Dear Madame Marois

My letterDear Madame Marois:

Allow me to begin by apologizing for writing in English. (This letter is now available in a French translation at HuffPost Québec.) I know that you speak and read English very well and though I am a fluent speaker of French, I have lost some of my fluency in the written language after spending eight years in an entirely English-speaking professional and academic environment. I write to you in English because I can best express myself on the subject of an extremely complex issue in my first language. Please feel free to respond in French.

I am un Québécois errant. I left Québec 2005 to pursue my doctorate in history, and I am now teaching at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Like Québécois scholars who have trod this path before me, such as Daniel Turp and Jacques Parizeau, I feel a constant and deep longing for ma patrie. It is my greatest desire to someday return home.

My family has deep roots in Québec. My grandfather arrived as an immigrant from Central Europe in 1912. In his early days in Montréal, he worked clearing snow from the street of Sainte-Cunegonde Ward in Saint-Henri. Later, he moved to his family to the old Jewish neighbourhood in the Plateau Mont-Royal, where he worked in the garment industry and managed a shop for many years.

My father, an idealist, social activist and, like you, a social worker grew up in the Plateau’s sea of languages and cultures. He attended Bancroft school on St-Urbain and served, along with his brothers and sister in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The journal he kept as a prisoner of war is full of his dreams of home; of Fletcher’s Field, the streetcar line that ran past his family’s flat on Ave. du Parc, and of the coconut cream pie at Laurier BBQ.

He met René Lévesque after the war, encountering him many times at the Binerie Mont-Royal. I can’t presume that they were ever friends – apart from a shared love of pâté chinois and fèves au lard, they traveled in different social circles – but my father knew M. Lévesque well enough to have developed a deep respect for the man’s humanity and genius. My father read Option Québec in its first edition; he was not a sovereignist but he was devoted to Québec and, when so many of his friends and colleagues raced along the 401 to points west in 1976, he was utterly committed to stay.

I remember the night of 15 November 1976 very well. It was my younger sister’s birthday, but all we heard on the radio and television were dire predictions of the apocalypse. My father turned the television from CFCF to a French channel – I can’t remember which – in disgust. “It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “It is the start of something new. We don’t know what that will be, but this is our home. We are Québécois. We are going to stay, whatever happens.”

I learned to love Québec through my father, from the bagel bakery on St-Viateur, to the hills of the Laurentians, to the fjords of the Saguenay, to the walls of Québec. In 1980, I pleaded with my classmates in the schoolyard – many of whom wore the “Mon non est Québécois” buttons that their parents had given them – to consider the possibility that maybe “Oui” would not be such a bad option after all.

When I left Québec eight years ago, I vowed that I would return, and that my exile would be temporary. It is a vow that I intend to keep. I cannot express how much I love ma patrie, how much I miss its rhythms, sounds, sights and smells. It is a void that my all-too-infrequent visits home can never adequately fill. Quebec is, and will always be my home, whether or not it is under the Canadian flag.

This is why I am writing to you now. I have read the news about the proposed Charte des valeurs québécoises with great dismay. I believe that you are a very reasonable, well-meaning person, Mme. Marois, and I don’t doubt that you are motivated by the best-possible intentions. The Québec that emerged from la révolution tranquille shorn of ecclesiastical domination has historically been, at its best, a society of unparalleled openness – a model of secular tolerance. I can well understand your desire to enshrine these principles in law.

Yet the means and the motive are mismatched. Others have indicated, in recent days, the deep contradictions between your stated intent and the instrument of the Charter. It has been noted that what constitutes an “‘overt and conspicuous’ religious symbol” is contingent on who displays it. A headscarf is only a hijab when it is worn by a religious Muslim woman, a yarmulke is simply a beanie on the head of a non-Jew. To prohibit people providing government services – in hospitals, schools and public agencies – from wearing them is to presume to look into their minds and souls.

Rather than providing for an environment of religious neutrality, the Charter seeks to regulate belief. It says that a non-Muslim woman may wear a headscarf when she is having a bad hair day, but it prohibits an observant Muslim from wearing one at all. It insists that religious Jews in public employment go bare-headed at all times, unlike their non-Jewish colleagues, since the essence of a yarmulke is not its shape but its function.

Indeed, not all “‘overt and conspicuous’ religious symbols” are garments. The “examples” that your government has provided are only a few of the ways that people display their faith. A Chasidic Jew’s beard and payot and a Sikh man’s uncut hair are as significant and conspicuous symbols of their faith as any head covering. Though not explicitly prohibited by the Charter, they are not excluded, either. Will Jewish, Sikh and Muslim public employees be forced to visit the barber to hold onto their jobs?

In seeking to provide “religious neutrality,” your government’s proposals display ambitions to police the souls of Québec’s citizens and inscribe its power on their very bodies. This, as Hannah Arendt noted more than sixty years ago, is the essence of totalitarianism.

Indeed, it is an axiom of both the Common and Civil Law that, for a law to be just it must apply equally and without discrimination. Yet the secularism you seek to impose on Québec is fundamentally unequal and discriminatory. It is therefore unjust.

It is, in fact, a profoundly Christian secularism. I understand that you don’t see it that way, but it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. The very values that you hope to enshrine – freedom, personal autonomy, democracy as it emerged in Christian Europe – have a history. They are embedded in a religious genealogy. Even the term laïque, which you seem to favour, was coined to describe the organization of the medieval Catholic Chuch.

I don’t believe that either you, nor the majority of your colleagues in the government of Québec, are able to recognize this. It is the conceit of colonialism that the beliefs and values of the powerful and dominant are somehow universal. It was this belief that sustained the sad legacy of the “White Man’s Burden.” White, Christian Europeans were not imposing their parochial values and practices on the people they colonized in Africa, Asia, the Americas – yes, and in Québec – or, at least that is what they told themselves. No, they were “raising them up” to enlightenment and civilization.

I am not a believer. I was raised in a secular Jewish home. Yet I have always been aware that, in both subtle and conspicuous ways, I am an outsider to secular Québec. Christianity – Roman Catholic Christianity – is inscribed in both the temporal rhythms and topology of ma patrie. It is omnipresent and unavoidable.

Even when they are available on Saturday, government services are closed on Sundays. The word “dimanche,” in fact, derives from the Latin dies Dominica – the Lord’s day. School, government and businesses officially close for the Christian holidays of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Monday, but not for Yom Kippur or Eid. Our national holiday is celebrated on 24 June because St-Jean Baptise is the Catholic Patron Saint of the Québécois. Indeed, one cannot walk a block anywhere in any town or city in Québec without encountering a Saint-Louis, Saint-Hubert or Sainte-Catherine. The flag flying over government buildings conspicuously displays both a Christian cross and the fleur-de-lis – a symbol of the Holy Trinity and of the Christian God’s authority, as wielded by the French monarchy and its successors.

To prohibit the display of religious symbols by citizens in public employment while the government of Québec displays them on its letterhead, in the Assemblée nationale, on Sureté de Québec cruisers – the physical embodiment of state power – and our society displays it in its geography and calendar, is not to preserve neutrality but privilege.

You must know that the Charter will be challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada, and that it will likely be struck down… and as I write this I begin to wonder whether you are not, in fact, a reasonable, well-meaning person but a calculating opportunist. As I read what I have written, I find that I must conclude that you are not the heir of René Lévesque – a true Québec patriot and a man of unparalleled decency – but of Adrien Arcand and Abbé Groulx: cynical populist demagogues who mined the insecurities of what they believed was a parochial and simple-minded population in their quest for power.

My people – the people of Québec – are decent, generous, open-minded people. I have known Québécois from New Carlisle to Hull, from Chicoutimi to Rivière du Loup. They are my friends, my neighbours, my colleagues, my brothers and sisters. They recognize better than anyone that Québec is the child of many parents – Abenaki, Cree, Mohawk, Normand, Breton, Picard, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Jewish, Arab, Indian, Vietnamese and, yes, English. They know that this, more than anything, is what makes our société distincte so distinct, so unique, so special.

We are a people of trust. We believe in each other and we trust that our leaders act for the common good. That is what defines our democracy and our political culture. That is why we vote. That is why when we see the cross and fleur-de-lis flying from a flagpole, we feel the warmth of community and a surge of pride, whatever our religious beliefs and differences. Lévesque knew this. His Québec, whether it was to be sovereign or part of Canada, was a society of inclusion. It was a culture of nous ensemble, without quibbling over who constituted nous.

