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Acquired rights attacked by proposed Charter of Quebec Values

“Secularism wants to create a false dichotomy  between religion and culture,” says Professor Norman Cornett (centre).

“Secularism wants to create a false dichotomy between religion and culture,” says Professor Norman Cornett (centre).

Last fall, an event took place in Verdun that could be a metaphor for the changing face of Quebec.

Nov. 4, 2012, was the last time members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 4 marched from the local cenotaph—a statue of a First World War soldier—to the Great War Memorial Hall on Verdun St.

The legion building, opened in 1929, is now the Verdun Islamic Centre, a busy mosque and community hall for the area’s growing Muslim population.

Norman Cornett, a former McGill professor and an expert in Quebec history and nationalist development, cited the mosque as an example of transformation, and the choices we have to make as we debate the proposed Quebec Charter of Values.

“Almost every doctor I see, the daycare my children attend—almost all wear kippahs, wigs and scarves. It’s xenophobia.  I’m offended by people walking around in barely any clothing. Jews have been here for generations and have every right to live here and live by their traditions. Secularism is its own religion and you’re forcing it down my throat. Sikhs, Jews or Muslims who wear turbans, kippahs,  or headscarves do not impinge on anybody else’s lifestyle.” ~ Sarah Hewitt, mother of four  who works for a U.S.-based Jewish organization

“Almost every doctor I see, the daycare my children attend—almost all wear kippahs, wigs and scarves. It’s xenophobia. I’m offended by people walking around in barely any clothing. Jews have been here for generations and have every right to live here and live by their traditions. Secularism is its own religion and you’re forcing it down my throat. Sikhs, Jews or Muslims who wear turbans, kippahs, or headscarves do not impinge on anybody else’s lifestyle.”
~ Sarah Hewitt, mother of four who works for a U.S.-based Jewish organization

A changing Quebec

“Are we going to fight reality, or are we going to work with it?” he asked. “Ideologues try to make reality fit their agenda. Realists say we’ve got to come to terms with what’s happening.

“Why does Quebec have to adopt the Old World attitude and mentality of France, with its colonial past, and impose a severe dress code that would bar public servants from wearing the hijab, turban or kippah?”

Although public-opinion surveys indicate support among francophones for the proposal has diminished, there are many, particularly off-island, who favour a secular government devoid of religious symbols.

“Sikhs fought in two world wars with the French and English and sacrificed their lives. If Sikhs could lose their lives then, wearing turbans, why not now? The PQ  is trying to show the fanatics that they are crushing minorities to get votes. I would not work for the government if I had to take off my turban. Since the charter,  I have encountered some anti-immigrant behaviour I did not see before.” ~ Narinder Singh Minhas (left), a trucker

“Sikhs fought in two world wars with the French and English and sacrificed their lives. If Sikhs could lose their lives then, wearing turbans, why not now? The PQ is trying to show the fanatics that they are crushing minorities to get votes. I would not work for the government if I had to take off my turban. Since the charter, I have encountered some anti-immigrant behaviour I did not see before.”
~ Narinder Singh Minhas (left), a trucker

It’s not just secularism

To Cornett, who wrote his PhD thesis on the thought of nationalist historian Lionel Groulx, the proposal boils down to another “nation-building” measure.

It is designed, he says, to implant the idea that Quebec is uniquely French-speaking and its heritage uniquely Christian—a monolithic view of Quebec that may be intensified as a result of the review the Parti Québécois has ordered of history courses at all education levels below university.

Will the role of linguistic and ethnic minorities and aboriginal peoples be further under-valued? he asks.

He said the formal statement made last month by the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops condemning the ban on wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by public servants.

Cornett said that the Bishops challenged the statement by PQ leaders that the crucifix should remain in the National Assembly because it’s part of Quebec’s heritage.

“The crucifix is much more than a heritage object, or a symbol—it is an expression of faith,” Msgr. Noël Simard of Valleyfield said at the time.

