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Who Will Speak Up For Minority Rights in Quebec?: Andrew Coyne, National Post, Jan. 24, 2014— Discussion of the Parti Québécois’ “Charter of Quebec Values” has until now been conducted rather on the same lines as discussion of a third referendum: as a theoretical possibility, but not an immediate likelihood.
Values Charter Could ‘Devastate’ Community: David Lazarus, Canadian Jewish News, Jan. 26, 2014 — Young Jews will seriously consider leaving Quebec if the Parti Québecois (PQ) forms a majority in the next provincial election and the proposed charter of values becomes law, predicts one of the country’s best-known demographers.
Quebec Charter Can’t Turn Back Demographic Clock 100 Years: Jason Moscovitz, Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Feb. 14, 2014— I have this sick feeling. Not because the Parti Québécois (PQ) will soon call a Quebec provincial election in which it can win a majority; I feel sick about how the PQ is going to go about it. The Charter of Quebec Values is blossoming as a positive election issue for the PQ.
The PQ’s War Against Faith: Barbara Kay, National Post, Jan. 22, 2014 — It’s not often that we Canadians get to see a show trial in progress. But we’re watching one now — namely, the public hearings on the Quebec government’s proposed Bill 60, popularly known as the Charter of Quebec Values, which would ban religious symbols in the public service to ensure visible neutrality with regard to religious convictions and visible conformity to (Quebec-style) gender equality.
Video Shows 'Positive' Criticism of Quebec Charter: Aaron Derfel, Montreal Gazette, Jan. 21, 2014
The PQ Charter and the Jewish Community: Don Macpherson, Montreal Gazette, Jan. 16, 2014
Quebec’s Values Charter Debate Fuels Stereotyping, Tension: Poll: National Post, Jan. 13, 2014
Quebec Business Leaders Sound Warning on PQ Values Charter: Allan Woods, Toronto Star, Feb. 2, 2014
National Post, Jan. 24, 2014
Discussion of the Parti Québécois’ “Charter of Quebec Values” has until now been conducted rather on the same lines as discussion of a third referendum: as a theoretical possibility, but not an immediate likelihood. The thing was so outlandish, so crude, so ugly in its implications and so obvious in its motives — to this day we have yet to be given a shred of evidence of its necessity — that the consensus was that it was unlikely ever to be put into effect. Quebecers would not stand for this, we told ourselves. It was a throwback to an earlier time, catering to old insecurities, unrepresentative of the Quebec of today. Oh, perhaps it might fly in a few rural backwaters, but never in cosmopolitan Montreal.
At any rate, the opposition parties would block it in the legislature. Some watered-down version might pass, an affirmation of the secular character of the Quebec state blah blah blah, but the core of it, the ban on religious garments in the public service — effectively, a ban on religious minorities in the public service — could not possibly become law. Indeed, as more and more hospitals, school boards and municipalities spoke out against Bill 60 (as the legislation is called), as demonstrators marched against it and lawyers denounced it as unconstitutional, and as divisions began to emerge even among Péquistes as to its merits, it seemed increasingly evident the PQ’s desperate gambit — for surely that is what it was — had backfired. Evident, that is, to everyone but the PQ leadership, whose response to this firestorm of opposition was … to tighten the bill further.
Well, now, here we are months later, and every one of these wishful myths has been destroyed. The PQ, far from dwindling to a reactionary rump, can now see a majority government within reach: A Léger poll, taken several days after hearings on the bill had begun, put them ahead of the Liberals, 36% to 33% overall, but 43-25 among the francophone population, where elections are won or lost. That wasn’t a tribute to the leadership of Pauline Marois. Neither was there any great surge in support for sovereignty. Rather, it seems clearly to be based on popular support — enthusiasm would perhaps be more apt — for the charter.
While nearly half of all Quebecers — 48% — support the bill, according to Léger, that’s almost entirely due to the support it enjoys among francophones, at 57%, compared with just 18% support among the province’s linguistic minorities. The ban on religious garb, in particular, attracts even more support: 60% overall, 69% among francophones — up 11 points since September. And while support is particularly strong outside the metropolitan areas, it is very nearly as strong in Montreal and Quebec City as well.