I can’t help but suspect your motives, Mme. Marois. It seems that you are trying to turn nous inside-out by cynically using the trust that we have in our leaders against us. The Charter seems to be an effort to convince the majority of Québécois who do not live in Montréal or Québec, where cultural and religious diversity is the quiet background to our daily lives, that they have something to fear from those who are different. You seem to be telling them that they have special privileges and that the only way to preserve them is to deny the rights of others. It seems to be a set-up, a cheap kayfabe designed to fail in order to mobilize support for your narrow ambitions.

It appears that you believe that you can play the people of Québec like a violin; that you have so much contempt for us that you can manipulate us at the basest level. I hope I am wrong about you but, if I am not, I know that you are wrong about us.


Matthew Friedman

330 thoughts on “Dear Madame Marois

      • Matt this is so well written and you present such a great case…. but they are not interested. All they want to do is what started back with Bill 101. They want non-francophones to leave, and they want to reduce the number of immigrants coming in. Why? Because this helps them reach their goal of a yes vote in a referendum. It is a long, slow ethnic cleansing, and it is criminal and they are getting away with it scot free.

      • This covers it all.. thanks so much for everything that has been written here.. to hope that she might actually read it and get what you are saying is a big leap, but one can only hope that at least 10% of this might sink in, we would be ahead! Brilliant!!

      • A thoughtful, well written and accurate depiction of the current situation. I left in 1976 and have no desire to return Matt. I see it akin to those of our common faith who managed to escape Europe in the 30s, returning. I believe you will be frustrated and disappointed if you return as Marois and her ilk have, perhaps forever, spoiled the essence of Quebec you remember. I hope you have sent your comments to the English press in Montreal. Oh, I forgot, I don’t believe one exists any longer.
        Jeff Herman

      • Gocops, please define non-francophones? Are we talking about the many people Quebec invited here because they are from french speaking countries? Or are you talking about “pure laine” francophones?

    • Hello. I am a Canadian…period!.My choice of religion doesn’t make me a Canadian. The language that I speak doesn’t make me a Canadian either. That I pay taxes makes me Canadian. My father fought in the 2nd World War so that all Canadians were free and equal. That is the Canada that I belong to and am proud to a part.

      • too narrow a definition. Paying taxes does not make you Canadian — being a citizen makes you a Canadian.

    • I think the most fundamental moral principle in the world has to be “Do unto another as you would have them do to you”. While I can understand the uncertainty of some for the French culture, can you imagine what would happen if the rest of Canada imposed parallel laws on the use of French in public places, or forbid the display of the Fleur de lis? Quebec’s laws are not an excuse for us to behave in a parallel fashion. We should do our best to convince them that we contest their laws as part of our defence of THEIR rights as well as ours.

    • I want add my Bravo as well. Except you long for your “patrie” from the comfort of New York. I have become tired of this concept of my patrie, for I am a Canadian, from Greek immigrant parents. Born and raised here in Quebec yet in the last 20 odd years I am considered an “allophone”, immigrant. My children still feel this same disparity. I employ over 300 Quebecers. That fact is of no importance to those that wish for an independent Quebec, at any cost. I too applaud Levesque and the liberation of his people, as I see it, but the pendulum has swung to the almost complete opposite end.
      I am a proud Canadian, proud Montrealer…but seriously contemplating my departure. Madame Marois, is a professional politician and a trained Social worker. She knows exactly what she is doing.
      Thank you

      • Hello Matt!!! I love the letter!!! I’m writing to you, to ask how can we prevent this Charter to pass??? Pauline Marois is about to open a door in Quebec that should be close and that is to divide people by religion, soon it will be race. If they can change the Charter for no religion symbols at work, step 2 will be about race. The media have associated Muslims with terrorists wich is completely bullshit. Pauline Marois seems to forget in 1615, that Catholicism was embraced as an integral part of daily life in Quebec. The Catholic faith not only played a large role in the government and legislation, but also in the social lives of residents.

        A Muslim is a person who has dedicated his worship exclusively to God…Islam means making one’s religion and faith God’s alone. How can that hurt people in Quebec?? We should not make the mistakes of mixing terrorist with hardworking and nice Muslims who want to raise their children and have a peaceful life. It doesn’t matter if they wear their religious symbols at work, as long as they do the job that they are getting paid for. Many Muslims who I’ve seen wearing their religious symbols are
        professionnal and courteous.

        Pauline Marois is about to make Quebec like a right wing Province who’s got zero tolerance for diversity. I wouldn’t be surprise that in 10 years from now, we will have segregated schools for the non-whites because we are too violent and we are bullying the white children. I hope I’m wrong but it seems to me that we’re heading backwords instead of making of Quebec one of the greatest diversity province in Canada. I’m not against Quebec sovereignty, but it needs to be clear what’s the motive behind it.

  1. Bravo! Can you now please write a similar letter to the large percentage of Quebecers who support this unconstitutional and delusional charter? That’s what scares, sickens and saddens me the most.

  2. Mr. Friedman, my first language is french and even though I’m bilingual, sometimes it comes out better in franglais. I was pleasantly surprised to read your letter. All we, Québécois, hear about is either entirely pro or con opinions. Your letter made me think and I realize that all is not black or white. There are and will always be grey zones in Québec as we are un peuple multi-ethnique et unique. I like the fact that you don’t condemn Mme. Marois for what she wants to achieve, but question the way she goes about it. Thank you.

    • @Mme Plante

      Un soi-disant laïcité qui se définie seulement par l’absence de symboles religieuses est autant “religieux”, c’est à dire porteur de valeurs religieux ou fondamentaux, que quoi quelque religion. Alors, la seule façon d’être réellement laïc c’est d’être pluraliste. La charte est intolérante voire raciste. Il y a seulement trois situations dans lesquelles on a le droit d’interdire le port de symboles religieuses:
      1) Ou le port du symbole pourrait mettre en danger le porteur ou un autre citoyen;
      2) Ou le port du symbole promeut la haine (tel un Swastika Nazi); et,
      3) Ou le port d’un symbole ou habit empêche la communication (par exemple, un burqa porté par a témoin durant un procès).

      Manifestement, la charte vise à faire autre chose que défendre la laïcité.

      C’est pas compliqué — les buts de Mme Marois sont ignobles, et elle est doublement raciste puisqu’elle essaie de soulever la xénophobie inhérente des nationalistes québécois à des fins politiques.

  3. Votre avant-dernier paragraphe décrit parfaitement la situation que nous vivons en France depuis de nombreuses années, et qui se dégrade de plus en plus. C’est la manœuvre générale d’un certain type de pouvoir (voyez la Norvège il y peu !).
    La clarté de votre propos m’a réconforté !
    Salut et respect, et merci.

  4. “they have special privileges and that the only way to preserve them is to deny the rights of others” speaks to what I have been suggesting: their means to an end, the Charter, is the result of their fear and inability to cope with people who are different. Since Marois represents the majority, the easiest way to cope when one feels a sense of entitlement (“special priviledges”) due to fear, is to remove the offender. Totalitarianism, maybe (I am not a history buff), but also conjers up notions of overt discrimination (do they believe that religious people are permitted by way of their religions to actually remove their garmets – they are not permitted). By not being permitted to remove these, the only choice they have if they work in public sectors is to quit or never to join. Parallel to “we don’t hire women, we don’t hire visible minorities, we don’t hire gays”. Why is the Charter any different from those discriminations – we don’t hire people kippas or hijabs unless they remove them, which they cannot, ergo we don’t hire them?? I really believe that an underlying motive is to create another exodus to make room for certain groups to fill jobs that will be vacated.

  5. Thank you for beautifully synthesizing and clarifying many of my own ideas, except for your belief in the people of Quebec, which I think is a bit too generous.. Not because I don’t think the majority of Quebecoises are decent human beings, I know they are. I grew up in Dorval, I live in Ottawa, People are people everywhere.

    I disagree with your optimism about the voters of Quebec because in general, I think, human beings Do Not Like To Think Too Deeply if they can get away with it. (how else did Rob Ford get elected mayor of Toronto) Tap in to one primal fear – in this case loss if cultural identity – and BING! you get votes.

    There are people like you, people who think deeply and with clarity while they dissect the shades of grey in an issue like this one, but you are rarer than you think. I hope that your letter reaches MANY, many people since you have done some very good thinking and maybe you’ll wake up enough people who are thinking “hmf, well, whatever, it’s not MY problem”

    I beg you to distill this letter to its main thoughts and publish it again, in French.

  6. one small correction. If I am not mistaken the Patron Saint of Québec is St. Joseph (which is why most boys have Joseph in their baptismal certificate.

    June 24–St Jean de Baptiste as the was chosen as the Fête nationale possibly to “pre-empt” or overshadow (for want of a better word) Canada Day and relegate July 1 to being “moving day” (straight political cynicism)

    • Sydney… Historically, St. John is the patron saint of French Canadians. ( I’m not sure if this was ever OFFICIALLY articulated (or even how that works, since I’m not a Catholic), but La fete was celebrated as a national holiday even before there WAS a Quebec or a Canada. You might be write about St-Joseph, as well. There seems to be a considerable amount of patronage overlap.