Like all ideologies, Cornett notes, nationalism can constitute a religion, and in their massive PR campaign, the government underlines its “sacred” mission of advancing Quebec’s higher interests.

One ad reads: “Church, Synagogue, Mosque—it’s all sacred.” The next panel adds, “religious neutrality of the state, male-female equality—this is also sacred.”

To Cornett, it adds up to a blatant attempt to turn nationalism into a quasi-religious credo, even as the Quebec and Canadian rights charters already guarantee male-female equality.

“I would love to see somebody like Madame Marois  walk into a hospital and refuse treatment from a doctor wearing a religious symbol. Do I think that would happen? Never. The cross on Mount Royal will not be taken down. What’s right for some is right for everybody.” ~ Anita Blanshay (right), lifelong volunteer

“I would love to see somebody like Madame Marois walk into a hospital and refuse treatment from a doctor wearing a religious symbol. Do I think that would happen? Never. The cross on Mount Royal will not be taken down. What’s right for some is right for everybody.”
~ Anita Blanshay (right), lifelong volunteer

The importance of immigrants

“Needless to say, the charter campaign will not draw more immigrants to Quebec, which is necessary to maintain our standard of living, since the fertility rate here is below replacement level.”

In 2011, Quebecers represented 23 per cent of Canada’s population but over the previous five years was only getting 19 per cent of new permanent residents, according to Statistics Canada.

We also are an aging society, he observes: From 2006 to 2011, the proportion of seniors increased faster in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec than in the rest of Canada.

“What the PQ government is doing is a rear-guard action to save the day for the francophone Christian Quebecers,” Cornett said.

“Quebec cannot make it without immigrants. They come as fully formed human beings, with their language, ethnicity, gender, religion and culture, and we’re asking them to divide themselves into nice neat categories? That is not the human condition, which is organic.

“I’m not that religious, but for those who have to follow  their religion, I’m here to support them.  It’s a free country. Humans first.” ~ Natalie Small (left), high-school teacher  “You can’t take rights away in a democratic society.  You can’t sit back and just be passive.” ~ Judy Levin (right), high-school teacher

“I’m not that religious, but for those who have to follow their religion, I’m here to support them. It’s a free country. Humans first.”
~ Natalie Small (left), high-school teacher
“You can’t take rights away in a democratic society. You can’t sit back and just be passive.”
~ Judy Levin (right), high-school teacher

Religion, nationalism

He says he is most concerned about the charter’s attack on acquired rights for institutions and individuals—the fact that city councilors, teachers and hospital workers already wear kippas, hijabs, turbans and other visible religious symbols.

“You’ve got a fight on your hands when you try to remove acquired rights that have existed for decades or longer,” Cornett said.

To those who see the hijab as a symbol of male-domination, Cornett asks: “Do we assume that because a woman wears a veil that she is not a feminist?”

Among thousands of protesters in Montreal was Charles Taylor (bottom left) of the Bouchard-Taylor commission into reasonable accommodation of 2007-2008.

Among thousands of protesters in Montreal was Charles Taylor (left) of the Bouchard-Taylor commission into reasonable accommodation of 2007-2008.

Implementing the impossible

“If the state thinks it can come in and say, ‘this is good and this is bad,’ in a post-modern world, the state’s got another thing coming.”

PQ advocates are wrong in painting the charter as being in line with the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, when francophone Quebecers had one of the highest fertility rates in the Western world, he said.

“The fastest growing groups in Quebec are immigrants and natives,” he notes.

Cornett concluded with a quote from German theologian Paul Tillich, who said: “Religion is the substance of culture; culture is the form of religion.”

Quebec is going to have a mighty fight on its hands in attacking faith communities by proposing to restrict the expression of their profound beliefs, he predicted.

“Secularism wants to create a false dichotomy between religion and culture. It ain’t that easy. In governance, as in medicine, the guiding principle should be Primum non nocere—first do no harm. That should inform the government’s approach to the charter.”

