by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
I’m leaping into the debate. Intemperate language will follow because I’m riled.
Reading two very funny pieces from the English Quebec press, regarding the more bizarre possibilities in applying the proposed Quebec Charter of Values, two opinions crystallized for me.
First, One of Two Disclaimers (be patient)
I’m not rattled about the intensification of the secular/religious agenda. Nor am I particularly emotional about the politics at this point.
There are clearly political motives to the proposed Charter. The P.Q wants to be re-elected. A Constitutional battle with Ottawa over the Charter would likely heighten popular separatist opinion in Quebec. Also there are rural votes to be gained by appearing to not let immigrants feel quite so welcome. “Pure laine” still has appeal.
Secondly, Reasonable Accommodation
Secondly, all across the country I think we’re not clear about where we want to come down on “reasonable accommodation”. It’s a darned tricky issue. And we keep forgetting our history.
We are a country of immigrants.
Of course, we gave no chance at all for the original inhabitants to decide how much to accommodate us – we bullied our way into possession and power hundreds of years back.
It makes no sense to compare us with France or any country in Europe or Asia where – while foreign invaders kept working at shifting boundaries – there have been clear linguistic and cultural developments in many regions over millennia.
Canada, by contrast, kept inviting and attracting immigration. Hence we have had to keep re-inventing ourselves, working out over and over how to work with the whole mad combination of talents to build a country together. We needed immigration. We still do.
French Canada, being founded earlier and holding on to its common language, has had a few hundred more years to grow its distinctive culture. But immigration has continued to fuel its enterprises.
We Need to Work Out Reasonable Accommodation
Holding all of Canada’s regions together has been a common belief in the rights of peoples on our soil to have as much freedom as makes sense, within limits of not hurting others.
So, what is reasonable accommodation of newcomers’ differences? This has to be worked out between us all, paying attention to fundamental human rights and the Quebec and Canadian Constitutions.
Here Come My Objections
Putting aside the secular/religious issue, and that of reasonable accommodation, there are two huge objections I have to the Charter of Quebec values.
I refer to Bernard Drainville, one of the authors of the Charter. He is the main spokesperson for its contents and intentions.
Racist Toward Jews
Pay attention to the argument for retaining the big cross in the Legislature and other large public fixtures (such as the Mount Royal cross). These large Christian symbols are to be exempted from the Charter’s rules because they are part of the heritage of Quebec.
Is no group other than Christians a significant part of the history of the province?? Jewish people are hardly newcomers. They have been a critical part of the commercial, intellectual and artistic life of Montreal for much of its life. They have contributed profoundly to the social fabric. Those who have been wearing the kippah every day of their adult lives are part of the traditional life of the province. To ignore this is an injurious disregard of the Jewish contribution to Quebec.
I therefore consider the legal prohibition of the kippah for everyone receiving a pay cheque from the government (which includes thousands of Quebecers) to be a racist act.
Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs have all been invited to come to Quebec following campaigns in their home countries encouraging immigration, The best and brightest have been particularly welcome. Quebec provided a good example to other provinces in its peaceful integration of new minorities. Until now. “Sorry, we’ve changed our minds”.
For cultures which have developed around a fundamental connection between culture, religion, and personal identity, the new Quebec of the Charter of Values tells them that their way of being is unacceptable to the State.
A Fascist Impulse
Secondly, Drainville said on CBC, and in some reported interviews, that if differences between people are not evident — if people appear to be more alike — life will be more peaceful. For whom? Not for those who have to lose their jobs in order to honour their heritage.
Was this not the thinking of the National Socialist Party through the ‘30’s in Germany, resulting in the plan to eradicate those who were too different?
The Taliban also requires conformity.
This is the commonality between the Nazi program, the Taliban, and the Quebec Charter of Values.
Drainville said that the threatening aspect of the wearing of a scarf, turban, kippah, is that it indicates that that person has beliefs and concerns different from the norm. He or she is placing importance on something other than the goals of a secular state.
Conformity with the goals of the State will indicate one’s worthiness to be a full member. A teacher, nurse, day care worker, social worker, garbage worker – the whole structure of the Quebec civil service will be required to conform. That structure is threatened by non-conformity.
This appalling idea is to be enforced. Law requires enforcement. Enforcement requires policing. A person on the street may be a secret terrorist or thug: it’s the religious teacher or SAQ employee sporting a modest religious symbol who will have to deal with the police.
This is, in my thinking, a mark of a fascist society.
Where Did This Come From?</
The news that 60% of the Quebec population feel in tune with the proposed legislation is chilling to me. I was born in Quebec and lived there for over 30 years. Where has this mean-spirited strain come from? Can’t blame it on the Church. I don’t think Rene would be happy – he was a worldly man who hated fascism! So who likes the idea of enforcing this removal of individual choice in the matter of acknowledging, so modestly, one’s religious attachment?
Who really thinks the state is threatened?
There’s the pain – conformity seen as necessary to peace. Does anyone else have trouble with this???