      • Not a Catholic either.

        I was clued in on this in a historical novel series “Angelique”

        St Jean is a universal Catholic holiday celebrated all over Europe. In Protestant areas is is known as Midsummer’s Night. I was in Germany (south) where there were signs for Johanessfest (St John) and in the Protestant area it was Midsummer Night. (legacy of the 30-years war)

        “In the beginning, Saint-Joseph had been designated as the patron saint of New France (just like Saint-Patrick is to Ireland). The problem was that his Holy day is in March and the Québec climate during that time of the year is not very favourable for celebrating. It is for this very practical reason that Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day became more popular, the end of June being a great time to have fun outside. Today, the holiday has lost its religious meaning but has kept its traditional name. ”

        originally St-Joseph Day but it’s in March so…

        (I guess we’re both right–originally March, then moved to June because of better weather 🙂 )

      • Hey kids, Most french Catholic children in Quebec used to have the first name Joseph (after Jesus’ Dad) and all of the girls have the first name Mary (after Jesus’ Mum) , My Dad’sfrom a family of 9 starting in the depression era and they all start with Jospeh or Mary!

      • La Société St-Jean Baptiste, along with its march, was formed, I believe, in the 1830s or 1840s by French-Catholic Montrealers in response to, or following the example of, Irish Montrealers’ St-Patrick’s Day marches.

      • Joseph is the Patron Saint of all Catholic men that is why most boys have Joseph in their baptismal certificate.

  7. I wish I had the same respect for the former Premier who won the 1976 election as you have, but I can’t overlook the fact that he was responsible for creating the great divide with Loi 101. He enshrined the two classes, the Us and Them. He created the language police. I see zero difference between the new proposed charter and what was done with 101. It is a fascist imposition, by law, of one peoples’ customs over others. This is merely a continuation of what was started on November 15, 1976.

    • St. Joseph has been the patron saint of Canada since the Recollects named him as such in the early 17th century. St. John the Baptist (St. Jean Baptiste) was adopted as a patron saint of French Canada in the 19th century, and Pope Pius X officially designated him as the patron saint of French-Canadians in 1908. (Ste. Anne is also the patron (matron?) saint of French Canada.)

      There are a couple of spelling mistakes in French in the letter: it’s Baptiste, not Baptise; and it’s the Sûreté du Québec, not the Sureté de Québec.

      But otherwise, I agree altogether with what you write. Bravo.

    • Up to the 1960s, French Canadians in Québec (despite being the great majority of the pop.) had the lowest income per capita of all ethnic origin groups save the Indigenous. I could provide many other examples, but in my humble opinion, this one alone proves that there was most definitely a Us and a Them before Lévesque was elected. Maybe not visible where you grew up, but it was systemic and all across Québec. There was a deeply entrenched colonial dynamic going on that benefited the people of British descent over any other group. Language laws were one of the means to address this economic imbalance and promote social mobility, as were investment in education and the expansion of the public sector, offering skilled and decently paid jobs available to unilingual French speakers, as the business sector was so anglo-dominated. It aimed at favouring some form of equality aside mere liberty, because you can’t really have a healthy democratic society without some degree of both. And before anyone blames him for ruining the economy, Montreal was losing industrial jobs and headquarters to Toronto way before he came into office, around when the Seaway opened in the late 1950s, allowing maritime trade to bypass the railway hub that was Montreal. And the language laws in education also ensured a much more cohesive society, and, I believe, delayed or generally defused the use of overt discriminatory tactics in politics such as the one at hand. Many commentators noted that the Charter actually marks a departure from Lévesque views on nationalism which always was civic (equal participation in society, with the French language as a common reference point) rather than identity-based. So really, it is not the same. Like him or not, Lévesque had a long-term vision and it was inclusive of all (and yes, including the anglophones, a national minority with historical institutions that were to be protected). This here is crass electoralism and shock tactic to control the agenda, and going nowhere further than next election. Peace.

      • Very cogent — and you will have noted that according to the latest figures, the average incomes of anglophone quebeckers are now several thousands of dollars lower than the Quebec average — and of course the average incomes of ethnic minority people and First Nations people lower still.

      • There is such danger in comparing our various victimizations – it keeps us in the victim role. The First Nations in Quebec can cite the crimes of the French; the French have had centuries of very legitimate beefs with the conquering English; and now the “ethnically cleansed” Anglophones and newer immigrants have their own complaints. How do we get beyond that to all become true and equal members of the community of Quebec?

      • To Thomas: …making Quebec quite similar to the rest of the Canadian provinces in that, if you just change that factor from unilingual (which is what you were referring to, I assume) English to unilingual French, right? I hope you are as vocal about the fate of unilingual Franco-Manitobans or Acadians. My point is not that it is perfectly fair by any means now, but that it was extremely unfair before, with a large majority of the people being largely excluded from the wealth that came from their workforce and the land they lived on.

        To Linda: I wouldn’t want to come accross as comparing victimisations. I, for one, have dedicated a few years of my life to better understand the colonial dynamics at work with First Nations. My comment just aimed at providing some historical context that explains where the bulk of support for Quebec nationalism comes from.
        > How do we get beyond that to all become true and equal members of the community of Quebec?
        I would suggest taking a deep breath, a step back, just like Mr. Friedman and his father have realized a while ago -allowing the former to write such a nuanced and well articulated letter today- and trying to consider that the Quebec nationalist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which gave us the PQ, was part of a larger narrative of national liberation struggles, and was a very peaceful and democratic one at that. I’ll also suggest that expressions like “ethnic cleansing” and “fascism” (as the original commenter wrote) when referring to the first PQ governement are *slightly* overstating things. As of now the Godwin point has long been reached in this discussion. Oh well.

      • I totally agree, Guillaume, that we must be aware of the trauma suffered by the Quebecois as they lost control of the society they had conquered and built on First Nations land. (And of course we also need to address the ongoing pain felt by First Nations people who have been dispossessed by the rest of us from many nations). The English have a lot to answer for in Quebec – although they did many worse things in some of their other colonies. At least some vestiges of French-Canadian religion, Catholic education and politics managed to survive so French Canada could be rebuilt.. It is this trauma that I am addressing, as I believe it to be at the root of the current cultural and political situation that Matt describes so well. Sadly, few seem to recognize that traumatized people and cultures often pass along their suffering to others when they gain the dominant hand, so the cycle of abuse continues. It’s the same in families. The abused, without help, becomes himself the abuser. So now it is the remaining Quebec Anglophones plus new immigrants with “strange” religions who are the scapegoats being “punished” for the previous abuse by the English who were so arrogant and greedy from 1769 to the 1960s. Without addressing the history and the pain, we can’t make sense of anything, I believe.

      • Linda: Yes, this is certainly part of the answer. But to add yet a layer of nuance to this whole thing, I would like to point out that the struggle of the Quiet Revolution really was twofold: an attempt at ending the (anglo) economic domination AND a much more successful attempt at getting rid of the far reaching power of the (very franco) Catholic church in all realms of society (a Church that went hand in hand with the powers that be since the Conquest, by the way). Many commentators in the mainstream English language media miss that last crucial part, possibly because not being of Franco-Catholic descent, they or their relatives never directly experienced how prevalent it was, and there was no direct equivalent elsewhere in Canada where different denominations (later, religions) already coexisted, and separation of Church and State was long taken for granted.
        So the story that is too often told in English Canada everytime news like this pop out is that this is solely an ethnic thing (Pure Laine against Everyone), whereas I think that support for the proposed Charter (or turban ban in soccer, or kirpan in public schools, etc.) doesn’t feed so much on the fear of the cultural Other per se as it does on the fear of a return to a society where religious groups are allowed to dictacte rules that apply to the public sphere. Because our parents and grand-parents actually lived in such a society, and many fought against it.
        Mind you, the proposed Charter is still a very bad idea, and is not even an attempt at addressing the sometimes legitimate concerns of those older folks: think of some groups who would like to have recognition for religious tribunals to rule divorces and inheritances, which systematically disadvantage women, for instance. So yeah, when it comes to religion and the public space, there is definitely a very sensitive spot in Québec that comes from past experience (and make it resonate with some people left of the centre), not just outright xenophobia as we hear too often.
        But it is much quicker to call out the racism of others, and in the case of Québec, well, mainstream Canadian media have long reached their conclusion, making the comments section in the Post or the Globe such a finger-pointing-hate-fest. Hopefully there are hate-free blogs such as this. Thanks again Mr. Friedman.

