Yes, once again there has been yet another effort to ‘protect’ Quebec ‘values’ in the news as of late. If I sound cynical that this truly is an effort to protect, it is because during my ten years in Quebec I have heard this repeated in efforts to ostracize all ‘others.
During this most recent debate, there has been a Charter of Quebec Values that has been proposed. The Charter started as a ban against all large displays of religious garb or jewelry by public employees. This includes turbins, hijabs, kippah, and large crosses. It was later diminished to those public employees who might exert authority over others such as judges, police officers, doctors, and daycare workers.
The justifications for the charter include extending secularism and protection of womens rights. Quebec made a strong movement away from religion in the late 60′s and early 70′s and there is concern that certain religions suppress the rights of women. There was also concern that those displaying their religion would influence those below them into following their religion.
The arguments against the charter point out that the charter encroaches on the right of people express themselves. It is also argued that by prohibiting women who wish to display their religion and who do not follow tenants of the religion that suppress women, that they are in effect suppressing the rights of those women. The lack of overt expressions of religion would also limit the exposure to people of different religious backgrounds.
After spending some time disappointed both at the amount of support for the charter and the actual arguments for the charter, I realized something. We have been through these types of arguments frequently and looking at them all you really see what is trying to be done. There were the reasonable accommodation debates and the Bouchard Taylor commission. This included daily feedback from the public about how ‘others’ (mainly Muslims) are trying to infiltrate Quebec society and undermine it. A small town with no Muslims even wrote into law a ban against stoning people to death. There are repeated proposals to limit the use of languages outside of French. The majority of non-native French speakers make strong efforts to learn French so efforts to suppress all other languages is not necessary. Then there was the unnecessary soccer turbin ban last summer in the name of safety. Also last summer there were efforts to prohibit special parking privileges of Jewish people celebrating their holidays. When you look at all of these together, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that people are trying to make ‘others’ not feel welcome.
As an outsider, it continues to reinforce the idea that I am an outsider regardless of which group is targeted. It is also very difficult to see how many people support these efforts. They agree with the justifications, but may not realize how it has been difficult for those believing in the province and who came to the province for the tolerance and accepting nature. It fosters a feeling that people are not truthful with you and secretly want you to leave. It would be one thing if it was once or twice, but repeated popular efforts along the same theme makes it hard not to believe. The reputation of the province has been damaged by these repeated efforts and unless they stop, people will continue to think the province is intolerant.