Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How the Quebec Charter of Values Ruined My Perfect Day

It was a wonderfully warm sunny day in Toronto today.

A great day off to relax and pretend that summer is still here.

I went to the beach, I spotted my second Monarch butterfly of the season in some flowers near the Island Club House, and I got to pet the baby alpaca at Far Enough Farm.

In short, it was almost the perfect day eh? Until I got home, a friend from Montreal called me and said: "I suppose you're going to write something about the Quebec Charter of Values."

And I felt like collapsing and screaming NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Because why should I ruin a perfect day by writing about a bullshit bill that won't survive the first court challenge, or the verdict of most reasonable Quebecers? When I'm an atheist for Chrissakes !@#!!!! 

But alas, I suppose I have to say something, because this really is PATHETIC...

It's grotesquely discriminatory, incredibly divisive, and even if you favour a secular state like I do, totally unnecessary.

It's the product of the narrow thinking of the PQ petit bourgeois intellectuals who are presently in control of the party. A crass attempt to create a wedge issue in the desperate hope it might pump some gas into their deflated sovereignty option.

And it won't work...

However having said that, I also have to say that the reaction in English Canada has been ridiculously excessive.

Stuff like this is absurd. It's not a war on religion. Most Quebecers are not racists. Religion is not race based so how could they be?

And as Colby Cosh points out, if you're going to bash a whole province, you really need to understand its different history and traditions. 

It may be that the Globe and other newspapers simply can’t find an anglophone opinionator to defend Premier Pauline Marois’s gesture in defence of laïcité. And it probably doesn’t help that the French term laïcité has no exact English equivalent, since it swims in an imprecise area between “church and state separation” (of the American type) and “anticlericalism” (of the European type). Quebecers are arguing over a concept we Anglo-Saxons don’t even have.

That particular idea has a poor track record, and there is no harm in ridiculing laïcité on the sufficient grounds of mere hopelessness. But the commentators now attacking Quebec’s government as “subtly racist” (it was mighty big of the National Post’s John Ivison to include the “subtly”) imply that the legitimacy of that government depends on allowing its employees to wear a particular sort of hat while on duty. On a purely tactical level, that seems like a tough sell.

And those who overreact will only fall into the PQ's trap.

To which I would only add this, now that my day is completely ruined eh? By all means fight this ugly clumsy attempt to divide Quebecers.

But never forget why we need a secular state. Never forget that religion is the curse of humanity. Never forget how it puts down women, or goes after gays with genocidal fury. Never forget that it's a murderous force that is killing people from Jamaica, to Syria, to Iraq.

For look what it has contributed to the world in just the last month...

Oh yeah, one more thing...

If anything comes out of the PQ's idiot plan let's make sure it's this one eh?

Let's make it a priority to remove this morbid symbol from the National Assembly...

For I think we can all agree about something. I hope.

Religion and politics is a REALLY bad mix...

Click here to recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers.


  1. Dear Simon
    We have discussed Quebec discrimination before and come down on different sides. I have always insisted that their language laws have been grossly discriminatory while you have defended them. I have have always insisted that leftists would not tolerate such laws elsewhere so they should not tolerate them in Quebec. Since we had those discussions, the Quebec language police have worked overtime like a bunch of Keystone Cops, showing themselves for what they really are.

    Well, this charter stems from the same roots as their language laws and exposes the real racism that seeths beneath the surface. We can't have it both ways. Either we stand for minority rights and against cultural nationalism and cultural discrimination, or we become apologists for them. I hope this charter has taken the false gleam off Quebec nationalism, a gleam that has fooled so many of my fellow leftist for so long.

    1. hi Kirby...we have indeed disagreed over whether the Quebec language laws were a good thing or not. All I know is that it is now generally recognized that had Quebec not passed those laws the province would probably be an independent country. For the the French majority was afraid it might suffer the same fate as Lousiana, and they were not prepared to let the same happen to them. The language laws caused much distress to my anglo community, but most anglos now recognize that the end result was desirable. You also make a fundamental mistake by bandying the word racism around too easily. Language and religion are not race based so how can it be racism? If you want to attack racism attack the views many in your part of the woods express about native Canadians, because that's the real thing and it's truly disgusting. Since I have one foot in each solitude, I do my best to explain one to the other. While you have become just another tired old Quebec basher. I believe that trying to explain Quebec to English Canada and vice versa helps keep this country I love together. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself what are YOU doing?

  2. Yes, I'm for a secularist state, but they are going about it all wrong. One STARTS with the symbols and remaining powers of the dominant religion, as France did 100 years ago. Certainly the crucifix in a debating chamber.

    And funding religious schools, which teach misogyny and homophobia to children, as well as isolating them from other children, from different faith backgrounds or none.