      • I beg to differ with you as the Montreal I remember at the time of Expo ’67 was a booming city, vibrant with hardly an A louer sign which is unfortunately as common on the buildings to-day as the dandelions in the lawns at late spring. I am a native Quebecor, and years before the ugly language laws, decided to take French conversation at night school, just because I wanted my neighbours to communicate with me in french in stead of english as they were doing. I do consider myself bilingual to-day but not because I was forced to do so. I believed we live in a democratic province, and what we choose is our own decision.I love where I was born but if push comes to shove, my husband and I are now in our eighties, we will be forced to leave, not by choice.

  8. I’m sorry but I quit reading at “policing the souls”… (Can an individual’s soul reside in their hats?) I might have read further a couple weeks ago. But by now I’m completely saturated with arguments propping up great principles with a total lack of historical context and considerations for sociological realities.
    People too easily forget that Western societies used to be very segregated along confessional lines; and not too long ago for Québec. (And they neglect to have a look at societies that still are for never having known secularism.) This meant that communities didn’t mingle and, especially, that individuals found themselves a lot more under community control.
    This is the fight that’s taking place today, again. It is not a debate between an assimilative, intolerant majority and ethnic minorities, as too many want to paint it. Many in the Catholic majority would like nothing more than a public reaffirmation of religiousness in the public space; while many in the minorities know too well what that leads to… Rather, it’s a debate between those who think religion is best kept private and those who want to re-allow it to become a public, community thing.
    Of course, the faithful today who fight against the idea of having to drop their symbols (not their faith: Just the visible symbols!) cannot imagine that they could one day quit their religion. I, on the other hand, count myself lucky to have been born in a society where secularism was the norm. That allowed me to live my faith discreetly and, more importantly, to abandon it as discreetly. Nobody could, by looking at me, say: «Hey, what’s happening with him? Looks like he’s not being a good Catholic anymore. Maybe we should talk to him…». Oppositely, what of a young girl who wears a hijab today? Can she abandon her faith as easily? What happens if, one day, she decides to take it off, or not observe Ramadan, or eat bacon… She signals all around what should be strictly her private choices and makes it open to community pressure. I personally know of many cases (some personally, some through the news) of people who hide to eat during Ramadan because there is so much pressure on them to «be good Muslims or else…». (This is just an example: The same could be said for any ostensibly lived faith.)
    Sociologically speaking, this is exactly why different religions insist on public display of faith: So leaders can better control the flock. And then what of individual liberties?…

    • What makes a kerchief a hijab except the belief system of the person wearing it? Unless Mme. Marois wants to prohibit public employees from wearing ANY headcovering, the state will have to enquire about the individual’s beliefs in order to enforce the charter. It is difficult to see this as anything BUT the policing of citizens’ souls. (And is prohibited under Quebec law, in any event, so the Charter not only violates Quebec’s laws, but Quebec values as well.)

      To make matters worse, the state presumes to do this under a flag bearing the symbols of the crucifixion and Holy Trinity, whose offices are closed on dies Dominica (dimanche) and grants a public holiday to celebrate the Christian saviour’s birth.

      Besides, Christianity does not require its adherents to wear any particular garment, hairstyle, or whatever, as a necessary act. Other religions do. As a result, the Charter demands that observant Muslims, Jews, Sikhs. etc. will have to choose between their faith and government employment. This is discriminatory because it does not demand the same of observant Christians.

      • Tell me, sociologueerrant, how you can write your long-winded (and, frankly, ineloquent) reply to something you can’t even be bothered to read?

        Matt, you’re a better man than I. I’d have ignored him.

      • sociolgueerant: Very few of the religious people that you are so bravely liberating are asking to be liberated. The only people who seem to want this are people with old religious axes to grind. Your argument is paternalistic to the core.

      • 2 things. First, I’m a public servant, and I cannot wear whatever I want. I’m expected to wear a dress shirt, necktie, vest, pants with a fold in front, leather shoes, no visible tattoos, piercings, hair color… Nobody can wear a kerchief unless it is a religious obligation or something. If I’m not a pakistani/indian woman, sorry, no nose piercing for me. If religious symbols are not accepted anymore, the office won’t have to ask “is this a religious symbol?”, they’ll simply say “this is not part of the proper business attire, please take it off”.

        Second, I agree that the charter has a very we’re-cool-with-christians flavor. It’s not perfect. But could it be a first step with improvements to follow? I too think it’s stupid we still have public holiday on christmas and easter as most of society doesn’t religiously celebrate those days. Maybe it can be worked in with time. As for the origine of words, most people don’t know and don’t care. Most businesses are open on Sundays and most public offices are closed for the whole weekend. That’s how we structured our work and time, the Roman empire set it like that, we could switch to lunar calendar, but then that would be the muslim way…

      • In all of human history, few cultures have had NO spiritual practices. This is a part of human culture and evolution. Our modern non-sectarianism is, in fact, simply a new form of belief – in science and materialism. While many of the old religious systems were oppressive in some regard, if we enforce a “no religion allowed” policy we’re just imposing a new form of intolerance. Surely we can rise above that and accept a global polyculture of different beliefs in the 21st century? Even in many traditional religions, inter-faith ecumenicism, tolerance and dialogue are now the norm. As long as one’s religious beliefs don’t harm others, surely we are now culturally mature enough to cope with a religiously-required hair length or scarf without freaking out? And if we force modern atheism or agnosticism on others, how are we better than the old religions we criticize?

    • So you’re arguing that Catholicism is better than other religions because it is expressed differently, that other religious people are “sheep” because of what they wear, but you are not? And then of course, you’d like to argue that you aren’t a racist. Did it ever occur to you that it takes COURAGE to wear something that singles you out, that makes other people look at you funny?

      BTW, don’t act like you don’t wake up in the morning and tailor what you are going to wear that day to the social approval of others, because that’s a flat-out lie. You put on the uniform of your own “religion” of secular westernism: jeans and a T-shirt, or a suit. You can’t just wear whatever you want, you are as much of a sheep as everybody else.

    • Re: “Rather, it’s a debate between those who think religion is best kept private and those who want to re-allow it to become a public, community thing”. You are right. And religion should be kept private.

  9. Sorry, I meant to mention that the post above was in answer to a friend asking me to comment your letter on Facebook. I thought I’d post it here as well so people could at least be given a chance to read a contrary argument.

    • You admitted you did not even read the post – so how is your reply valid if it is not actually a reply to what is written, but is merely you going off on an arrogant rant believing your view is the only correct one – so much so, that you do not even deign to waste time reading an opposing view – wouldn’t it be tragic if you were to read it and discover maybe you are wrong – even in the slightest?

      • As Marie states, your reply has zero merit as you did not even read the letter in its entirety. Do you critique books by reading the dustcover?

  10. Although I’ve lived in Ontario for over thirty years, I still think of Montreal as “home”. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have grown up in La Belle Province; to have lived east of The Main during the turbulent and exciting 1970s; and to have voted PQ in 1976. Thank you, Matt Friedman, for articulating so well what I — and no doubt many another Québécois errant — are feeling at this time in the history of Quebec and of Canada. My only addition would be this: I deplore the perversion of feminist values that appears to underlie some of the rationale behind the proposed Charter. To imply that Quebec Muslim women need some kind of consciousness-raising via government edict is more than offensive: it is an ugly legacy of colonialism that we should long have outgrown. Shame on you, Mme Marois. Shame on all politicians who pander to fear and ignorance in order to hold on to power.

    • I absolutely agree with this. This whole thing is being blanketed as “hijab is degrading to women”. NO denying women jobs because of their religious beliefs is degrading to women!

  11. This is a very cogent and articulate enunciation in a mainly non-confrontational manner of the multitude of arguments against the adoption of the Charter of Values. While I will never believe that a “Oui” will be the proper answer in a referendum on separation I too consider Quebec as my home, being a third generation Quebecer with children of a fourth generation who are bilingual and bicultural. Your examples of non-clothing expressions and manifestations of a religious nature raises the spectre of a law that even if adopted, which I do not believe shall happen, will never be able to achieve its final objectives unless it outlaws all outward manifestations of religious beliefs. “Heaven” forbid if this ever comes to pass.

  12. Finally, someone who has expressed my feelings with an eloquence, historical knowledge, and understanding beyond my own. Born in this province, my home, Mr. Friedman bears a love for Quebec resembling mine. I was educated in English, brought up Catholic, and am totally bilingual/cultural. My parents were of a mixed marriage it was called at the time, mother Catholic, father Anglican. I won’t go into some of the strange discrimination that even I lived during my youth both because of my mother tongue and my father’s religious beliefs. My father was a British immigrant, my mother of French-Canadian decent from Saskatchewan, and they both met in Quebec which they felt was the best place in the world to live, as was Canada the greatest country. I could go on with our family story however, suffice it to say that there are many parallels to that of Mr. Friedman’s. I was raised in La Mauricie and married a French Canadian. I feel so much richer for it all.