Info: 514-256-2483, professor.normancornett@gmail.com. haveyouexperienced.wordpress.com

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THIS IS OUR QUEBEC

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10 Comments

  1. The Québec Council of University Women’s Clubs, on behalf of its five member clubs, has sent a letter to Mme Marois opposing the Charter because it is considered discriminatory. Québec parents with children in elementary and secondary schools should pay attention to the Ethics and Religious Culture courses that are being offered within the Québec Education Program and make sure that they are well taught and supported. In a child-centered, competency-based approach, one of the major competencies within those courses is “dialogue”. Would that our lawmakers had that skill…

    • Chère Madame Michaud,

      De cibler sur ce qui doit être présent en tout temps dans nos esprits et nos coeurs: l’ouverture au dialogue, seule attitude garante de paix entre les cultures, est d’une grande pertinence.

      “La tolérance est affaire d’éducation”, dirait le Dr Cornett, rendant ainsi hommage à John Locke. Notre conception de l’éducation devrait justement s’enraciner au sein d’une constante fluidité d’échanges entre maîtres et élèves.

      Merci de votre commentaire,

      Hugo Jetté

  2. Pingback: Senior Times: Acquired Rights Attacked By Proposed Charter Of Quebec Values | Have You Experienced? – The Website of Professor Norman Cornett's Dialogic Sessions

  3. William Hackborn says:

    I am saddened by the Quebec government’s introduction of the Charter. Religion is inseparable from culture and personal identity, and to interpret and attempt to enforce the separation of church and state in this sort of extreme way denies the reality of Quebec’s demography, the humanity of its citizens, and their right to free religious expression. As a professor (University of Alberta), a Canadian, and one for whom Faith is not merely a compartment that can be isolated from other aspects of my being, I urge Quebec’s people to reject the Charter.

  4. En ce qui me concerne, j’appuie tout mouvement, civilisé et ouvert d’esprit, qui désire préserver la culture canadienne-française en Amérique du Nord, car c’est un des joyaux de ce monde. Je suis canadien-français d’origine, Montréalais de surcroît, et j’en suis fier.

    Et je ne peux avoir été plus fier d’être un francophone canadien que lors de la déclaration de Madame Maria Mourani, le mercredi 11 septembre 2013. Elle a fait preuve d’une intégrité exemplaire. Son courage politique m’a même inspiré une oeuvre que j’ai intitulée:

    “Vocalises pour une ville ouverte” – “Song for an open city”.

    Merci Madame Mourani!

    Ayant pris connaissance d’un des tracts moussant l’approche du présent gouvernement provincial en matière de “Valeurs québécoises”, honnêtement, j’ai eu honte en tant que canadien-français. Honte de voir qu’un tel point de vue, démontrant tant de haine et d’ignorance, puisse être émis au nom de notre nation.

    Nous avons la formidable opportunité au Québec, et surtout dans le région de Montréal, de co-exister pacifiquement avec de multiples cultures dont notre vision collective se trouve enrichie.

    “Si notre vision n’est pas plus large que la grosseur de nos problèmes ,,, alors nous avons un problème!” disait Pierre Allard.

    Une grande vérité!

    Hugo Jetté

  5. Guy-Lin Beaudoin says:

    J’aimerais attirer votre attention sur un communiqué du Consistoire de Montreal de l’Eglise unie du Canada qui va comme suit:

    ” Le Consistoire de Montréal de l’Église Unie du Canada croit que le projet de Charte des valeurs québécoises va restreindre indûment les droits et libertés fondamentaux des Québécois et Québécoises et s’oppose à ce que soit cantonné à la sphère privée la liberté de religion des fonctionnaires des secteurs public et parapublic.
    Mardi, 17 septembre 2013 (Montréal, Québec) Le Consistoire de Montréal de l’Église Unie du Canada croit que le projet de Charte des valeurs québécoises va restreindre indûment les droits et libertés fondamentaux enchâssés dans la Charte Québécoise des droits et libertés de la personne et de la Charte Canadienne des droits et libertés. Nous nous inscrivons en faux contre toute atteinte ou toute tentative de restriction des droits et libertés des Québécois et Québécoises.
    Nous tenons à réitérer qu’en tant que chrétiens protestants, nous sommes en faveur d’un modèle de société démocratique, inclusif et ouvert, qui ne soit pas réducteur et n’élimine pas de la sphère publique commune et des institutions toute forme de signes des diverses cultures religieuses. Nous estimons en effet, que les cultures religieuses – elles-mêmes en processus de diversification tout comme la société Québécoise- font partie du patrimoine culturel et de la texture de la société Québécoise et de ses valeurs humanistes.
    Nous estimons que, loin de vouloir oblitérer toute forme de trace de culture ou d’appartenance religieuse, il est préférable, plus fécond et enrichissant d’apprendre à vivre avec les différences dans une pluralité respectueuse et ouverte à la fois sur l’autre et sur le monde.
    En tant que Québécois et Québécoises, face à tous ces défis, nous affirmons que notre foi n’est pas diminuée quand nos frères et sœurs Juifs, Sikhs, Musulmans, Chrétiens d’autres dénominations et autres, pratiquent leur propre foi. De même notre identité culturelle n’est pas amoindrie parce qu’une autre personne vit sa propre culture.
    Nous nous opposons à ce que la liberté de religion d’un-e employé-e de l’État soit cantonnée dans la sphère privée, comme une tare que l’on doit cacher. Nous croyons plutôt que les religions sont appelées à contribuer à des débats et à des enjeux de société avec toutes les autres voix de la société québécoise.
    Pour notre part, nous nous engageons à continuer de cheminer avec tous nos citoyens et citoyennes vers un Québec plus ouvert, plus inclusif, où les droits fondamenataux de tous et toutes, de même que la démocratie sont respectés et où le dialogue interculturel nous amène plus loin ensemble pour bâtir notre avenir. Nous faisons appel à la raison et à l’accommodement, caractéristiques intrinsèques de notre histoire démocratique québécoise et appelons le gouvernement à faire un débat qui ne soit pas qu’électoraliste ou basé sur des suspisions ou des lieux communs.”

    Selon moi, le débat sur le projet de charte des valeurs a le mérite de nous amener à nous interroger sur les droits et libertés de la personne dans une société libre et démocratique comme la nôtre et sur leur importance intrinsèque. Leur respect est garant d’inclusivité. Je remercie le Dr Cornett de soulever les problématiques reliées au projet de la charte des valeurs d’une façon érudite et informative.

  6. Simone Nichol says:

    ‘In governance, as in medicine, the guiding principle should be Primum non nocere—first do no harm. That should inform the government’s approach to the charter.” as it is a very sound and fair principle that should guide us all – particularly those making government policies.

    With this so called Charter of Quebec Values, what is the Marois government trying to do here? I question why is a secular government sticking its nose in the private lives of their citizens – particularly those citizens who are being singled out because of what they wear? Since when does a secular Government have the right to tell people how to dress or otherwise?

    How can you order citizens, particularly migrants, who have invested much time, effort and money to relocate to a new country to conform to a rule that never existed prior to your arrival? Was there a tick the box before coming to Quebec (and only Quebec), that you would be forced to shed your religious symbols on arrival?

    I thought that the division between Church and State, with the judiciary right there, was solid enough. So what is the Marois really trying to do here? Doesn’t she, as a leader in this province, have a duty of care to create social cohesion by being a role model in accepting the diversity of its population? Why is she not able to embrace and celebrate this diversity? What is she so concerned about with being different, that she has to place a ban on religious symbols?

    It looks like this Charter is upsetting a lot of people who are different to the ‘pure laine’ and who have better ‘values’. Does it not give a message of superiority to those who already have that pervasive xenophobic mentality that exists here in Quebec?