    And the RoC reaction is just as absurd as the law. Marois may be a lot of things I don't like (stealing whole planks of the Québec solidaire platform to get elected, then reneging on almost all of them in a short time) but she isn't Marine Le Pen.

    I don't like seeing a lot of veiled women either, just as I didn't like seeing a lot of nuns when I was little. Women should be free. But imposing a dress code is frightening, and removing hijabis from parapublic employment will do nothing to promote the emancipation of women, on the contrary.

    I'm going out on my bicycle (we have the day you had yesterday), also to meet some Chileans who are commemorating the 40th anniversary of the coup.

    1. hi lagatta...of course this so-called Charter of Values is a tacky little document, which may fly in the rube areas of the province where people are not exposed to other cultures, but could never fly in Montreal. And I'm not surprised eh? One of Seb's friends once met Bernard Drainville at a party and said he was so boring he had to remember to keep breathing. And you know how I feel about the bourgeois Marois. But as you say, she is not Le Pen, just completely out of it. And the way it has set off yet another round of Quebec bashing in English Canada is in my humble opinion even more disgusting and dangerous. For it makes Quebec sound like a backward reactionary place, when in fact it had a Charter of Rights SEVEN years before, it's arguably the most socially progressive place in Canada, and many of those who support the idea of a charter of values do so because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that it will advance the equality of women. And the problem is that anti-Quebec bigotry is now so firmly embedded in the ROC psyche it regularly flares up like herpes, Stephen Harper can use it to his advantage since he has no votes to lose in Quebec, and one day it could destroy this country. I'd hate to see that, and as one who knows both solitudes intimately, I feel I must speak out.

      P.S...Although I am an atheist, and have good reasons to distrust religion, I think hijabs make some young women look really pretty, I think Turbans are this drab country the brighter the better. I think kippas can make guys look really cute. And as for that cross and barbed wire tattoo on Seb's arm, the one he got BEFORE I met him, the more I look at it the more I like it... ;)

  3. Anonymous12:06 PM

    The crucifix above the speaker's chair illustrates how Quebec was largely isolated from the French revolution of 1789. In some respects Quebec is still a pre-revolutionary society. From that time forward France has restricted the use and wearing of religious symbols in the conduct of government business and in schools although now many do not realize that the rules were originally aimed specifically at the Roman Catholic church. Recent developments in France, here echoed by the PQ, follow the same approach although it is now perceived to be anti-Muslim, or at least anti-"Other", and in fact, may target "them" for discrimination.

    Readers should note that Charter Rights apply to the relationship between the individual and the state. It may be that the PQ Charter of Values does not violate the the federal legislation because it does not discriminate against the person on the basis of their own religion but instead it prohibits excessively overt symbols of all religious expression by civil servants etc. while conducting government business.

    However, I make that point from a theoretical point of view and not because I am promoting the idea. In general, according to predominant cultural custom, fashion, discretion, self-censorship, or other reasons, people do not use prominent religious symbols once they acculturated here.

    While I fully support a person's right to personal expression of identity, which may include his or her religious symbols, I sometimes have trouble with the reality.

    The charter 15.(1) is intended to protect the fundamental dignity of the person and ensure freedom from discrimination "... based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability".

    So now I come to the problem of the burka, and the niqāb both which cover the face of the wearer. Although Islam means "Submission" is submission by the believer to God. As a western man I cannot look at these garments and think they represent this alone. I perceive a woman who is in submission to a man, or men. I see a woman who is being actively discriminated against by her religion. If you visit the website of the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, the guardian of two of the most holy sites Islam you will see a statement about the fundamental disagreement they have with the concept of "Human Rights". The western notion of human rights is rejected. It is quite a different world view. So what is a person to do? Must one choose sides, either citizen or religious adherent? An Easterner or a Westerner? A Quebecois or an "Other"???

    Recently Quebec girls refused to play a soccer game because one of their teammates was sent off for wearing a hijab. That's the sense of justice among the young and one of the reasons Trudeau is on the right side of this issue. Society has moved on.

    I've gone on too long.


    1. hi p2p...look I may be an atheist but I'm not a fanatic about such things. As long as the religious don't try to tell me what to do, or try to kill me, they can do what they want, or wear what they want. I might dislike the sight of a burka for the reasons you mention, I would never let a person wearing one know it. It's just not my style. Inclusion not exclusion is the way to overcome traditions like that one. I also think that applying the French secularist model here won't work, because we are a nation of immigrants and all have different traditions. Finally, the thought that we are even engaging in this absurd and divisive debate at a time when there are so many other far more pressing problems drives me to distraction. I can only hope that this bill, like so many others proposed by the PQ, dissipates in the wind of reason like a horrible smell...

