Living in Montreal, I’ve often gazed up the defining geographical feature of this city, Mount Royal, and wondered why in this day and age it should be topped by an illuminated Christian cross that is paid for by all residents here, no matter our religious faith or lack thereof.
This attitude should, on the surface, make me sympathetic to the controversial “Charter of Quebec Values” recently proposed by the minority Parti Québécois government. It is being promoted as a way to present Quebec as a secular state. In practice, by legislating unworkable rules on what clothing or jewellery a person employed by Quebec’s public entities may wear, it is a discriminatory barrier against minorities.
While we have yet to see the actual language of the proposed law, judiciously placed media leaks say it would forbid any display by a public employee of a personal item that would denote a person’s religious affiliation. It’s transparently designed to play on fears of and prejudice toward minorities in Quebec.
In rural areas and the Quebec City region, where the PQ needs to win the seats that would give it a majority, these attitudes run deep, fuelled by ranting talk-radio hosts spewing racist sewage over the airwaves.
It’s clearly illegal and unconstitutional, and will never come to pass. No matter: the damage will be done, and for the worst reasons.
Trailing in the polls and facing defeat in the National Assembly in the coming months, the PQ is desperate to find a wedge issue that will return the party to power after the next election. It is appealing to the most ignorant among us in order to whip up fear of a threat that doesn’t exist.
It has chosen to join the incoherent roar of intolerance constantly blaring out from the megaphone of the Quebecor media empire owned by Pierre Karl Péladeau. Péladeau, recently appointed by Premier Pauline Marois to chair the board of Hydro-Québec, returned the favour by commissioning a poll that shows a majority of Quebecers support this xenophobic law.
The poll, conducted by the respected firm Léger Marketing, is revealing. Not surprisingly, attitudes are sharply split according to one’s mother tongue, with the numbers almost exactly reversed.
Almost two of every three francophones (65%) support a “Charter of Quebec Values,” with only 20% opposed. Among anglophones, only 25% support the proposed charter, while 62% oppose it.
The most telling finding, however, is that while a majority of francophones oppose visible religious symbols of government employees, they also find it perfectly acceptable to display the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly. Its presence there is a clear sign that Quebec presents itself as a Christian state. Not very secular, that.
Nor, I suspect, would these same people demand the removal of a lapel pin of the Quebec flag from our police, politicians or judges, not to mention from official vehicles and buildings. This law would make it necessary, however. The white cross separating the four fleurs-de-lis was explicitly designed to represent Christianity.
It’s a farce. But the divisions this PQ gambit will create are very serious. Nor do they pay any attention to the reality of French immigration to this land. As former Nation journalist Steve Bonspiel noted on his Facebook page, ex-Premier Bernard Landry argued that, “integration is a powerful signal that [immigrants] need to adjust to a new nation.” Bonspiel sarcastically replied, “Seems the French, English didn’t get the memo here.”
With glee, I await the day a government bureaucrat tries to tell a First Nations chief that he must remove a feather headdress because an eagle feather is viewed as sacred.