How is it possible that in the 21st-century the largest province in Canada seems to have regressed to a point where its PQ government openly taunts us with laws that are on its face anti-democratic, discriminatory and reek of intolerance?
Quebec Premier, Pauline Marois, and the Partie Quebecois have put forward a proposal known as the "Charter of Quebec Values". In their misguided attempt to ensure a secular civil service the Quebec government wants to basically ban anyone from openly wearing religious garb.
In other words turbans, kippahs, hijabs and large crucifixes will be "faith articles non-grata" for any Quebecer working in civil service positions.
Thus observant Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs where their faith proscribes wearing certain articles will be unable to work as civil servants, police officers, fire fighters, doctors, nurses (in government sponsored health facilities), teachers, amongst other professions. Those already employed would have a choice to make: either they abandon their firmly-held beliefs, leave their jobs or defy the edicts and risk fines, jail or both. Interestingly while large crucifixes cannot be worn the crucifix in the Quebec legislature would be allowed as a symbol of Quebec's historical and cultural past, go figure.
I cannot think of any law presently in this country that comes close to what is in essence state-sponsored religious discrimination.
In invoking this so-called "Charter of Quebec Values" the Quebec government has taken a dangerous step into poisonous territory for any institution that considers itself democratic. If this were to pass into law Quebec would become the first province in Canada to openly discriminate against its citizens on the basis of their faith.
It's not the first time Quebec has exposed an ugly underbelly of intolerance. In the late 1930s Maurice Duplessis' Union Nationale enacted the infamous "Padlock laws" designed to stifle and eradicate what he believed was radical left wing dissension. It took decades for the Supreme Court to finally rule the law invalid.
And what of Duplessis' attempt in the 1950s to stifle Jehovah's Witnesses? Acquiescing to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec Duplessis waged a cultural war against the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Determined to suppress their rights to seek converts and proclaim their faith Duplessis encouraged police to raid Jehovah's Witness religious services, passed ordinances to prevent them from distributing literature even arresting adherents of the faith for circulating their tracts. Again only the intervention of the courts succeeded in stopping this seditious practice.
To be sure, Quebec was not alone in its history of racism and bigotry. Ontario had restrictive land covenants in place that forbade Jews and people of colour from owning land till the 1950s; British Columbia's treatment of the Doukhobors in the 1960s was highly problematic, and we cannot overlook our relationship with Canada's original people, the First Nations, where bigotry and ignorance has led to terrible and even deadly consequences the residue of which we are still dealing with today.
One would hope that the days of Duplessis and politically motivated religious discrimination are far behind us. Yet the disdain and narrow-mindedness demonstrated so vividly by Pauline Marois threatens to bring us back to these darker, more foreboding times. Like the other vestiges of bigotry appearing today, this must be firmly rejected.
Thankfully government and political leaders, faith leaders and ordinary Canadians are speaking out. On the federal scene federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was the first to speak out, followed by strong denunciations from multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenny and more recently federal opposition leader Tom Mulcair soundly rejected the Quebec position.
In Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne spoke for all Ontarians when she recently criticized the Quebec charter by stating "It's very important to me that Ontario is a diverse province, that our laws and our policies reflect that diversity." Indeed this sentiment will even be solidified by the Ontario legislature when Liberal MPP Monte Kwinter presents his Private Members Bill this week, which unequivocally states:
"That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario, should oppose any legislation that would restrict or prohibit people's freedom of expression and religion in public places and affirm that Ontario greatly vales our diverse population and the social, cultural and economic contributions they make to help our society thrive."
As a Canadian Jew who is all too familiar with hate and antisemitism, Monte Kwinter more than most viscerally understands the dangers of such noxious legislation.
Intolerance and bigotry is not the Canadian way. While we still struggle with those in our society who continue to reflect racist attitudes we are all working hard to educate for change. That a democratically elected government would engage in such an ugly display of xenophobia boggles the mind. Its time we stand together as one and reject "Quebec's Charter of intolerance".