  4. Anonymous4:48 PM

    And another thing...
    Marois is following a trend from the UK, France, Turkey and other countries that puts restrictions on public servants, government agents and the education system. The UK is arguing to uphold a law banning religious symbols at work before the European Court of Human Rights ( )

    For a Q & A on Saudi understanding of Human Rights this link provides material that used to appear on the Kingdom's website. Apparently the Saudis don't have a problem with other countries being secular. ( )

    "Why Saudi Arabia Does Not Allow Followers of Other Religions to Practice their Faiths

    Q: "Now that you mention Islam, why is it that Saudi Arabia does not allow the followers of other religions the freedom to practice their faiths in Saudi Arabia?"
    A: "Anyone in Saudi Arabia is entitled to his own beliefs and practices. But Saudi Arabia cannot allow the public practice of any religion which contradicts Islam. Saudi Arabia is a special place: it is the cradle of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad declared it a preserve of Islam. A lot of the so-called dissidents want all non-Muslims thrown out of Saudi Arabia. But the government takes a far more moderate stance."

    Q: "But Muslims can practice their faith here in the West with no hindrance. Why doesn't Saudi Arabia reciprocate?"

    A: "British society is a secular one. A man can worship an insect for all society cares. Saudi Arabia is a religious society, a very religious society. The people believe in the Unity of God and any doctrine contrary to that is not accepted. All Saudis are Muslims, and non-Muslims who come temporarily to work in Saudi Arabia should understand this fact. In Israel you can go to jail if you start a missionary activity. And the Vatican does not encourage the building of mosques inside it. Mecca and the surrounding land of Saudi Arabia is the holiest preserve of Islam. There should be adequate allowance made for these special cases…"


    1. hi p2p...yes indeed the reactionary backward Kingdom of Saudi Arabia really is a "special place." A fountain of jihadi terrorists, and an outrageously repressive, brutal, and hypocritical place. I once found myself in the casino of the Ramses Hilton in Cairo, which was full of Saudi princes and other rich riff raff. The booze flowed freely and you should have seen them...

  5. G. Babbitt5:40 PM

    A nice piece, but I take issue at your criticism of those who accuse the PQ government of subtle racism. Racism should be defined by the effect it has on those who are discriminated against not the thin justifications of the discriminator. As an earlier commentator pointed out the immersion of Christianity within the society has not been addressed just the garments worn by non-Christians. But what I have heard are so-called Quebec intellectuals saying that they don't agree with the acceptance of the crucifixes but the legislation is popular and based on creating a secular state. Unfortunately the popularity is clearly because it doesn't go after Christian intrusion into the public sphere, so that new relatively powerless citizens are subject to scrutiny that the majority is not. That is a form a racism and if it hurts someone's feelings, too bad. That being I agree name calling doesn't help in general, but when debating someone with an open mind I will not restrict myself.

    1. hi G. Babbitt...What we are talking about may or may not be bigotry, I personally believe it is in practice. But it's NOT race based, religion is a voluntary choice, so it can't be racism.
      However, since it's exclusionary, and does cause those affected much distress, I suppose you can say it feels the same as people who are victimized by racists feel, so it's clearly a bad thing. And as you say the loopholes and exemptions make no sense, so the whole thing is an unholy mess, if you'll pardon the expression. As I said, we need all this nonsense at a time like this one, like we need a hole in the head...

  6. Anonymous6:13 PM

    2nd Monarch!!!!!
    Que diable le Québec question?
    Celebrate the Monarch - it matters.
    I've seen but one.

  7. Simon, your contributions are well appreciated, as they strike a balance counterposed to the Quebec-bashing declarations of a large majority of Anglo-Canadian "Progressive Bloggers" who issue blanket condemnation of what they claim is the "ingrained bigotry of Quebec". In reality, if you peruse the websites of the Quebec left such as the Québec Solidaire supporters "Presse-toi à gauche", you will note that there is hardly unanimity with respect to the proposed Charter on the part of the Quebec left and labour organizations, particularly with respect to extending such prohibition of religious expression to hospital employees, teachers and daycare workers. Most do agree with a secularist principle, but differ as to its reach and application. Most do agree that it is an attempt by the PQ government to capture a larger electoral base at the expense of certain immigrant groups.

    As for the attempt by some on the left to equate the current proposed PQ Charter with existing language legislation, we may wish to recall that the current cultural policies in Quebec were the end result of mass social struggles in Quebec in the 1960s over language and cultural policy in which, curiously enough, leadership roles were often held by Anglo Canadian radicals such as Stanley Gray, a lecturer in Political Science at McGill University then affiliated with the Front de libération populaire as well as the largely anglophone League for Socialist Action whose leaders such as Michel Mill ( whose political offspring today inhabit the ranks of Quebec Solidaire), then organized mass language protests alongside trade union leader Michel Chartrand and Quebec nationalist advocates such as Raymond Lemieux.