    Does this Charter of Quebec Values not create the ‘Other’ Does it not creates a mentality of them and us? That those ‘Others’ who assign themselves a dress code, yet to the French masters, has a religious significance, and is unacceptable and will be outlawed. But how can you single out or isolate religious symbols when there is as much cultural meaning too?

    Why can I, who is not religious, accept those who are? I am not bothered by religious symbols, so why is this Government forcing me to accept this Charter? I can function quite well without it. I am not a child! I am an adult and a citizen who respects others -who do no harm to me.

    There is no consistency to this Charter. One being the lack of consultation with the broader community -despite the earlier Reasonable Accommodation debates a few years ago here in Quebec. And now a proposed charter done behind closed doors by public servants -presumably of French origin. It is just more of the same – they way business is done here- without accountability and transparency or diversity. And discriminatory. Welcome to Quebec 2013!

  7. James Clarke says:

    Bravo Dr. Cornett, you are on the side of the angels. Extreme secularism is indeed a form of cultural religion, another in a long list of misguided quasi-religious panaceas attempting to build a better world without God & respect for freedom of religion. In trying to impose change of the heart from the outside in it has the opposite effect : it divides people , creates
    disharmony, mistrust, bitterness & is destined to failure. Frankly, I’m as saddened as much as outraged.While the emphasis is on hijabs, turbans & kippahs it is equally inimical to Christianity & all religious beliefs as well as the concept of freedom of expression.
    The religious/ heritage dichotomy is false as the Catholic Bishops pointed out. Another brave new world that is neither brave nor new. It proves once again that if we don’t learn from the past we’re doomed to repeat it. JAMES CLARKE

  8. Je suis à la fois attristé par le controverse, et encouragé par certains esprits généreux et ouverts (dans la lignée de Papineau, Léon Dion, Pierre Vadeboncoeur, Jacques Langlais, Kalpana Das et tant d’autres). Dommage qu’aucun des gouvernements n’ait donné suite aux recommandations très précis de Bouchard-Taylor.

    La question de la Charte passe à côté des vrais enjeux. Je comprends très bien les craintes de petits peuples partout au monde, y compris de nos autochtones, d’un suicide collectif — l’inaction devant l’assimilation, la perte des langues, cultures et sagesses ancestrales — quand tous ce soumettent, même les états-nations, aux dominations spéculatives, financières, et extractives sans la moindre consultation des populations affectées. Pensez aux forages de gaz et du pétrole, au Plan Nord, au coupes à clair, et surtout la mentalité dominatrice (ironiquement racontée dans le chanson de Richard Desjardins “le développement durable”). “Business as Usual” dans tous les systèmes dominants du monde, qu’ils soient capitaliste, communiste, ou “rois nègres” de tout acabit. Il s’agit de la destruction de notre bien commun planétaire, de l’intégrité de la création, de la toile de la vie.

    Il y une convergence des mouvements Jubilé, écolos, autochtones, des droits de l’homme/femme et de la biodiversité — jusqu’ici peu remarqué par nos médias — qui nous sortirait du carcan. (voir ce petit reportage que j’espère bientôt traduire en français, avec des répères québécois).
    Voir mon ébauche en anglais et français à The new Jubilee convergence (http://tinyurl.com/qzv7hbm) – pour références en français, voir http://tinyurl.com/phjhsz8

    Je tiens tout particulièrent à remercier le professeur Norman Cornett et son récent dialogue avec les artistes-éclaireurs autochtones: Ginette Aubin-Kakakos (malécite), Chritine Sioui-Wawanoloath (wendat) et Denis Charette (algonquin). Une révélation! http://haveyouexperienced.wordpress.com/events/5th-oct-2013-icone-et-iconographie-dans-lart-des-premieres-nationsicon-and-iconography-in-first-nations-art/

  9. So french in America is bound to be assimilated, finally. All the arguments here tend to boil down to this conclusion wich is ideologic too.
    François Chalifour

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