But you don’t need to consult the polls to see how this is playing out. You need only look at how the political parties are reacting. Neither opposition party has come out foursquare against the bill, or even the ban on religious clothing. The Coalition Avenir Québec would restrict its application to persons in positions of authority, such as police officers or judges (as suggested earlier by the Bouchard-Taylor commission on “reasonable accommodation”). Marvellous: so only the minority police officers and judges would be fired.
And the Liberals — ah, the Liberals. After dithering for months, while various figures within the party freelanced a range of positions on the issue, the party leader, Philippe Couillard, emerged with a stance of such infinite nuance that it ended up contradicting itself more than the bill. The party would allow public servants to wear the kippa and the hijab, but not the burka and the niqab. OK: the latter two cover the face, which suggests at least some sort of principled underpinning. But then why ban the chador, which does not? Such exquisite parsing has earned the party the ridicule of all sides. With the opposition in disarray, there is growing talk of a spring election, with Bill 60 as its central issue. What once was a theoretical possibility has become a real, and disturbing, probability.
By this point, Quebecers can be under no illusion what the bill portends: the expulsion from the public service of thousands of observant Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and even the odd Christian (among the bill’s other anomalies, crucifixes would be permitted, so long as they are not too large), unless they submit to stripping themselves of any outward manifestation of their faith. And the majority seem quite content with this. Rationalize it all we like — a distinctly French approach to secularism, the legacy of Quebec’s Catholic past etc. etc. — but if the polls hold the province is about to elect a separatist majority government, on an explicit appeal to ethnocultural chauvinism. The moral implications of this are profound, and not limited to the province, or its government. They involve us all. Put simply: Is this a state of affairs we can live with in this country? Will our consciences allow it? What, in particular, will be the reaction of the federal government? Will it defend the rights of local minorities, in the role originally envisaged for it, as it has pledged to do? Or will it do as federal governments have done since Laurier, faced with a determined local majority: shrug and abandon them to their fate?
Canadian Jewish News, Jan. 26, 2014
Young Jews will seriously consider leaving Quebec if the Parti Québecois (PQ) forms a majority in the next provincial election and the proposed charter of values becomes law, predicts one of the country’s best-known demographers. “It would be naive to think it’s not a serious risk,” said Jack Jedwab, 55, director of the Association for Canadian Studies. Jedwab, who served as director of the Quebec branch of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress from 1988 to 1998, told The CJN that while the province’s Jewish community remains vital and influential, it’s “in a state of serious, serious flux.” But “if this charter thing passes, it could be devastating.”
Some 30,000 Jews are believed to have left the province since the PQ formed its first provincial government in 1976. The community’s population now numbers about 90,000. Jedwab said a PQ majority government combined with the passage of Bill 60 would be “a worst-case scenario.” For the Jewish community, the proposed secular charter “is affecting the sense of who we are in society, that we are not equal to our de vieille souche [old stock] co-citizens,” said Jedwab, who is regularly asked to comment on minority issues by French- and English-language news outlets. “It’s coming across as an attack on our identity.”
Jedwab said he’s been impressed with the stance taken by the publicly funded Jewish General Hospital, which pledged that it would not enforce a charter rule barring workers from wearing religious symbols on the job. But, like many others, he had no idea how the provincial government would react to the hospital’s civil disobedience. “It’s a major question,” he said…
The government is so intent on achieving a majority and getting the charter passed into law by pandering to the province’s most base and xenophobic elements, he said, that it’s “ready to sacrifice its relationship with the Jewish community,” which almost never supports the PQ anyway. It’s clear from the current legislative hearings on Bill 60 that the party is cynically striving to exploit those xenophobic elements and distract from real issues such as the economy, Jedwab said.
One of the most troubling aspects of the charter debate for Jedwab is that religious rights are no longer being seen as fundamental or immutable, but as subject to legal manipulation. “It is one of the most worrisome dimensions,” he said. Jedwab is quite familiar with these issues. He was at Congress during the 1995 referendum on sovereignty, when the “No” side barely won and then-PQ premier Jacques Parizeau uttered his infamous comments blaming the “money and ethnic” vote for the razor-thin result. He was also at CJC when the late Quebecor tabloid publisher Pierre Péladeau referred to Quebec’s Jewish community as taking up “too much space,” and when Mordecai Richler suggested that anti-Semitism continued to play a role in Quebec national life. But Jedwab seems more concerned now than previously, saying that the charter is “one of the ugliest initiatives I’ve seen. I’m very, very saddened by the turn of events.”
Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Feb. 14, 2014
I have this sick feeling. Not because the Parti Québécois (PQ) will soon call a Quebec provincial election in which it can win a majority; I feel sick about how the PQ is going to go about it. The Charter of Quebec Values is blossoming as a positive election issue for the PQ. Recent polls demonstrate how a growing majority of French Quebecers see the charter as a positive force to bolster their collective rights, emboldening them to almost scream out loud, “They are Quebecers and this is French Quebec.”
A few weeks ago, a young woman boarded a plane from New York City to Montreal. She overheard a Québécois couple in conversation about Jewish religious people on the same plane. In French, and not thinking they were being understood, one of them muttered, “I thought we were flying to Montreal not to Israel.” That is the mindset behind the charter.
The charter was not as popular when it was first presented six months ago. Even two former Quebec PQ premiers opposed it, as did some nationalist interest groups. They believed proposed legislation eliminating “conspicuous” or overly noticeable religious symbols worn by people in the public sector in Quebec was uncalled for and not worthy of Quebecers. They thought it silly to debate how people serving the public can wear a small crucifix or a small Star of David but not a big one around their neck. They opposed the whole notion of burkas, hijabs, turbans and kippahs being made matters of public policy. What they also knew, but probably wouldn’t say, is how the number of people who actually serve the public with any form of religious garb is so minuscule you would have to ask why any Quebec government would run the risk of having the majority look like heavy-handed bullies.
The reason reflects Quebec’s French majority being a minority in North America. Insecurity within that context has always made Quebecers keenly aware of the difference between collective and individual rights. To protect themselves from what they see as a never-ending threat to their language and culture, they believe laws need to be passed sometimes at the expense of individual rights of others. The Charter of Quebec Values follows the template of the Charter of the French Language. The rationale behind both is to protect Quebecers, by protecting their language, their culture and their very existence and growth in Quebec.
Perhaps you can better see why that Québécois couple on the Montreal bound plane would ask themselves if they were flying to Montreal or Israel when they saw religious Jews on the plane. You could say they are small-minded xenophobes or you could try to explain it by adding they feel what they feel because the Quebec of their ancestors is, in their minds, threatened. The Charter of Quebec Values may make some Quebecers feel better, but it is not going to change anything concretely. No charter of values can turn the demographic clock back a hundred years. But feeling better is important. Politicians learned a long time ago that the better you make people feel, the more votes you get.
The Charter of Quebec Values is not just the product of instant electoral gratification, although it sure looks that way. To be fair, the thinking behind the charter goes back several years to Quebec’s hearings on religious and cultural accommodation. The thinking of that arduous process was accommodation was always possible and desirable in Quebec, as long as limits were set. And that brings us to the beginnings of the legislative word “conspicuous.”
Some years back, a rabbi put up a big, “conspicuous” mezuzah in a Montreal condo where few Jews lived. For the record, the other two mezuzahs in the building were small and discreet. Within a month, the condo owner, yours truly, got a call from the administrator of the building. It was a polite and respectful conversation in which I was asked if it were possible to replace the big mezuzah with a small mezuzah. He talked about accommodation. My conclusion, long before the Charter of Quebec Values, was that, if you want a mezuzah in a shared building, make it small so Quebecers can hardly see it, or, perhaps more politely, remember they have a collective right, which enables them to tell you how big they think it should be.
National Post, Jan. 22, 2014
It’s not often that we Canadians get to see a show trial in progress. But we’re watching one now — namely, the public hearings on the Quebec government’s proposed Bill 60, popularly known as the Charter of Quebec Values, which would ban religious symbols in the public service to ensure visible neutrality with regard to religious convictions and visible conformity to (Quebec-style) gender equality.
The outcome of the hearings already is known: Bill 60 will remain unchanged. The show trial’s purpose is to keep Quebec’s francophone populace continuously distracted and tribally pumped until an election is called. Since they cannot win on the usual grounds of good economic management and governance, the Parti Québécois are gambling on fear and ethnic pride as their ticket to power. It could pay off. A new Leger Marketing survey for QMI Agency suggests the PQ is, for the first time, “mathematically in position to win a majority government since their [minority] election [win] in 2012.” Nearly half the respondents reported themselves pleased with the Charter, with support much higher among francophones than other groups.