    A political body, peu importe the party, should not be attempting to legislate our values for us. Those who do so tread on very dangerous ground. History contains horrific examples of the tangled web that is woven with such interference.

    • Multiculturalism was equally legislated by political parties: started with Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, then enacted by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. What Mme Marrois is trying to do is setting the limits of it’s effect on contemporary Canadian society: unlimited display of religious beliefs, unlimited freedom of expression of those is extremely dangerous and is leading to homegrown terrorism and absurd debates about introducing or not sharia law etc. Religion should be kept private on your workplace, period.

  13. Matt,
    As a French-speaking Montrealer, atheist raised in a Catholic family, and proud father of bilingual kids, thank you.
    Le Clown

  14. Fiona,
    Since some of what you wrote appears directed at me…

    This is very typical. You don’t really address the points I make, especially the one concerning community control. All you do is throw moral accusations in a pavlovian reflex (colonialism, condescension, using feminist rhetoric, etc.). For example, how about my example of people hiding to eat during Ramadan? Also, you don’t take into consideration the fact that the majority underwent the process of secularism itself, and begrudgingly for a good part. Was it being “colonialist” with itself then? And how is asking the same thing of minorities (in fact, of a minority among minorities) unfair? Finally, you seem to forget that the neutrality that is demanded through this Charter only regards civil officers, and only during work hours when they are deemed to represent the secular state: Nobody wants to legislate on what people will wear on the streets. This is where that confrontation that I speak of between private and public faith pops up: When some individuals claim that to show confessional neutrality, even for only a few hours, is unbearable. That shows a dangerous measure of uncompromising fundamentalism when one claims that they cannot, under no circumstance, mitigate religious “obligations” in face of civic norms.

    The fact is you write as if in a historical and sociological vacuum. All that seems to matter to you are your moral values (and your fear of this “intolerant” society maybe?). But you obviously have no conception of the context in which laïcité and secularism were born, or how well they worked for a good century; that is, until some people recently decided to ride the identity politics wagon to advance community interests. Especially, you don’t seem to realize what it is for individuals to live in societies that are segregated along confessional lines and where being born in one of those communities mean that you practically, or at least visibly, belong to it. I’ve known that very well in Malaysia and in Southern Thailand, where I’ve lived and where I’ve seen it get worst and worst over the years. That is reality. I am not being condescending with poor Muslim women, as you’d have it. I just believe a society can collectively decide on common rules so that it doesn’t balkanize itself like it tends to do when religions become public and uncompromising.

    • Please try to keep things civil. I value your opinion and input, but it would help if you replied directly to the comment to which you refer. And try to avoid ad-hominem comments like “obviously have no conception…” Such things are not obvious.

      • I just can’t wrap my head around it. I understand the context, Quiet Revolution and whatnot, but I still can’t wrap my head around it. How do you not see that you are enforcing your own religion, which is Western Secularism, on the entire populace? This religion has a dress code and moral code. It is not “neutral”. Nothing is neutral just because you grew up with it.

        And where does this irrational fear come from that les autres will make the secular world fall apart? How come a few miles to the South an enormous world power lives peacefully with all the peoples of the world in it, secularly, and has managed to keep itself intact without enforcing totalitarian laws, or trying to?

      • Well put, Prija. Our “religion” of Modern Secularism is often invisible to us. It just seems “true.” Not so different from other religions.

      • Secularism is lack of religion. Look it up. Secularism does not assume any metaphysical component, and is based on empirical reasoning.

        And you call secularism “a religion”? That is playing language games (semantics).

        Sort of like saying everything named and physical contains particles. Therefore a vacuum must contain particles. Pure language games and pomo gibberish.

        Gosh, you graduates of “Studies” programs are well warped. No wonder you have difficulty adjusting to the real world.

      • Thank you for your comment. I am not a graduate of a studies program. All three of my degrees are in history.

        I really don’t want to get into a discussion of the cultural and historical contingencies of the “empiricism” (“scientism” might be a better term) upon which many of the advocates of “secularism” base their worldview. There has been a great deal of research on this in the last half-century or so. You might, however, want to start with Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and work outward from there.

        It does amuse me somewhat, however, how many people who adhere to a scientistic worldview (fundamentalist, evangelical atheists, for example) have as much faith in “science,” and in much the same way, as religious people have in their own belief systems. I have, for example, met relatively few absolutely believers in the theory of evolution who have actually read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. (I have — it’s a great read — and I find that evolutionary theory is an explanation that works for me.) Indeed, very few of the secular atheists that I know have ever read ANY of the science that they accept as “truth” and would not understand most of it if they did. They accept the word of “science,” handed down to them by its specialist practitioners, as revealed truth… Quite a bit the way a religious person accepts his or her scriptures.

        There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. Everyone has to find his or her way in the universe, and it helps to have an explanatory system — whether religion or science — to make sense of it. But unless you do your own research, or can argue, with your exhaustive knowledge of the literature, your truth is no “truer” than religious truth. The great value of science is not that it is “true,” but that it works (it provides a predictive model from reproduceable experiments). And when its doesn’t work, which happens to all scientific theories eventually — think of Rutherford’s model of the atom — it is revised. Certainty, as you must know, is a concept utterly foreign to science.

        That is not central to my point about the secularism that Mme. Marois’ Charter seeks to promote. however. My point is that the Charter will not produce a “religiously neutral” society or government. Since the symbols and assumptions of Christianity are already inscribed at EVERY LEVEL of Quebec society and culture, from the flag, to the public holidays, to the cross in the National Assembly, to the days of the week, the secularism that the Charter seeks to promote is not neutral at all, but privileges Christianity.

        I suppose it WOULD be possible to create a religiously neutral society. The government of Quebec could require a specific uniform (say, a Mao suit) for all public employees, require a government-mandated haircut (maybe a crew-cut), forbid public employees from wearing head coverings of ANY KIND (this would be popular in January), eliminate public holidays on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, provide services seven days a week, without privileging the Christian sabbath, removing the names of Saints from any public institution or agency (Hopital St-Justine could become Hopital Justine, I guess) and take the cross and fleur-de-lis off of any public symbol.

        I wouldn’t support this, either, by the way. But reductio-ad-absurdem is an effecting rhetorical tool. Anyway, enjoy the day… 2 Sans-culottide CCXXI, by my count.

    • Very well said — Thank you sociologueerrant for bringing some sanity, tolerance, and reason to this matter. It is exactly the case that those who vie for identity politics are ignorant about the context that secularism and enlightenment emerged. And then they wish to slag the western tradition of individual freedoms and rights, and democracy with emotional pavlovian reactions of ‘colonialism’ etc. which make absolutey no sense in this context.

      The left is now for religion (except Christianity). Any superstition, theology, sanctimonity is now privileged to the left, because it expresses a “diverse” culture which is supposed to be of benefit to humankind. The enlightenment in regress. The counter-enlightenment in the ascendancy. How pathetic.

  15. Everyone… Thank you for your comments. I hope more people will be moved to offer their ideas and opinions. Please accept my apologies if I am not able to respond directly to your comments. I am deeply gratified, but somewhat overwhelmed by the response that my letter has generated. Please know that, even if I have not replied to your comments, I have certainly read them — as have thousands of others — and I greatly appreciate them.

    • Like you said, de modern secularism is often invisible to us. Je revendique le port du sombréro comme signe reconnu d’athéisme au sein de la fonction publique. Chacun son truc

  16. Amazing. Just amazing. Le Clown (above) is my husband, and I am an imported Anglo from small town Ontario. We are, in a way, an intercultural couple raising a famille Montrealaise, and I’m happy about that. Though I carry the privilege of being white, educated, and healthy, I know first hand some of the prejudice directed towards “outsiders”. I love Montreal and QC, and am proud to be part of its (usually) leftist politics…but this newest development scares me. You articulate what I have tried to express, more clumsily, in my own discussions…that “neutral” is not neutral at all, and “secular” is a dominant culture, Christian born secularism.
    I’m sharing this.

  17. Re: “the neutrality that is demanded through this Charter only regards civil officers, and only during work hours when they are deemed to represent the secular state: Nobody wants to legislate on what people will wear on the streets.” Religious muslims, jews, sikhs are not permitted to go bear-headed. Ergo, they are “selected out” of being eligible for public positions by way of being religious. Isn’t that discrimination along the lines of “we don’t hire women, gays or visible minorities”??? I must be missing something.

