Like most religious minorities in Quebec, I am only slightly shocked by the proposed charter of values. After all, I made the decision to wear hijab in 1995 when I was in high school, the year after Emilie Ouimet was sent home from school because she wore the hijab with her uniform in a Quebec school. I am familiar with people being afraid of a piece of cloth.
Since September 10, 2013, the day that the Charter of Values was proposed in Quebec, I have been ill at ease; because no matter how hard I tried I couldn't muster up the guts to talk to my 12-year-old daughter about the charter. How in the world would I convey to her that if she ever decides to exercise her freedom of religion, she would have to rethink her education plans, and career options? That she lived in a free country that might make her values into a stigma.
I decided to break the news of the charter to her during my youth group that I started for her as an anti bullying support group. If there was ever a time she needed support against bullies it was now. Though the government of Quebec isn't a bully that could take your money or steal your lunch, it just might be able to rob you of your dignity, religious freedom, and create future bullies.
To my delight, these girls offered me more support then I offered them. Though they are all between the age of 12 and 16, they embody strength and awareness. I am happy and proud to see that they are the future.
When laws are proposed and passed, the people that are most likely to be impacted by those laws, are rarely involved in the decision making process. The people that at the short end of the proverbial legislation stick are kids. Because our kids will live the rest of their future in the shadow of the laws and governments we support, it is imperative to consult them.
So I decided to put my ear to the ground, and asked my youth group girls and their friends what they thought of the Quebec charter of values. Here are some reactions by girls age 12-16, all from different backgrounds and religions, who proudly call themselves Quebecois:
Teen Reaction To The Quebec Charter of Values
I think what Pauline Marois is trying to do is not right. If this law passes, and if I ever want to wear a hijab, I'll be denied my rights. I want to become a pediatrician but if this law passes, I can't. I feel like I am Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter) and she is Mrs. Umbridge. She is discriminating against so many people. I really do hope this law does not pass. Pauline Marois needs to wake up, and see that everyone is equal and everyone has his or her rights. Lets not repeat history!
-Neha Mohammad, age 14. My parents are Pakistani, but I am Quebecois!
If this law passes, it would be difficult to live. Hijab is on of my biggest priorities. This law would limit my choices in my education. If citizens of Quebec can't wear religious symbols while doing their job, people would leave the province. This charter has made many people including me, feel like dirt. There is no need to rule a province like this.
-Noora Jane Khan, age 12. Both my parents are half British, half Indian but I am Quebecois!
I find this charter very racist. I find that if this law passes a lot of Quebecois will be unemployed, and that will be a big problem. I don't want someone like Pauline Marois representing Quebec. If this law passes it will affect me personally because I want to become a pediatrician, and if I can't get that job if I decide to wear a headscarf, that is very unfair to me, because then what will be the point of me studying to become a doctor. I'm not trying to offend anyone, just stating my opinion.
-Alizeh Ahmad, age 13. My parents are both Pakistani, but I am Quebecois!
I used to be proud of our country, saying that I live in a multicultural area and that it's nice to see different ethnicities. Now I'm rather ashamed of our country. What's the point of having ethics class? Why is it so "harmful" to wear a religious symbol? How ironic is it that Pauline Marois calls it "the charter of values," when it's anything but value! I always admired people who wore hijabs; I admire their strength and determination. I would like to wear hijab one day. If this law does pass through, I sincerely hope that my family and I will move because I'm so fed up.
-Kerimé Ozturk, age 13. My mom is French Canadian and my dad is Turkish, but I am Quebecois!
I'm not too sure whose values the Charter of values represents because it does not represent my values for sure. I have grown up believing in the values of my church:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another;
We believe that every person has the right to express themselves and the charter of values goes against every belief we stand for. I don't believe it's good for this province and for the citizens who live here.
-Isabella Gavanski, age 13. My mom is Jamaican and my dad is Slovak but I am Quebecois!
Je ne comprend pas pourquoi ils ne veulent plus que l'on porte le voile. Pour moi le voile n'est pas qu'un signe religieux mais c'est un morceau de tissu qui fait parti de nous. La charte des droits et libertés de la personne protège nos droits dans ce sens mais la charte des valeurs Québécoise va à l'encontre de l'autre. Une vrai contradiction! Le voile représente simplement la modestie et la pudeur. Madame Marois, ne nous demandez pas d'enlever notre voile, car c'est comme si on vous demandait de vous raser la tete!
-Shaima Benlounes, 11 ans. Ma mère est d'origine Française et mon père est d'origine Algérienne, mais je suis Québécois!
I am not afraid of the charter of values, because I don't think it will pass. I feel safe because I am protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedom, and I will fight for my rights. If I wear a scarf or a turban on my head, it doesn't change me as a person. This charter will not stop me from getting a job if I decide to wear a scarf because I can do whatever I put my mind to.
-Asiyah Sakr, age 12. My dad is Egyptian, my mom is Pakistani, but I am Quebecois!
Pauline Marois wants to assimilate people so everyone ends up being flavourless and bland. People are like spices in life and everyone makes up their own flavour by what they do. For a Muslim woman it could be wearing a hijab, for a Sikh man it could be his turban, or a young teenage girl who likes to express herself by dying her hair different colours. If this law were to pass, how would any one be able to have freedom of expression? It will be unfair because whoever who wants to educate themselves and support their family wouldn't be able to unless they give up the thing that's important to them. And maybe its easy to tell someone "take off your hijab and then everything will be alright." The person wearing the hijab might be so used to wearing it that when they take it off, they would feel naked and exposed. I am planning to start wearing a headscarf as soon as i graduate this year and if this law gets passed, I will be oppressed from my rights and the doors will open to suddenly allow stupid and racist comments that people kept in their heads. She said she wants to pass this law to unite people, but I am sorry, that will not unite people. It will drive people apart. Please don't repeat history and unite to fight for human rights and freedom!
-Yasemine Ozturk, age 16. My mom is French Canadian and my dad is Turkish but I am Quebecois!
Freedom of religion is one of our basic human rights and the new charter of Quebec values is trying to deny this right. The personal expression of religion through religious attire does not harm anyone, where the passing of this bill will negatively affect many families across Quebec. For those who wish to display religious symbols, it will be difficult for them to get a well-paying job to support their families. Forcing people to remove their religious attire may make many people uncomfortable and oppressed. I have personally, never felt offended or uncomfortable when people wear religious symbols and I don't understand the motivation of passing this bill. Bills will not make an equal Quebec. Equality demands the same rights and treatment for everyone. It does not mean assimilation and a homogenous culture disregarding an individual's lifestyle choice.
-Natalie Kennedy, age 16. My dad is British and my mom is Hungarian-British but I am Quebecois!
I am blessed to sit in the company of the future generation of feminists, humanists, environmentalist, and activists. I hope we will live up to their expectations and do everything in our power to protect their rights and their future in Quebec.