With hostility to the bill largely centralized in multicultural Montreal; with the anti-PQ vote split between two parties (the Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec, both emanating equivocal, somewhat panicky vibes on the Charter); and with voting power weighted to Quebec’s homogeneously francophone regions: The reality is that Quebec may, through an impeccably democratic process, become a province where self-identifying members of faith communities are second-class citizens when giving and receiving public services.
The rationale for the Charter is similar to the thinking behind draconian language laws such as Bill 101. Quebec is a distinct, but vulnerable society, René Lévesque believed, with French the vehicle for Quebec’s unique culture; therefore the “face” of society must be French, with English minimized, to preserve the culture. Following the same logic, overtly expressed religious faith now is perceived as threatening to the secular character of Quebec culture. Bill 60 would neutralize the “face” of Quebec with regard to religious belief, especially belief in traditional gender roles.
This is poor reasoning. People may love one language, yet speak many, according to their situation. Language is a means to personal, cultural and transactional ends. But settled convictions are ends in themselves and never interchangeable. So unless a faith symbol actively harms the civic environment, there can be no democratic reason to ban it. (I will concede, however, that the actual covering of one’s face — as opposed to merely one’s hair — is psychologically threatening, and does impede social reciprocity. If the Liberals’ fully justifiable Bill 94, banning face-covering in public services, had been passed, the PQ’s Bill 60’s appeal would have been sharply diminished.) Bans on jewellery and head cover not only change the relationship of individuals to the state; they also transform relations between citizens, creating a hierarchy of civic worthiness in the minds of all, according to which participation in Quebec culture is predicated on the trivialization of faith.
Because Quebec’s elites are so hostile to their own Catholic cultural roots (even though cynical politicians have no problem exploiting their former faith’s religious symbols as protected “heritage” symbols in exploiting residual nostalgia amongst older voters), they have lost the capacity to understand faith’s character and its collective resilience when under threat. Politicians should realize that promoting secular conformity through voluntary submission to moral authoritativeness would be a far better path, in the end, than demanding sullen compliance through political authoritarianism.
Judaism, Islam and Christianity are the three main religions targeted by the Charter. Adherents of all three who wear faith symbols are precisely those representatives of their religions who are most likely to find meaning in sacred traditions and conventions deriving their authority from the pre-state past, and for whom sexual restraint and the family are the pillars of civilization.
How likely are these groups to accept humiliation from political masters whose own “culture” is based in rejection of the religion that created it? How likely are they to respect a “gender equality” ideal that is accompanied by indifference to marriage, widespread family breakdown and high abortion rates? Indeed, to any person of real faith, Quebec’s aggressive secularism seems more a source of cultural malaise than a strength.
It’s clear that Bill 60 is a transparently coarse, fear-mongering appeal to the least rational, most xenophobic elements of Quebec’s population. It may come to pass (even if it involves over-riding constitutional barriers with the Charter of Rights’ notwithstanding clause). But if that happens, the PQ may be surprised at the depth of the backlash.
Video Shows 'Positive' Criticism of Quebec Charter: Aaron Derfel, Montreal Gazette, Jan. 21, 2014 —It’s a video that some staunch supporters of the Charter of Quebec Values don’t want you to see. Produced with the full co-operation of the Jewish General Hospital, the video shows moving, compassionate images of health-care workers treating patients — all the while wearing the hijab, kippa and turban.
The PQ Charter and the Jewish Community: Don Macpherson, Montreal Gazette, Jan. 16, 2014—The Parti Québécois “values” charter would have a “devastating” effect on Quebec’s Jewish community. It could “damage” its “continuity,” and “compromise (its) acquired rights and its future.” And it risks creating “social conflicts.”
Quebec’s Values Charter Debate Fuels Stereotyping, Tension: Poll: National Post, Jan. 13, 2014—As hearings begin Tuesday on the proposed Quebec Charter of Values, a new public opinion poll suggests even some Quebecers who support restrictions on religious symbols in public institutions think the move is already fuelling stereotyping and tension among the province’s communities and is likely to foster civil disobedience.
Quebec Business Leaders Sound Warning on PQ Values Charter: Allan Woods, Toronto Star, Feb. 2, 2014 —You know an issue has touched a nerve in Quebec when the business community turns to the microphones and television cameras. The province’s captains of enterprise did it in advance of French-language laws introduced in the 1970s.
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