Love Quebec, Hate the Charter

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.

Relative Newcomers
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.

Enforced 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???



Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Love Quebec, Hate the Charter

  1. Paul Connelly

    Not much to add to this, Rosemary, except I agree. And to note that the lust for power appears to be a temptation that often overcomes principle. This case appears to be an example of that.

  2. Bob Luker

    Well, I’m not sure we’re at the Nazis or the Taliban quite yet. The Charter is a bad idea that reflects a lot of fear as well as various other motives, some of which may be ignoble or mistaken or masking prejudice.
    But some of those fears may be legitimate in the sense that they are based on experience others haven’t had. For instance, a Muslim woman from Egypt was quoted as supporting the charter, presumably because she wanted a secular state with some equality for women and feared patriarchal religious control of the state and public services. In living memory, Quebec has experience of religious power in and through the state and it was often oppressive and intolerant.
    Still it’s almost certainly a better goal, as Mr. Taylor recommended, to ensure the neutrality of institutions while maximizing the freedom of individuals as our partially democratic society, albeit painfully, figures out “reasonable accommodation” on a case by case basis. This path takes a lot of good will, courage and patience,though.
    Two last thoughts. States and institutions everywhere enforce various levels of conformity including dress codes, permissible language and a host of other restrictions. Some are good and necessary and some arbitrary and oppressive. In that sense the PQ is dealing with a very common issue, however poorly.
    The other is that there is in Canada always the large issue of “reasonable accommodation” between English Canada and Quebec. Just as difficult and necessary as all the rest.

    • Arel Agnew

      Thanks for this reply. Certainly the issue is complex, nevertheless, it is scary that so many people feel a giant crucifix is fine (I agree) but a Jewish scull cap is not. If one looks into the history of the Jews one will find that the first Jews came to Canada very early in the European invasion.

      Indeed we, just as the first nations who lived here before our ancestors have to adjust.

  3. Enforced conformity – can’t be good. Even as a stopgap measure.
    And for a practicing Jew who has always worn a kippah – is this not a repressive law for each who works in some fashion for the government? These are citizens of Quebec – not immigrants. Something is being taken from them.
    Thank you for your comment, Bob.

  4. Pat Smiley

    Rosemary, I am in total agreement with you – and amazed that the PQ government in Quebec is doing this. Politically they may lose as much, if not more, than they gain through this. If the population of Quebec is growing, it is due to immigration. I question how much of their power was gained by their separatist roots, as much as Quebec voters were tired of the previous government. That happens.
    So, if the Supreme Court rules this illegal and against our national Charter of Rights, it might seem that Quebec is still being oppressed by the anglo majority. I’m not sure that will wash and the PQ are playing a dangerous game, both politically and socially.
    How much policing will this really require? How many Quebec citizens will simply refuse and how much can the government enforce? I hear that people who don’t ordinarily wear religious symbols are now wearing them in protest, and may continue to do so as this Charter becomes law.
    What is so threatening about a Sikh man or boy wearing a turban or a Muslim woman wearing a hijab? (I confess to slight problems with the nijab, where all but the eyes are covered.) I do think that this is racist, intolerant and could give rise to an enormous amount of tension in our public spaces.
    For anyone who is interested, this letter is going viral on the Internet:

    Pat Smiley

  5. Stephen Patterson

    Oh to be able to read a Mordecai Richler essay in the New Yorker. The parts of the movement to separation in Quebec which tend to choose to frame things with less than a spirit of generosity care little about the the ramblings of an anglo intellectual from the rest of Canada (what a term). They do so care about appearing backward or parochial in New York. If anyone feels inspired please do it. Rosemary has made an excellent introduction.
    This is not an attempt at the essay I long to read.
    The grandmother of my three youngest children is a dear soul for whom my affection knows no bounds. She is closing in on ninety years and lucid and studying martial arts. She lives in a small town bordering on Quebec City called Ancienne Lorrette. She is a unilingual francophone filled with good sense and goodwill. She was the eldest of 17 children born into a simple farming family. She told me that at one point in her childhood her mother miscarried prompting the parish priest to visit and inquire as to the reason for the gap between two of her brothers. Think about that. The reality for that generation of Quebecers was one of oppression. The English owned the mills and the logging companies. The church implicated itself into every aspect of life including one’s exercising of their democratic right (if they happened to be male).
    The Quiet Revolution changed everything. However it was more profound than I think is commonly understood. Maitres chez nous meant “rulers in our home” collectively but had another elegant and vicious meaning. Chez nous can also mean in our hearts.
    The Quebec Charter of Values, in as much as it resonates in the hearts of Quebecers, is coming from this second sense. People care about language. In one generation Quebecers have raised the level of French spoken but they have sensed themselves a tiny minority in a sea of english. To bolster their numbers and counteract they lowest birth rate in North America they have welcomed new Canadians from all over La Francophonie. Now their is some misgiving about female genital mutilation and honour killing and other cultural practices which offend the “maitres chez eux”, in the second sense.
    This was a very clumsy attempt to say we believe in the absolute equality of the genders, the prominence of french, the importance of education, the respect for sexual orientation, the importance of the environment.
    I love Toronto. I witnessed an elerly Italian gentleman(shall we say) going south on Bathurst crossing Dupont on a stale yellow yelling out the window at a Chinese gentleman headed north who entered on the red to turn left in front of the other gentleman. “What’s da matter for you” The response, “go back to wher ya come from”. I recently went with my neighbour Su-Mai, whom some of you know, to a Service Ontario Centre as moral support. The civil servant waiting on us had a heavy Jamaican accent and made it perfectly clear that she was quite capable of being sensitive to Su-mai’s needs.
    I love Canada. In the words of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin,”The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to shake off our ancient prejudices, and to build the earth”. Or in the more secular words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along down here?” Please have faith in my kids grandmother.

  6. homelessguide

    Thanks Rosemary for this! Between the concerns you’ve articulated so well and the responses of your readers thus far, my opinions have been fine tuned.
    The question now becomes – what should we do? Is there merit in the Bigger Circle formally submitting our concerns to the Quebec government and inviting blog recipients to sign on?

  7. Your blog has started or should I say continued a great conversation in our home especially since our return from Montreal….It’s fascism not racism that I heard and their fear is about the Muslims. ie. too many mosques. Naming other religions is in my opinion a cover, lump them all and the one you dislike won’t feel too picked upon.

  8. A very thoughtful piece about the Quebec charter Rosie. Being in the far west I haven’t given it much thought. I have come to mistrust most politicians however. Thir motive s uaually have more to do with getting re-elected than whatever else they say. They also never engage in any really long term planning and therefore we are in deep dodo when it comes to dealing with big picture subjects like poverty, mental illness or climate change.

  9. Robin Ethier

    Dear Rosie
    Thanks for your effort. Couldn’t let this one pass by
    Point: Fascists did the opposite. They marked the Jews deliberately with the yellow arm band to single them out. Pauline Marois wants everyone to blend or so she says
    Point: as regards your question “. Where has all this come from? ” I ask if the convoluted thinking of Bernard Drainville suggests he sees his calling as needing to refrain the Québécois from thinking negatively about people who display their faith ie. that a mark of difference on others causes the viewer to fear those who appear different from themselves. Logically, if the mark of difference is removed people will assume they are all the same , in this case all obviously Quebecois. No one will be reminded of the different religions which are by definition, exclusive.
    The context of Quebec’s historical mentality supports this attitude of fearing the Other. Many of its elite in government and the church in the 30’s supported Hitler’s rise to power. In the 40’s Quebec was reluctant to enter the war There appeared to be a certain respect for fascism expressed by the leadership. The ideas of racial purity and hierarchical structure so implicit in the church, were taken very seriously in the culture of Quebec in those times. At best , Quebec was a very paternalistic society as personified in Duplessis and those from whom he sought support , the clergy Perhaps it is in the collective unconsciousness of the non-immigrant in Quebec that the seeds for this proposal exists
    Sadly, Pauline Marois in the style of Pariseau ,her mentor, seems to be using this old fear of the Other to advance her political agenda Two things in particular could work in her favour as you say – the federal govt will retaliate and coalesce the vote in her favour and a significant number of new Québécois will leave Quebec, removing a perceived thorn from her side. I believe Rene Levesque and Lasage would be turning in their graves. As much as they wished “maitre chez nous” and with it the singularity of the French language in Quebec, not unreasonable when we view the justification of English in English Canada, I believe they were trying to move Quebec out of the extreme conservatism of the past, hoping to bring it into the then 20th century. As you say , Levesque was an educated man. Unfortunately, with this proposal Marois is returning Quebec to the Dark Ages as seen in her use of the Other

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