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Religious intolerance in Canada

2013-SEP/OCT: More responses to the
proposed "Charter of Quebec Values:"

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This essay is a continuation of a previous essay

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More responses to the proposed "Charter of Quebec Values:"

  • 2013-SEP-19: Feminists divided on the proposed Charter: Allan Woods of the Toronto Star's Quebec Bureau wrote:

    "Premier Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois wants to adopt new rules that would instill equality of the sexes in the province, bolster the Québécois identity and underline the religious neutrality of the state by banning public servants from wearing symbols of their faith in the workplace."

    "... Muslim women who wear the religious headscarf in Quebec have become the focus of feminist arguments in the divisive debate.

    On one side is the argument that since all religions are patriarchal, the veil is an intolerable reminder of female oppression. The other side is a more practical, pro-choice faction where the greater discrimination is forcing a woman to choose between her faith and the economic independence provided by her job." 1

    That comment persuaded the webmaster of this web site to post the following comment on the Toronto Star's web site:

    "You wrote that some people believe that 'all religions are patriarchal.' A more accurate statement would be that "the conservative wing of most religions are patriarchal'."

    This is a very incomplete view of religion. It is true that the conservative wings of most religions are often intolerant of women and minorities -- particularly sexual minorities like the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. But the liberal wings of these same religions frequently advocate equality for women and minorities. For some reason, the media prefers to quote the opinions of the conservative wings and rarely cover the beliefs of the liberal wings. Pity.

  • 2013-SEP-23: Retired Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dubé weighs in: She served on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1987 to 2002. Earlier, in a radio interview, she argued that some civil rights are more fundamental that others, The right to equality trumps the freedom of religion. She said:

    "My vision is that there are fundamental rights. The right to live is fundamental. There is no accommodation. ... Equality is the same thing. There are also civil liberties that are extremely important, but they’re not on the same level. Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are another thing. They are civil liberties that can be reduced by what is reasonable in a free and democratic society."

    She described complete face covering for Muslim women wearing burka or niquab as "oppressive." She stated that specific rules concerning religious clothing and symbols will ensure that immigrants to Canada will "become like us."

  • 2013-OCT-01: Partly naked women stage protested the presence of a crucifix hanging in Quebec's National Assembly: Three women from the women's rights group Femen Quebec stood up in the public gallery, took off their shirts and yelled "Crucifix, decalisse." This is "a crude, sacrilegious Quebecois expression loosely translatable as, "Crucifix, get the hell out of here." They were demanding that a large crucifix be removed from the chamber wall above the speaker's chair. They criticized an apparent inconsistency in the Charter of Quebec Values being promoted by the Parti Québécois government. As currently proposed, the Charter would allow state personnel to wear tiny crucifixes, would ban their wearing of large crucifixes while allowing a massive crucifix to remain on display in the National Assembly above the speaker's chair. 2,3

The crucifix had been placed there by Premier Maurice Duplessis in 1936 shortly after he took office. He also ordered one for the Legislative Council Chamber -- a type of Senate that was later abolished. This was during what is referred to as the Great Darkness (Grande Noirceur in French) when the Catholic Church tightly controlled health care, social services, and public education throughout the province. The present government regards this particular crucifix as a symbol of Quebec's cultural heritage, and wants it to remain on display. 4

The group's European branch had organized many similar protests in Europe in 2013 where they advocated women's equality and the need to eliminate sexist policies.

One might have expected Femen Quebec to favor the proposed charter because many North American feminists view women's religious clothing that is required dress in some predominately Muslim countries to be a form of oppression. However, during this demonstration, they concentrated on the crucifix erected in the National Assembly -- a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church. The church is seen by many feminists as opposing women's rights. They view it as obsessed with prohibiting women from ordination, abortion access, the use of most forms of birth control, the use of emergency contraception, prohibiting same-gender sexual activity, equal right for transgender persons and transsexuals, etc.

