right in line with the national result.
But when SES Research asked respondents whether they supported prayer spaces being provided free of charge in public facilities to accommodate religious minorities, an overwhelming majority of Quebecers were opposed (57.6 percent) or somewhat opposed (23.1 percent), while only 12.6 percent supported (3.4 percent) or somewhat supported (9.2 percent) free prayer space.
In Canada as a whole 58.6 percent were opposed (38.1 percent) or some- what opposed (20.5 percent), while 31.4 percent supported (10.2 percent) or somewhat supported (21.2 percent) the provision of free prayer space.
When SES asked about accom- modating religious and cultur- al groups in public places ”œlike schools, hospitals and public build- ings,” there was a clear divide in pub- lic opinion between Quebec and Canada as a whole.
In Quebec, nearly two respondents in three, 64.1 percent, said there should be no religious or cultur- al accommodation, while 1.7 percent favoured full accommodation, with the remaining one-third of respon- dents choosing other degrees of accommodation on a scale of 1 to 5.
In Canada as a whole, only 36.7 percent said there should be no reli- gious or cultural accommodation in public places, while 6.1 percent said there should be full accommodation, with the remainder of opinion falling in between on a scale of 1 to 5.
Similarly, when asked about accommodation in the workplace, 65.4 percent of Quebecers said there should be no religious or cultural accommodation, while in Canada as a whole 44.7 percent were opposed. In Quebec, only 1.7 percent favoured full accommodation in the work- place, while just 3.7 percent were favourable across Canada. Again, sig- nificant numbers of Canadians fell between these two poles of public opinion, on a scale of 1 to 5.
On the question of accommo- dating religious and cultural minori- ties in amateur sport and leisure activities, 71.9 percent of Quebecers and 47.9 percent of Canadians were opposed, while only 1.7 percent of Quebecers and 3.3 percent of Canadians were in favour. Once again, significant numbers fell between the two on a scale of 1 to 5.
”œQuebecers have more intense views on this issue,” says Nanos, ”œand are more attached to the principle of the founding peoples.”
But the debate is by no means confinedtoQuebec.
”œThis debate is coming to your province soon,” says Nanos. ”œThere are huge ramifications, for public policy, for what kind of country we want, and how we accept new Canadians.”