    Simon is correct in his assertion that given the spirit of the times, had the current language legislation not been enacted, the PQ likely would have won on the first referendum attempt. Which is why successive Liberal governments in Quebec have made no attempt to tamper with or repeal such legislation.

  8. From the recollections of Stanley Gray pertaining to mass social struggles in Quebec in the 1960s, published in Canadian Dimension, November 1, 2004:

    "The Left in Québec stood for independence and socialism. To me, it seemed only natural that the Québécois had a right to their own country, free from the domination of others, just as did the Algerians or the Poles. Culture and economics were intertwined in Québec, because language and class divisions overlapped — as the saying went, capital speaks English, labour speaks French. At the time, English was the privileged language of work and commerce, despite the fact that francophones comprised 80 per cent of Quebec’s population. The fight to protect the French language was vital to their cultural survival in North America."

    "In the fall of 1968, tens of thousands took to the streets protesting the lack of university places for francophone students. At the same time, violent struggles erupted in Montréal’s north end as community groups fought for French-language education in their underfunded schools. A few months later, I met with a number of Québec groups who came up with the idea of focusing on McGill University."

    "McGill was a bastion of privilege that proudly insulated itself from the Québec majority. Its Board of Governors was a Who’s Who of the anglophone financial establishment that ran the province. It trained the managers and bankers who would make their money off the cheap labour of the Québécois. The university was a rich institution that received the lion’s share of government grants, but would not teach in French — all the while there were no university places for 10,000 francophone post-secondary graduates. Francophone graduates needed a higher admission mark than English students at a comparable level, and McGill charged more money for admission than other universities."

    " Operation McGill' started in January, 1969. Its slogans were 'McGill aux Québécois,' 'McGill Francais,' even 'McGill aux Travailleurs' (McGill to the Workers). It quickly mushroomed into a major public issue, building up to a planned demonstration in March. In the middle of this, McGill University fired me for protest activities including Operation McGill. I became an overnight celebrity."

    "I ended up a spokesperson along with Michel Chartrand, the fiery president of the Montréal labour council of the CSN (Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux, or Confederation of National Trade Unions), and Raymond Lemieux, head of the French unilingualist movement. We toured the province speaking to cheering, overflowing auditoriums. I got an education about the pent up anger against centuries of injustice that was fueling the liberation movement in Québec. At Montreal’s labour council, enthused delegates seized thousands of copies of our newspaper to hand out the next day in factories and construction sites."

    "While popular in French Québec, Operation McGill was hated and vilified in English Montréal. A major media offensive whipped up a hysteria against the French barbarians at the gates. Many of the organizers, myself included, were arrested without cause, later released, our papers confiscated. We had to go underground the last week to stay out of jail. Justice Minister John Turner warned he might call in the Canadian army. The demonstration was nevertheless a huge success, bringing 15,000 into the streets — up to that time, the biggest demonstration the nationalist movement had organized."

    "In the fall of 1969, we participated in the large mobilizations against Bill 63, legislation that did not go far enough to protect the French language. The protests involved hundreds of thousands all over the province. High-school students went on strike for several weeks. The eight- and nine-year-old kids on my street greeted me with the raised fist: a tornado of protest energy was sweeping through Québec."

  9. As to the subsequent repression of the Quebec left who had organized mass protests on issues such as language and education policy in Quebec in the 1960's, Stanley Gray continues:

    "When the kidnappings came, I was arrested along with hundreds who similarly had nothing to do with the FLQ. I was taken at 4 a.m. as I was listening to Prime Minister Trudeau announce the War Measures Act on the radio."

    "When the police interrogated me, they never asked a single question about the FLQ. However, they said they would hunt down and kill agitators like me if we ever got released. One of the top officials took a bullet out of his pocket, telling me that one was for me. (A few months later, one of the main organizers of Operation McGill, Francois Bachand, was assassinated in Paris under mysterious circumstances.)"

  10. hi Rene...Since I love Quebec and its mostly French-speaking inhabitants, and I'm familiar with its history and its traditions, I find it really easy to defend them. It's quite legitimate to criticize that Marois-Drainville monstrosity. But it's not OK to bash an entire province. Especially since, as you point out, many Quebecers are against it. And I'm quite sure they will eventually throw out the bathwater, while keeping the baby intact. Like standing up for a secular government, women's rights and stripping away tax breaks for religious institutions. You want to pray? Fine, but YOU pay for it. If things go well I wouldn't be surprised if the whole controversy has a happy ending.
    As for McGill Francais I am also familiar with that having written a paper on it while I was at that institution, working at the Faculty Club, and perfecting my pool playing skills. ;)
    Those who do not understand their country, or appreciate it, are condemned to lose it....

  11. e.a.f.12:25 AM

    If the Quebec government doesn't like government and religion mixing how about they start by defunding all religious schools.