Today the PQ’s secularism charter was unveiled, detailing the party’s plan to prohibit public servants, everyone from judges to nurses, corrections officers to daycare workers, from wearing overt and conspicuous demonstrations of their faith. In real terms this means wearing a hijab, yarmulke or turban would be prohibited in the public sector, inasmuch as a ‘large’ crucifix. Apparently the Parti Québécois hasn’t decided what constitutes ‘overt and conspicuous’ nor defined how big a crucifix or Star of David symbol is too big for one to be employed at the SQ, SAQ or SAAQ. This will, according to the minister responsible, be decided on a case by case basis by whomever’s in charge. The PQ is spending $1.9 million of the public purse as part of an advertising blitz promoting the proposed bill which has yet to be put into law and is expected to be a major point of rhetorical conflict in the coming months.
To sum, today’s reaction:
The Quebec Liberal Party denounces the proposed charter outright and plans to fight it. They also have a counter-proposal that omits any specific sanctions against religious headgear while promoting common Québec social values all the same.
The Tories mentioned they’d look into whether the proposed charter runs afoul of the Charter and Constitution, two documents they’ve historically dumped all over but will now opportunistically use to ‘reign in Quebec’, as it were. Their reaction was underwhelming to say the least. Not much new there, one doesn’t look to a Tory for inspiration and leadership.
Justin Trudeau said what needed to be said, that this charter is not truly indicative of Québec values and that he’s personally invested in fighting this tooth and nail. My guess is that he’ll use this as an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership abilities. At least I hope he does – it’s a golden opportunity.
Tom Mulcair of the NDP said ‘human rights are not a popularity contest’ and that the party categorically rejects the proposed charter. He also brought up a comparison with former premier Duplessis, a noted Catholic supremacist and that a key early member of the party, F.R. Scott, defended Jehova’s Witnesses persecuted under Duplessis during an era in which the Catholic Church dominated and subjugated the population of Québec.
Marcel Coté said this was ‘an invented problem’ (couldn’t agree more btw) incongruent with Montreal values. Mélanie Joly said she values the socio-cultural harmony of Montréal and would counter this disruptive legislation if elected in November. Denis Coderre was, perhaps understandably so, particularly expansive on how he’d deal with the problem, stating that Montréal and its citizens should be be considered a unique and particular part of Québec exempt from these draconian, unacceptable measures while Projet Montréal’s Richard Bergeron said this was a bad day for Québec and Montréal in particular, wistfully noting that Marois is aiming to play a divisive political game that will negatively affect the wellbeing of our city.
Personally, I’m against this charter, though I’m a fervent supporter of encouraging secularism and more decisively separating the state from religious affairs. I feel like this is a punitive effort designed specifically to limit immigrants’ access to decently-paying, middle-class government jobs (the kind that are almost exclusively the domain of the Francophone middle-class as is). In sum, I feel this is nothing more than institutionalized racism, an ugly attempt by a premier I honestly thought might do good things for our province to secure a base amongst the unenlightened backwoods boobs who have never met an immigrant and as such have no empathy for their situation. We have to be human after all, and recognize it’s not easy to pick up your life and move to the other side of the globe to start anew. Where’s our patience?
I feel a major flaw is that the charter aims so broadly when Québécois, like most Canadians, are really only bothered by a few very specific accommodation issues. If we’re honest with ourselves, is anyone really truly bothered by a hijab, yarmulke or turban? If we’re so bothered by burqas and niqabs from the public service then why not just ban those specifically for being ostentatious displays of religious zealotry and be done with it? But we need to ask ourselves whether it’s really worth drafting and implementing legislation that would ultimately only effect the lives of, at best, a few hundred people in the entirety of the province.
Typically, as with all political organizations based on the misguided notion a culture is threatened, the PQ has decided to blindside the public with a bogus secularism charter in order to better distract the population from our real problems – lack of an economic plan and an unfortunate lack of leadership on all fronts by the PQ. Hospital wait times are surging, we’re losing well-educated professionals to opportunities abroad or in other provinces, schools are mould and asbestos filled and there’s a major oil leak in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence going on right now, but instead of dealing with any of that, Ms. Marois has shot herself in the foot by claiming to fix a problem that was dreamt up by back room PQ strategists to shore up a crumbling foundation.
The immigrants aren’t ‘taking over’ or ‘taking our jobs’.
Immigrants are integrating; they learn French, they become secular after a couple generations, they adopt our culture and social norms almost immediately.
If we just leave well enough alone the veils will fall on their own. Cultural integration takes time and we really need to be far more patient. There’s no hope for speedy integration if we antagonize religious minorities and immigrant groups and treat them as a threat to our cultural wellbeing. This mistake has been far too many times in Europe for us to follow suit.
And of course, no hijab, yarmulke or turban has caused us any actual problems, lead to any religious strife, resulted in mass conversion to a non Judeo-Christian faith or caused injury or death to anyone. As Coté said, an invented problem. As Bergeron said, it’s a problem we don’t need and didn’t ask for.
Now all of this said and done, a modest proposal.
I find the cross on Mount Royal to be an overt and conspicuous demonstration of a faith on public property, I truly do, and as such I would expect our next mayor to comply with the proposed charter to the extent of removing our ‘glow in the dark’ cross from the mountain immediately.
After all, we wouldn’t want to contravene opportunistic, politically-motivated and punitive legislation by an anachronistic political party now would we?
So tear it down, it’s an eyesore. I’d argue in favour of replacing it with a more authentic replica of the wooden cross erected by Maisonneuve, as well as a large plaque explaining that cross’ specific significance to the citizens of Montreal. Our cross should be nothing more than a reminder of the explorers who first came here, who established relations with the First Nations and whose colony survived and evolved into the city we know and love today. We should know (and be able to read in large font in bucolic surroundings) the story of the fateful flood that nearly sank the young city, and how the colonists came together in their moment of need. That cross marks our civic creation story – the moment when the stoic individualists who founded Ville-Marie took comfort in each other’s arms, and prayed for help as a community in the most terrifying of circumstances.
A simple wooden cross is more than sufficient to do the job right. If we’re to make an exception for Catholicism as a consequence of our history, then let’s be historically accurate at the very least. The cross planted by Maisonneuve certainly didn’t change colour with a fibre optic lighting system.
Though this is what I’d like to see happen I’m aware it’s highly unlikely. But what leverage such a proposal could be…
I’m hoping Montreal’s next mayor plays hardball with the premier on this issue; we may finally get recognized as a distinct society.