Monday, September 9, 2013

Opposing the Quebec Charter of Values is NOT Quebec-bashing!

Quebec Preimier Pauline Marois

Nationalism is an infantile disease.  It is the measles of mankind.

- Albert Einstein

Not surprisingly, the Parti Quebecois government  is using its proposed Charter of Values to drive a wedge between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians.  Many anglophone Canadians, such as myself, oppose this proposed charter not because we are anti-Quebec but because of some very sound reasons. Unfortunately, ultra-nationalist Quebeccers and the PQ are doing everything in their power to use this issue to whip up unrest and resentment between anglophones and francophones.  It's a very clever ploy and they are taking full advantage of it.

To criticize a policy of the Quebec government is not to demean or defame the people of Quebec. Neither is it interfering in the affairs of Quebec.  As an Ontarian, I would certainly not feel offended if Quebeckers criticized a policy of the Ontario government.

So what is so wrong about the charter?  First and foremost, the Quebec Charter of Values goes against the spirit of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  All Canadians have a right to freedom of religion in this country.  That freedom is severely restricted if religious symbols and head coverings can not be worn while working in the public sector.

In his column in the August 31, 2013 issue of Maclean's magazine, Colby Cosh bemoans the lack of English language writers who have defended Pauline Marois's policy.  Cosh then sets about defending the policy himself.  He proclaims that it is "just plain goofy to argue that a state cannot devise rules for the dress, the conduct, or the speech of its workers, and particularly of those workers who have responsibilities for education or advice, as teachers, daycare workers and nurses do."

Cosh does agree with me in one respect.  He admits that the true purpose of putting forth the proposal of a Charter of Values is "to invite the kind of outrage that English Canadian opinion leaders and federalist sages in Quebec have hastened to display."  In this case, however, the outrage is warranted.  (By the way, I strongly object to the term "English Canadian" in reference to all anglophone Canadians.  The term should only be used to describe those of English descent. All others are English-speaking Canadians).

Former Quebec premier Bernard Landry recently predicted that one day Canada will "deeply regret" embracing its policy of multiculturalism and proclaimed that three is no room for it in Quebec.  He also castigated the English language press for its coverage of the Parti Quebecois' minorities charter.  “Quebec is multiethnic, but not multicultural,” Landry proclaimed in an interview on Global TV's The West Block with Tom Clark.

Bernard Landry

Well, given the Parti Quebecois' record, that's not very reassuring.  Remember the night when former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau blamed the pro-sovereignty camp's narrow loss in the October 1995 referendum on "money and the ethnic vote."  The PQ was unmasked when a bitter Parizeau stepped onto the stage at the Montreal Convention Centre and spoke those words.  Its narrow-mindedness and xenophobia was clearly revealed.  Parizeau resigned as premier the next day and his chief aide, Jean-Francois Lisée, later admitted to the CBC that he realized they were in trouble when he heard Parizeau use the French word "nous" ("we" or "us") to refer to native francophones only.

As for Bernard Landry, an August 28, 2013  letter to the editor of the Montreal Gazette, did a very good job of attacking his argument against multiculturalism.  In his letter, Gerald Silverman of Côte-St-Luc, Quecbec, made the following comments.

If Mr. Bernard Landry wants to delude his fellow Quebecers who have never visited New York City or Chicago, about his vision of their values, he should really get his facts straight.
NYC has officers wearing kippahs and others who wear Sikh head coverings. Their municipal offices are full of U.S. citizens of all persuasions, including South Asian women whose makeup includes traditional markings on their foreheads.

Mr. Landry wants us to behave in the manner of several countries of the world who display a constant disrespect for diversity and traditions other than their own. Personally, I would rather align our behaviour with countries like the U.S., Britain, Israel, Germany and many others who are confident enough in their heritage and customs that they allow their citizens and even their employees in the public sector to respectfully keep to their heritage and religious obligations while performing their duties.

One of the most outspoken critics of the proposed Quebec charter has been Calgary's popular mayor, Naheed Nenshi.  Nenshi stated, "What we’re looking at under this charter of secularism is intolerance. Plain and simple. We’re not talking about government neutrality. We’re actually physically saying to some children that because of the faith that you and your family follow, there are some jobs that you’re not eligible for.”

Naheed Nenshi

Nenshi is exactly right.  The proposed Charter of Quebec Values, would create thousands of second class citizens in the province of Quebec.  Many religious groups would feel excluded from jobs in the public sector.  Immigrants choosing to live in Quebec would feel unwelcome and undervalued.  Enforcing this charter is going to be complicated.  How is it going to be policed and how much is it going to cost to police it?

For example, the charter seeks to ban public service employees from wearing "ostentatious" crosses or crucifixes.  Who is going to decide whether a cross is "ostentatious?"  Will someone measure it to see if exceeds a specific size?  Will it be weighed on a scale to determine how heavy it is?

The introduction of the Quebec Charter of Values would ensure that an Orthodox Jew, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a male Sikh in a turban would not be able to be able to work in the private sector or sit in the Quebec National Assembly.  It's a policy of exclusion, pure and simple.

The issue is not about Quebec-bashing.  It's about injustice.  As Nenshi put it, "“I do think we have to use whatever podiums we’ve been given, whatever voice we have, to speak out against injustice."  The young, dynamic municipal leader did not mince words.  He described the PQ's charter as "social suicide."

Bernard Landry claims that Quebec welcomes immigrants but wants them to integrate.  I too believe that immigrants should integrate but I also believe that they should not be required to hide their heritage and their religious faith.  The government of Quebec is really advocating a policy of assimilation, not integration. It's a policy that goes against Canada's reputation as an enlightened country.  This is a nation that opens its doors to law-abiding people of all background and all religions.  It is not a nation that closes doors.  This is a nation that has benefited immensely from the contribution of people of all faiths.

For the record, I love Quebec and the people of the province.  I strongly oppose a particular policy of the government of Quebec, a policy based on the politics of fear.  Quebecers deserve better than to be  manipulated for political purposes.  All Canadians deserve better than the politics of division.

- Joanne