Later, Femen Quebec said that the crucifix:

"“... stems from the Great Darkness. ... a painful memory, especially for women. That renewal of the pact between the church and the state is not at all a heritage worth honouring. No to a government that accepts the presence of religion at its bosom. Yes to state secularism!" 3

When asked to comment on whether the crucifix was unfair to non-Catholic religious groups, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said:

"Religious history and heritage is a cornerstone of many peoples’ identity, especially in a province like Quebec. You can’t tell people to get rid of their culture and history like that. That’s just stupid." 5

According to the Encyclopedia of French cultural heritage in North America:

"The presence of the cross in the chamber was called into question during the 2007 and 2008 Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences. The Commission’s final report stated that:

'In the name of both the separation of the State and the churches and State neutrality, we believe that the crucifix should be removed from the wall of the National Assembly, which is the very embodiment of the constitutional state.'

In response, the members of the National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:

'That the National Assembly reiterate its desire to promote the language, history, culture and values of the Québec nation, foster the integration of each person into our nation in a spirit of openness and reciprocity, and express its attachment to our religious and historic heritage represented particularly by the crucifix in our Blue Room and our coat of arms adorning our institutions'." 6

  • 2013-OCT-03: Reaction by former premier Jacques Parizeau: He went public with opposition to the proposed Charter. He wrote in an op-ed piece that appeared in many Quebec tabloids:

    "Quebec has never before legislated anything religious out of the public space. The neutrality of the state became a fact of life over time. The result may not yet be perfect, but it has been achieved without some of the crises that many other societies have had to endure. ..."

    "I think it would be preferable to limit ourselves in the charter to the affirmation of the principles of the separation of church and state, and to the religious neutrality of the state."

    "So why are we noticing such large support for the ban on conspicuous religious signs? I think there’s only one explanation: Islamism. And it is understandable. ... The reflex is obvious: we don’t want that here. In any case, when a government appears to be acting in order to limit the so-called danger of ‘the extremist invasion’ the first reflex is to applaud. There’s nothing surprising there." 7

He expressed concern over reports that Muslim women have been harassed and assaulted in the last few months. Such reports give the impression that Quebecers are religiously intolerant.

Referring to the crucifix in the National Assembly, he wrote:

Hopefully next spring the speaker, after having discretely consulted with the parties, will move it elsewhere in the legislature, for example, in the hallway where it was located for so many years." 7

  • 2013-OCT-04: Change considered to the proposed Charter: A growing number of public institution have indicated that they want to exercise the opt-out clause of the clothing and jewelry restrictions. There are reports in the media indicating that Premier Pauline Marois is considering removing the five year opt-out clause from the proposed charter. 8

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Quebec's values charter splits feminists," Toronto Star, 2013-SEP-19, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  2. Graeme Hamilton, "Screaming topless protest interrupts Quebec’s national assembly to denounce values charter," National Post, 2013-OCT-01, at: http://news.nationalpost.com/
  3. "Topless protesters disrupt Quebec’s national assembly," The Canadian Press, 2013-OCT-01, at: http://globalnews.ca/
  4. "National Assembly’s crucifix is a Duplessis-era bond between politics and religion," The Globe and Mail, 2013-AUG-28, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
  5. News Desk, "Premier declares Quebec is secular in front of giant illuminated cross," The Syrup Trap, 2013-SEP-14, at: http://syruptrap.ca/
  6. Richard Godin, "The Parliament Building of Quebec: A Place of Memory," Encyclopedia of French cultural heritage in North America, 2007, at: http://www.ameriquefrancaise.org/
  7. "Jacques Parizeau rips PQ values charter," The Toronto Star, 2013-OCT-03, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  8. "PQ stung by Jacques Parizeau’s rebuke of values charter," The Toronto Star, 2013-OCT-03, at: http://www.thestar.com/


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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-OCT-03
Latest update: 2013-NOV-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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