Tensions are running high in Montreal this week, as protestors take to the streets to voice their opposition to the Parti Québécois’s (PQ) newly proposed charter of values. The charter, pushed for by Premier Pauline Marois, aims for religious neutrality in the province.
The reason? No one really knows. The PQ government has yet to provide sound reasoning and evidence for the necessity of the charter in Quebec, a province with deep-rooted pride in its multicultural and multiethnic society.
The charter will disallow all provincial public sector workers from wearing any copious or overt religious apparel or symbols. Copious and overt? The Muslim hijab, Sikh turban, and Jewish kippah, integral symbols for individuals to pay respect to their identity and religion, have essentially been called a nuisance.
As helpfully explained by simple pictogram advertisements plastered around the city, small crosses and Star of David rings and necklaces are permitted. There has been no word on sizing regulations.
Elected officials, such as representatives in the national assembly, are exempt from the charter. If she wishes, Marois can sport a cross, Star of David, hijab, and turban, all at the same time. All the while, should the PQ form a majority government, minority groups will be stripped of their constitutional right to freedom of religious expression.
But the exceptions continue. The massive cross that sits atop the infamous and beloved Mount Royal in the heart of Montreal will not be removed. The same exception applies to the cross hanging in Quebec’s provincial legislature. According to Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for democratic institutions and active citizenship, the crosses are cultural and patrimonial symbols that pay respect to Quebec’s past, built upon institutions supported by the church.
During a recent news conference, a reporter stumped Drainville, bringing up the future usage of the Bible to swear witnesses in to court.
“Oh, my God,” he replied, slowly, “we’ll get back to you.”
Clearly, Drainville was not prepared to answer for the discrepancies that riddle the incomplete and inconsistent charter.
Most frustrating, the charter is making a mockery of the province by addressing a problem that does not really exist. Hijabs and kippahs don’t hurt anyone. However, crumbling infrastructure, a failing economy, and widespread corruption do. If the PQ is using the charter as a distraction from the real problems Quebec faces, it’s working.
The PQ government has begun silencing critics of the charter. Maria Mourani, currently an independent member of Parliament, was ousted from the Bloc Québécois caucus for speaking out against the charter, stating that she could not adhere to a policy that would deny a citizen work for expressing his or her religion or faith.
The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal has announced its refusal to comply with the charter, stating, “any individual is entitled to employment in a hospital setting, regardless of whether or not his or her clothing includes an overt religious symbol.”
Justin Trudeau immediately spoke out against Marois’s choice to push for the charter. The charter points a finger at minorities, alienating them from a society that once promised them acceptance.
The presence of religious symbols is not what makes Quebec a multicultural province. It is not the multitude of churches, synagogues, and mosques, nor is it the festivals and food. It is the citizen’s pride in the diverse and varying population that makes Quebec multicultural, and it’s a shame that the government is trying to take that away. If the PQ is truly setting out to unite the province, they’re doing it wrong.