    • No, you can’t simply put your personal proclivities, especially one of a superstitious and counter-enlightenment nature ahead of the social good. A religious fanatic should have some tolerance towards people who do not share their fanaticism and wish to live free of ideology. If they don’t then society will have to decide on this matter.

  18. At the same time that the PQ are challenged for this in the Supreme Court, they should also be sued for sedition. Seriously. It takes the province 10 years to recover from the laws, procedures and practices imposed by them every single time they are in power. Enough is enough.

  19. Thank you for opening my eyes on this subject. I haven’t been following this story as closely as I should be considering I live in QC but the very little I know, the proposed changes are ridiculous and a waste of time and energy. If this goes through, it will only affect the government jobs in QC. The QC soccer association tried to ban the religious symbols earlier this summer. So not only will these people be asked not to wear their religious symbols to work but also their children will not be able to wear them while playing a sport. Next thing you know, the schools will ban them as well and so on and so forth. Who wants to live in a society like that?! I certainly do not.

    I really hope Mme Marois has a back up plan for the shortage of doctors and daycare educators that will resign if they are given this ultimatum. Wait a minute, doesn’t QC already have a shortage of doctors? I thought so because I have been waiting for a family doctor in the Gatineau area for 4 years now. I have to travel to the ON side for medical care. Perhaps Mme Marois should focus her efforts on retaining the population rather than alienating them.

    If this charter goes through, this will affect us all Quebecers in one way or another and you are kidding yourself if you think it is only jobs. What will these people do if they lose their jobs? They will depend on our social services or move out of QC. I will not be surprised if Mme Marois raises the taxes in order to balance this shift in the economy. Socially, it will spark a wave of racism that, Canada as a whole, has tried to squash over the past few decades. Think of what the children will endure when they go to school. All of this because “some Quebecers” are afraid of a piece of fabric or material that is worn on someone’s head or face. Sigh!

    • Juuuust correcting some facts here. The Québec Soccer association only banned turbans: the FIFA provides a list of accepted items, and it was not on the list. Referees for kids games are often 15-16 years old, didn’t know what to do, and asked for clear guidelines. The association officialy banned whatever FIFA did not allow. 10 days later, FIFA added turbans to the list of items allowed… This could have been avoided sooooo easily (a call to FIFA maybe?). Sports associations are not mixed with politics, this had nothing to do with the PQ in power.

      As for doctor shortage in Gatineau (born, raised and still live here), ha! Yeah, Outaouais has always been the butt-monkey of Québec. No party ever cares about us. The situation didn’t improve while the libs were in power. No party ever listens to us, because the electors will always vote the liberals in. So liberals don’t need to give us any gift to keep being re-elected over and over, and the PQ knows whatever they give us, we still won’t vote for them. So we’re doomed 😉

  20. Well done, Matt. Thoughtful, considerate, and wonderfully eloquent. I hope Quebecers from both sides of the coin take the time to read this.

  21. Thank you Mr. Friedman, for a brilliant letter. It helped clarify my abhorrence of colonialism and all it implies.

    • I was thinking along the same lines! Say the Pope applies for a job with the PQ government. Shall we tell him he must first remove his kippa??

      • Yes, I think that is exactly the point. Both the nun and the pope would have to remove their attire, at least once they are in the job. I would assume that wouldn’t apply during the interview process.

    • Interesting point… I wonder if candidates would be allowed to wear their religious symbols during their interviews, if they were applying for a position that would preclude the wearing of those symbols? Seems to me that it would (sadly) be all-too-easy to weed out workers who choose to wear religious symbols of some sort: “I’m sorry, but another candidate was chosen for this position.”

  22. QUÉBEC, une petite province, mais de grands homme l’habitent!

    Je suis Québécois et je vis à Los Angel. Je parle trois langues soit; le français, l’anglais, le mandarin et je parle à moitié quelques autres langues comme l’espagnole et l’italien. Entendre quelqu’un parler français me réchauffe le coeur, mais c’est un peu intransigeant cette attitude.

    Je suis choquée à outrance depuis toujours comment ici les voisins ne se connaissent même pas, comment même entre amis chacun demande à payer sa propre facture au resto, que les aînés on les refoule dans des hôpitaux pour vieux, que les enfants et leurs cris sont une espèce de pollution auditive enfin! j’ai déjà vu des gens en détresse par terre dans la rue et personne pour les aider. De quoi vous étonnez vous? Chaque personne cherche dans ce désert de solitude un îlot, un pseudo territoire qui sauve son mental et s’agrippe à quelques personnes qui lui rappellent son humanité.

    J’ai le courage de mes opinions, courage que bien des gens non pas. Je suis un francophile. Je pense parler et écrire plutôt correctement ma langue maternelle. Cet amour de ma langue je l’ai appris de ma mère, à mon tour un jour, je vais le transmette à mes enfants.

    Le monopole de la vertu et la “Vérité” n’appartient ni aux fédéralistes, ni aux souverainistes. La divergence d’opinions est à la base de la démocratie. En démocratie la pensée unique ne peut faire consensus à moins de contourner la liberté d’expression.

    Je résumerai ma pensée à ceci; parfois j’ai honte, parfois je suis désolé, parfois je suis fâché, mais je demeure constamment sidéré par l’absence de culture flagrante des gens qui défendent l’utilisation de l’anglais au Québec tout en crachant sur ceux qui défendent l’utilisation du français au Québec.

    Selon plusieurs d’entre vous, vous nous percevez comme un peuple xénophobe, à la limite raciste, alors que c’est totalement faux.

    Pour avoir visité le Moyen-Orient et presque tous les pays de l’Asie, je pense que vous serez d’accord avec moi que le Canada (incluant bien entendu le Québec) est, comparativement à votre pays d’origine, une des nations les plus pacifiques au monde.

    Apprenez que Montréal n’est pas le Québec. Pour beaucoup d’entre vous, vous avez quitté un pays en guerre, le Québec vous offre un pays d’accueil, de paix, et sans conflit. Un pays où tout est possible. Il suffit de faire comme les autres immigrants et de vous intégrer au Québec. Vous avez tout à gagner.

    Alors mes amis musulmans, faite dont comme les autres immigrants, italiens, chinois, grecs, vietnamiens, latino-américains, qui pratiquent eux aussi leur religion, mais discrètement à la maison. Pourquoi est-ce si facile pour eux et pas pour vous ?

    Les Québécois et Québécoise souhaitons de tout coeur que vous en fassiez partie. Je voudrais en profiter justement pour remercier les anglophones qui ont pris la peine d’apprendre le français qui nous montre tout le respect qu’une terre d’accueil doit recevoir.

    Les Québécois ne se laisseront jamais imposer une culture ou croyance qui va à l’encontre de leurs valeurs. De là la nécessité de la Charte des valeurs québécoises.

    Le Québec a une langue mais la loi n’a jamais obligé tout le monde de parler cette langue. La loi oblige l’état de fonctionner dans cette langue, les institutions sociales de communiquer entre elles dans cette langue, les commerces d’être capables de fonctionner dans cette langue, mais les citoyens ont le droit d’être unilingues.

    Une langue, une culture c’est un moyen de rapprochement entre les humains et non pas une fin en soi.

    En terminant: Un truc pour nos amis anglos qui trouvent que le français est une langue complexe et remplit de non-sens: ON EST D’ACCORD! Mais, dire “bonjour” et “merci”, c’est a la portée de tous. On pourra faire le reste de la conversation en anglais si vous voulez. Mais, au moins, il me fera chaud au coeur de savoir que vous vous intéressé au moins un peu a ce que nous sommes. Il y a un début a tout! Un truc pour nos amis francos: Arrêtez d’embêter les gens avec les accents cassés, les erreurs grammaticales et les fautes d’orthographes. Les francos ont souvent tendances a faire peur au monde qui sont en train d’apprivoiser notre langue. Si vous tapez constamment sur les doigts des apprenants, ils risquent de se tanner et d’abandonner.

    • Franco… I apologize for replying in English but, as I noted, my facility writing in French has suffered during the years of my exile. If we were sitting at a table at a Brasserie back home, I would be happy to speak in French but, alas, writing would take much too long.

      I would like to clear up some misconceptions that you may have. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I really don’t believe that the Québécois are “un peuple xénophobe.” On the contrary, we are an open, accepting people. I don’t even think that Mme. Marois is a xenophobe, though her comments and policies lead me to believe that SHE thinks that we are xenophobic, and seems to want to manipulate that impulse for political gain. She seems to hold us in contempt, believing that, if she can push the right buttons, she will reap the benefits of a mobilized citizenry indignant at their loss of privilege.

