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Opinion

Quebec election: Canadian values at stake?

The Parti Quebecois is setting the stage for a possible final and winning referendum to secede from Canada.

Last updated: 22 Mar 2014 09:29
Harry Dikranian

Harry Dikranian is a Montreal commercial, civil and human rights lawyer, practicing in Montreal. He has successfully challenged the application of illegal provincial laws in Quebec and Turkey.
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The 'Charter of Values' would deny state employees the right to dress with any visible signs of their faith, writes Dikranian [AP]

On April 7, Canada's predominantly French province of Quebec will vote in a general election brought about by a separatist minority government known as the Parti Quebecois (PQ).

Quebecers will then await the results with trepidation and concern, because the upcoming poll is critical not only for the minorities in the province, but also for the integrity of Canada as a nation and the Canadian model of openness and diversity known as multiculturalism.

Led by Premier Pauline Marois, the party's advent to power 18 months ago was largely seen as a reaction to alleged corruption in the allocation of civil construction and other public contracts in the previous Liberal Party-led government.

A shrewd politician seeking a majority mandate, Marois took no time to implement three dangerous steps, each progressively more socially damaging than the other. The objective is to achieve a majority mandate and set the stage for a possible final and winning referendum.

The purpose of the referendum would be to break Canada apart by creating a new country of Quebec.

'French Language Charter'

Upon its election in September 2012, the PQ first proposed a law that would purportedly strengthen an already discriminatory law known as the "French Language Charter". It would deny any public service to be conducted in a language other than French. 

The proposed law would also prevent 17- and 18-year-old adult students from attending post-secondary education in a language other than French, unless they met historical English study allowances denied to all non-Canadian immigrants. When it became clear that this law would not pass, because of the government's minority status, the Bill was dropped. 

Just the same, the message had effectively been sent: The PQ was prepared to adopt all protectionist measures, however extreme, under the pretext that only it would be the party who could protect the French language in North America. But, it was clear that it could not achieve any of its goals without attaining majority status.

The PQ was prepared to adopt all protectionist measures, however extreme, under the pretext that only it would be the party who could protect the French language in North America. But, it was clear that it could not achieve any of its goals without attaining majority status.

Second, the PQ has invited severe restrictions to the rights of religious minorities by proposing new legislation. The purported purpose of Bill 60, known as the "Charter of Values", was to impose a secular civil service. It would achieve that goal by denying state employees the right to dress with any visible signs of their faith. 

This meant that Muslims who practice their beliefs according to the rules of modest dress - who wear veils, hijabs, burqas or niqabs - would no longer be able to work in the very large Quebec civil service. This includes their inability to work either as nurses, teachers or doctors, since other than in the civil service or politics, those professionals are also considered public employees. 

In fairness, the law also targets the wearing of Jewish skull caps, Indian turbans or any ostentatious symbols of faith such as Christian crosses or habits. 

Quite hypocritically, and with Orwellian political doublespeak, the same large crosses or Saints' names that appear in public or in state institutions, including in the legislature, in courts of law, or on city streets, would remain as symbols of "heritage" and not religion. 

A public commission was established to receive comments on the Charter of Values. The Quebec Human Rights Association, the Quebec Bar Association, university rectors and nearly all institutional representatives universally criticised the proposed law as divisive, inapplicable, undesirable and illegal. 

In fact, for the law to be passed, the Quebec charter protecting fundamental rights would necessarily be amended.

Acts of violence

While the public commission was proceeding, acts of violence were reported against veiled daycare workers. A pair of women were accosted in a shopping mall even though the law had not been adopted.  People on the street misunderstood that even if it were adopted, the law would not affect people going about their daily lives in public.

Equally frightening, on March 13, one of the PQ's candidates, Jean Carriere, running in the east-end Montreal riding of Lafontaine, posted a photo of a topless woman raising her middle finger and included a "F… Islam" slogan. 

Although he offered to resign his candidacy and the party accepted, the delivered message has been consistent. Another candidate in the Montreal riding of Gouin, Louise Mailloux, proudly stands by her assertions that circumcision and baptism are tantamount to child rape.

The PQ's message has been primarily aimed at old stock French speaking Quebecers who feel threatened by the influx of non-white or non-Christian immigration. Albeit, this message is in flagrant contradiction with Quebec and especially Canadian values that not only tolerate, but fully welcome the wealth brought about by cultural diversity, the principles of multiculturalism and a flexible case-by-case accommodation when values occasionally conflict. 

Third, the PQ has called an election relying on wedge politics that pit the traditional French-speaking majority against its minorities, including all immigrants. 

Since 1991, over 60 percent of immigrants to Quebec are chosen by the province of Quebec and not by the Federal Government of Canada, as is the case in the other nine provinces. This control allowed the provincial government to increase the point values attributed to French speaking immigrants. 

As a result, Quebec has managed to receive a proportionately greater influx of immigrants from North African countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and traditionally Lebanon. 

'Magical thinking'

Pundits in the rest of Canada would shake their heads in disbelief by the mischief-making of the PQ. But, the Federal Government has steered clear of the debate. The consequences of these policies and actions have rendered Quebec almost unrecognisable to the rest of Canada.

Although the PQ had historically been losing ground with its message of separation, and for choosing to adopt a model of cultural assimilation that tramples on fundamental religious freedoms, the field was empty. There was and continues to be complete silence from the Federal Government. 

The PQ makes outrageous claims daily. For instance, they say a separate Quebec would have an open border with Canada, it would maintain the currency and even be allowed to sit on the Board of the Bank of Canada. They invite magical thinking that should be transparent to the population. 

The upcoming provincial election should be monitored closely since it will determine whether Canada shall continue to grow and prosper. It cannot be emphasised enough that no matter what the election result, serious damage to Canada - because of Quebec - has already been done. 

Divisive wedge politics and pandering to the basest elements of human nature now appears to be the political order of the day. Will the country adapt to diversity both among provinces and among its increasing population? Or will it change course, turning in on itself and even risk breaking apart from the centre by losing the province of Quebec?

With such a loss, Canada will be a much weaker country of instability and social strife. 

Harry Dikranian is a Montreal commercial, civil and human rights lawyer, practicing in Montreal. He has successfully challenged the application of illegal provincial laws in Quebec and Turkey.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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