Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to point out that all my thoughts and all the thoughts of the Bloc Québécois members are with Ukraine and the Ukrainians at this difficult time.
I will be speaking today to Bill C‑232, an act respecting Arab Heritage Month. This bill was introduced by the member for Ottawa South, and it is at second reading stage. More specifically, Bill C–232 proposes that the month of April become Arab Heritage Month in Quebec and Canada. The Bloc Québécois is pleased to celebrate the Arab community's extraordinary contribution to Quebec society. Last year, we passed a motion to have Irish Heritage Month begin on March 1. I had the honour of celebrating that month with various members of the House.
The Bloc Québécois does support the bill. Nevertheless, perhaps some of my colleagues, like me, find that we know very little about the importance of Arab communities in Quebec and Canada. I propose clarifying a few things first.
What exactly does “Arab” mean?
The term can cause some confusion because it refers to the people of the Arabian peninsula, to people who speak Arabic and to people of Arab culture. Arab language and culture are not exclusive to Arabia, however; they extend from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean via the Near East and the Maghreb. Historically, the spread of Arab language and culture is due to Arab conquests that occurred from the seventh century on after the birth of Islam. Not all inhabitants of the Maghreb are of Arab language and culture. Exceptions include the Berbers.
It would be wrong to define our Arab communities solely on the basis of their language, their country of origin or their religion, because what we are talking about here is a civilization. The west would never have had a Renaissance if the Arabs, during the golden age of Islam, had not transmitted and advanced the precious knowledge of the Greeks, which had been either forgotten or forbidden during the Middle Ages. From mathematics and philosophy to medicine, astrology and literature, this civilization's historic contribution to the human race is monumental. Today, Arab civilization continues to enrich our societies, including Quebec society.
Since the Arab world was largely colonized by France in the 19th and 20th centuries, the French language took on a prominent role. French is the first or second language of tens of millions of people from the Maghreb and the Middle East. The French language is just one of the things we have in common, because Quebec, as I said, has deep economic, political and cultural ties with the Arab countries.
I could mention, as an example, the co-operation agreement between the Quebec government and the Algerian government in the field of education and training. Quebeckers and Canadians of Arab origin form a sizable demographic in our population. As the preamble to Bill C‑232 points out, Canada is now home to over one million Arab Canadians. We are still waiting for the updated figures for 2021, since the number I just mentioned is from 2016.
There is, however, something that bothers me about the preamble to Bill C-232. By referring to Canadians of Arab origin and Arab Canadian communities, the bill presents a portrait of the Arab populations in Quebec and Canada that is not entirely consistent with reality, in my opinion. It seems to suggest that the Arab diaspora forms a uniform community across Canada. Am I surprised? No, I am not.
This is a typical example of the Canadian multicultural vision, which tends to consider Canada's population as a vast cultural mosaic, which would not be influenced by the existence of nations. However, there are nations. There is the Quebec nation, which has a different approach to the integration of its immigrants and cultural minorities than Canada does.
In Quebec, we believe in interculturalism, a model for living together where the equality of cultures is indissociable from francisation and secularization. With their knowledge of French, Arab immigrants integrate extremely well in Quebec.
Immigration may be a federal jurisdiction, but Quebec's explicit desire, expressed since the Quiet Revolution, to strengthen its ties to the countries of the Maghreb and to obviously promote francophone immigration cannot be ignored. Language is very important.
Immigrant populations are settling in Canada. Quebec is integrated into Canadian society, that is to say the English Canadian majority. At the same time, immigrant populations that settle in Quebec are integrated into Quebec society, that is to say the francophone majority.
It is obvious that the integration is different depending on whether immigrants come to Quebec or to Canada. That is why we believe that the terms “Arab Canadians” and “Arab Canadian communities” are misnomers.
Furthermore, in 2016, 368,730 people in Quebec identified as being of Arab ethnic origin. Of these, 91.8% spoke French, while 44% spoke it most often at home. Therefore, a vast proportion, or almost half of people of Arab origin living in Canada are Quebeckers and Arab Quebeckers, not, in my view, Arab Canadians.
I would like to use my personal experience to illustrate this point. During the last election campaign, I had the honour and pleasure of being invited to the Centre communautaire des Basses‑Laurentides, near my riding, for a political debate. This is a Muslim community centre. We spoke about language, secularism and sovereignty. I was not expecting it, but that is what I discussed with about thirty people.
I should also mention that during the election campaign a few months ago, I met with Bishop Tabet, an influential Lebanese Maronite bishop, and this meeting really stuck with me. Bishop Tabet is an extraordinarily sensitive man who is incredibly perceptive about the Quebec reality. He gave an incredibly candid speech on the historical ties between Quebec and Lebanon. It was clear to me that this man has an abiding love for Quebeckers.
I learned a lot from these people I met, and the connections I made will no doubt continue in the future.
I want to dedicate the end of my speech to all Arab Quebeckers. I thank them for enhancing the francophonie and contributing to the development of Quebec society. On April 1, I hope to be able to contribute to what will be known as Arab heritage month.