      Moreover, I personally support the language law. This hasn’t made me popular with some of my Anglo friends and colleagues — nevertheless, I respect their opinions — but I do understand the necessity of providing access to jobs, economic and commercial services to ALL Québécois. In a society where the vast majority of people do not speak English (or another language other than French), the failure to provide services or a work environment in that they can access is discriminatory.

      By the same token, however, the Charter discriminates against non-Christians. Please note that I use this as a cultural, and not a religious category in this case. The secular environment that the Charter is meant to create is a Christian secular environment. You may not recognize this, since I assume that you come from a Euro-Christian cultural heritage, whatever your religious beliefs. (Please forgive me if I am incorrect.) As I noted in the letter, even a secular Québec is saturated with Christian symbols, from the symbols of the crucifixion and Holy Trinity on the flag, to the traditional Christmas holiday break. This is something that those of us who do not share your cultural heritage, whatever our religious beliefs, never fail to notice. Secular Québec is thus far from “religiously neutral,” but favours and privileges Christianity.

      Most non-Christian Québécois tolerate this, because we understand the complex intersections of religious and “secular” history.

      Moreover, Christianity does not require its adherents to wear any religious symbols or garments, but some other religions do. That means that any person whose faith requires these symbols either gas to choose between his or her faith and public employment — in schools, hospitals, what have you. On the other hand, the Charter privileges religious people whose faith makes no such requirement. This is, in my mind, clearly discriminatory.

      At issue for me is that the state is regulating INDIVIDUALS and their beliefs. It must inquire into a woman’s beliefs, for example, to determine whether her headscarf is a hijab or a kerchief and, on the basis of this belief alone, will either forbid or allow her to wear it. At the same time, while regulating individuals’ personal beliefs, the state does not regulate itself.

      • Our life is entirely state regulated. And so is Multiculturatlism! It is nothing more than a state regulated economic plan to attract immigration for purely economical reasons. Even kids see and know that.
        And Québec was created by Christians, not by people wearing hidjabs and turbans, therefore anybody immigrating to Québec naturally is expected to adopt its values and historical heritage, including the display of this Christian heritage on the flag (not as a display of Christian dominance, as you imply, but as fundamental symbol of our heritage).

    • @ Franco Richard: You write, “… un francophile. Je pense parler et écrire plutôt correctement ma langue maternelle.” If that’s true, then you should have written, “… J’ai le courage de mes opinions, courage que bien des gens n’ont pas.” (- not “non pas”) – This from one whose “langue maternelle” is German! 😉

  23. Il s’agit d’une analyse à mon avis juste et digne d’être publiée dans nos papiers afin de faire avancer le débat.

  24. Recovery from colonization is a tricky thing. So often we project our previous oppressors onto others while not noticing that it is often we who are behaving like them.

  25. “In seeking to provide “religious neutrality,” your government’s proposals display ambitions to police the souls of Québec’s citizens and inscribe its power on their very bodies. This, as Hannah Arendt noted more than sixty years ago, is the essence of totalitarianism.”

    Its difficult to be more out of touch than this. Sadly this is where I stopped reading. Seriously… Totalitarism!? First maybe you should read the charter again and secondo lookup the definition of totalitarism.

  26. Thanks for this eloquent and thoughtful piece. My fear is that M. Marois and her party will benefit from this charter even if it’s struck down by the Supreme Court. The rarely spoken truth is that despite it’s strengths, La Belle Province is not exactly the most tolerant place, and even if the charter gets shelved, immigrants like the ones depicted in M. Marois’ pamphlet will sadly think twice about coming here. Which is exactly what the PQ want. The party insists that the goal of Bill 101 is to encourage people to speak French, but in my time here, I’ve seen very little in the way of encouragement. If they really wanted Anglophones to speak more French, we’d see incentives, not draconian rules and restrictions. (See Pastagate) The sad fact is that M. Marois and her ilk don’t appear to want foreigners to learn French. They want non-Francophones to leave, and many of my friends have, even the ones who loved being in a French speaking province.

    For whatever reason, there seems to be a big difference of opinion between Anglophones and Francophones on this charter. A recent National Post article cites a Léger Marketing poll which says 77% of Francophones think there are too many religious accommodations, vs. 23% of Anglophones. It goes without saying that there are countless forward thinking and progressive Francophones who are appalled by all this, but still the numbers don’t lie. It’s such a shame. There is so much to love about this place, with French culture and language high up on the list, but as an Anglophone, it’s getting exhausting. I guess that’s the point.

    • When you live in a place and you respect the people abd the culture of the place you live in, you dont need an INCENTIVE to speak the language. Si we would have to pay you er give you advantages in order for you to speak frewnch ? Dont think so……How insulting is that ? English people who live in Quebec should speak french, just like french people should speak english in the rest of Canada. Incentives to speak the language of the province ? What a joke !

      • The government does offer FREE classes for new adult Quebecers to learn French. They are offered through community centers and people need to prove eligiblity by showing a work permit or visa. This may not be advertized well… I know of this only through reading a Cote-des-Neiges community activities booklet sent out to homes. This was fall 2010.

      • I agree. Anyone living in Quebec should learn to speak French and I understand why Francophones want to protect their language. Just like many others, I’ve learned to speak French out of respect for the people and culture here. My point, perhaps made inelegantly, was that people don’t respond well to threats and harsh measures. It creates animosity and is counter-productive. Use a portion of the funds earmarked for the language police for example, and put it towards community outreach. As somewhat of an outsider (I’ve only been here for 12 years) it seems clear that Mme. Marois and the PQ are asking (read: demanding) people to respect French culture with language laws, but at the same time with initiatives like this charter, which will disproportionally affect minorities, are showing zero respect for the culture of others. In a forward thinking, modern society, you can’t have it both ways.

      • Forcing one’s culture down others’ throats is the mark of insecurity – understandable after 300+ years of cultural subjugation by English-American culture, but not an effective strategy in the global 21st Century.

      • This has nothing to do with language. People who are religiously obligated to wear specific clothing or items speak all languages. This cannot be masked in the usual “speak French” conversation. I think most Quebecers have become do secularized that they no longer understand the difference between culture and religion. Remember that the same government that preaches secularization of government employees also spends $millions of public tax dollars funding religious schools in this province. This province is ridiculous. Making a fuss about veils, turbans and yarmulkes and then spending tax dollars on religious schools. Such a load of nonsense.

  27. Did you read the charter or are you one of the “PQ is evil” automaton?

    Wkipedia ; Totalitarianism or totalitarian state is a term used by some political scientists to describe a political system in which the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever possible.

    This is a term that was born in the 1920’s after the rise of Mussolini in Italy. Get your semantics straight people if we are going to have a normal debate.

    The charter won’t be adopted as it is and the PQ knows it.

    • Yes, I have read the charter. No, I am not a ‘“PQ is evil” automaton.’ In fact, I have voted for them in the past. For the record: I do not favour the independence of Quebec, for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here, but I would be just as eager to return to an independent Quebec as to a Quebec that is part of Canada. And, also for the record, I support the language charter, but not how it is often enforced.

      I am not referring to Amendola’s use of the term (your reference to the 1920s), but to Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism. I don’t have Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism at my immediate disposal. I am in my office, and my copy is in my home library. However, my reference is to Arendt’s contention that a defining characteristic of totalitarianism is its ambition, through its disciplinary apparatus (the media, public spectacle and state power in the form of the secret police, among other things), to police not only the public, but also the private spaces (considered broadly as physical and ontological space) of its subjects.

      Like I said, I don’t have my copy right at hand, so I can’t give you an exact citation.

  28. As you can see from this article, Matt, times have changed in the 8 years since you left. The sense of never being accepted as a full citizen has only deepened.
    This Wednesday evening, Partenaires pour un Québec français (Partners for a French Quebec), a group of large labour unions, the Société St-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal and the Mouvement national des Québécois are planning a protest rally to denounce the increasing presence of English in Montreal.

    I love it here, and there’s no where else I can imagine living, yet, with each new action like this, I wonder if they are finally crossing a line and it’s time to think about where to run away to.

  29. I thought this comment of yours was absolutely inspired: ” A headscarf is only a hijab when it is worn by a religious Muslim woman, a yarmulke is simply a beanie on the head of a non-Jew.” I have to ask what would happen if I decided to come to work in toque and turtleneck, rather than in my hijab? Covers all the same stuff… 😉

    What has impressed me and warmed my heart has been the reaction to this article (and to similar articles). Although not everyone has felt the same, the overwhelming number of comments I have seen have been outraged and the bigotry and intolerance of the proposed charter.

    I lived for a few years in Europe, where many of these intolerant attitudes prevail. Let’s hope (pray?) that the same doesn’t happen here.

    • I ran into one of students from last term today who always wears a hijab. She was running past the campus with a group of friends on an evening jog. No hijab, but she WAS wearing a hoodie. Good idea!

  30. The charter has already proven to inspire and reinforce hatred and bigotry. Seems that someone in a hijab was accosted today in a shopping mall by an alleged supporter of the neutrality charter. The supporter, so I hear, ordered the person in the hijab to take if off!!! And spat at the hijab-wearer’s brother when he chimed in to protect his sister. Let the games begin. I can’t wait to watch tonite’s News.

  31. Well written, very powerful 🙂 Merci! I am not Quebecois, I am an Anglophone, on my way to becoming bilingual and possibly moving to Montreal, but after hearing of this charter I question whether I want to live in Quebec, as I don’t want to live in a province that discriminates its citizens. I am by no means religious, but I know our country is accepting, diverse, and refusing work to those who chose to be proud of their culture and religion goes against everything Canada stands for in my eyes.

  32. There is one issue that seems to be “flying below the radar” in all of this. The Government of Quebec seeks to bring a great level of secularism to its administration, or so it says. And yet, it is one of the few provinces in Canada that funds religious schools out of public taxes. Am I the only one that finds this to be highly hippocratic? How can a state claim that it needs to prevent government workers from wearing a Yarmulke in order to keep religion out of state affairs turn around and transfer $millions to Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Catholic, and other religious schools? It seems to me that if the government was truly committed to secularism, it would start by simply refusing to provide any public funding to religious schools.

    I’m not stating, by the way, that I would support such a change, but I do not understand how the government can throw $millions and $millions of public funds at religion, through the school system, while claiming that the great threat is represented by a woman wearing a scarf over her head behind the cash register, as she serves you in perfect French at the SAQ.

    • amswitzer: That would be “hypocritical”; “Hippocratic” is the oath physicians usually take embodying their duties and obligations to their patients. 😉

    • It is my understanding that private schools are funded at 60% by the province, but religious schools are not at all. Like when there was the debate with the sikh kid who wanted to wear a kirpan, while the case was in courts, he went to a religious private school, 100% privately funded.

      What is hypocritical is, i think, that churches and religious organization are exempt of taxes…

      • Quebec funds privates schools – religious or otherwise – at about 60% of the tuition level to compensate for the costs of meeting the provincial curriculum. So parents pay the portion of the costs of running and maintaining the buildings and providing the religious education. This is not the case in other provinces for the most part. Nevertheless, my point stands. You cannot trumpet on, as a government, about how government must be secular, than fork out $millions to subsidize private religious schools at any level (Nor can you claim that a crucifix in the National Assembly is actually cultural and not a Christian symbol…)

  33. Thank you, Matt – very well said!
    If Mme. Marois and her henchmen have their way, I wonder if “The Cross” will have to be taken done from Mount Royal in Montreal. At 103 feet tall and 36 feet wide, certainly Mme. Marois would have to agree that it is conspicuous. It is not a cultural symbol, but a religious one. According to Wikipedia, “The first cross was first erected atop Mount Royal by the city’s founder, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, in 1643 thereby fulfilling his vow to the Virgin Mary in his prayers to end a disastrous flood.” The illuminated cross has served the public sector as a landmark since 1924 when it was installed by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste. Although it was completed in September, the cross was not lit until Christmas Eve. (What a coincidence!) I nearly forgot to mention that the colour, normally white, can conveniently be changed to purple – which is traditionally used between the death and election of a new Pope.
    It brings to mind a hymn written by George Bennard (1873-1958) that begins:

    “On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame……”

    Perhaps Mme. Marois will decide that it is exempt and claim the right to sing a solo of the refrain:

    So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
    till my trophies at last I lay down;
    I will cling to the old rugged cross,
    and exchange it some day for a crown.

    After all, isn’t a crown “de rigueur” for the Queen of Totalitarianism?

  34. A very eloquently stated argument; I particularly appreciate your historical perspective. I write this as a Montrealer now living in Sydney and missing so many of the items you’ve listed- but not missing this particular battle of intolerance towards other people.
    Thank you.

  35. Bravo sir!

    I may not be québécois (in fact I grew up in Saskatchewan before moving to Australia), but when I heard of the proposed charter, I felt ashamed to call myself Canadian. Thank you sir, for making me feel proud to be Canadian again.

    Kindest regards.


  36. A typo…down* not done…oops!
    And, by the way, I am just another Jewish Anglophone, born in Salaberry de Valleyfield, fluently bilingual and fed up with our governments wasting time, money and energy on stupidities rather than tackling the urgent problems facing our province and country.

  37. Je ne comprends pas pourquoi les gens ont besoin de montrer à quel groupe religieux ils appartiennent lorsqu’ils travaillent en publique. Il y aurait quelqu’un d’assez bien pour m’expliquer?

    • Marc est-ce que tu te demandes aussi pourquoi les gens portent des chandails de leur équipe sportive préférée? Est-ce que ça te dérange qu’ils affichent une appartenance au groupe des fans de cette équipe? beaucoup de gens le font et se sentent très fiers d’afficher les couleurs de leur équipe. Il s’agit pourtant d’un simple jeu. Transpose maintenant cette idée à une croyance profonde et un désir d’exprimer cette fierté d’appartenance à un groupe religieux et tu devrais comprendre…j’espère.

    • Marc, absolutely right! Why should my co-worker be given all kinds of perks like leaving early on a Friday to go to a mosque, separate prayer rooms and God knows what else and I should work double – to secure his “religious freedom of expression”. If you want to work in public administration get off your displays of religious beliefs from your head, garments etc.; if you dislike it – do not work in public administration, plain and simple!

  38. I was born in Montreal as was my Grand father and his father , I now live in Calgary. I go back every now and then but when I do I feel like I never lived their. I’m English somehow when I’m their that feels dirty , gee I wonder why. The Quebec government has been getting away with things like this latest example of unity. Shame on all who votes for this.

    • My husband is American and when we visit my homeland of Quebec we have discovered that he is the one who should ask for directions or information – as most people will be far friendlier to him than to Montreal-born me. Even if I speak French, it is obvious that only my grandmother was French Canadian, so I am biw one of “les autres” so am treated less than kindly. My husband is often shocked by the rancor that still exists against Anglophones, but perhaps it is the understandable result of 3+ centuries of being second class citizens in English-dominated French Canada. I wonder how long it will take for the pain to heal?

      • To add one answer to my question about “I wonder how long it will take for the pain to heal?” I am reminded of the significance of the Quebec license plate motto: “Je me souviens.”

  39. How right you are to note that Mme Marois is not an heiress of Lévesque. Few in that party honour that particular heritage today.
    And very, very right to note that “cultural and religious diversity is the quiet background to our daily lives” : I have been living in France for a few years, and appaled by the level of intolerance that is expressed routinely, in the most banal way. In this respect, France should be a lesson, not a model to be followed, n’en déplaise à Mme Marois…
    Ironically, the Charter threatens a fundamental Quebec value : our tolerance, our kindness (that some might call meekness or naïveté) which has allowed our province to thrive.

  40. Matthew,

    Great letter, although I have to disagree with your line ‘I believe that you are a very reasonable, well-meaning person, Mme. Marois, and I don’t doubt that you are motivated by the best-possible intentions.’

    She has shown herself to be a demagogue and liar repeatedly over many decades.

    I hope you get a response and it was lovely to hear the story of your father and family in Montreal and Quebec. I agree with your love of the place, that is why I remain here, and will continue to do so. After 200 years in-country, why should my family ever leave?


    Steven ‘Baie d’Urfe’ Lightfoot

  41. Thank you Matt. We need more people like you to help many Quebecers really understand what Mme Marois is truly trying to achieve. Very well informed and written letter. Let’s hope more people take the time to read it through to the end. Regards, Denise

  42. Your letter to Mme Marois was excellent. Thank you for you well considered comments. I could not have been so diplomatic and I don’t even live in Quebec anymore!

  43. really nice letter but you pay into the idea that Canadians’ (national ?) origins include : Abenaki, Cree, Mohawk, Normand, Breton, Picard, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Indian, Vietnamese and, yes, English……but NO, not Jew or Arab as you noted. there is no Jewlandia or Arabistan . I know you meant not to mangle the concepts of national origin and religious belief , but still. An icon of Quebec culture, when asked about her bias-busting background confessed she grew up in Montreal amongst immigrants from all nations , including Poles, Germans, the Irish, Hungarians and Jews. Framing things that way allows for little light to enter .

  44. Je sens et lis très clairement votre compassion pour les personnes visées par cette charte des valeurs. Ma question est: Pourquoi serait-il discriminatoire de demander aux uns (confessions autres que catholiques) d’enlever leur symbole religieux quand ils enseignent ou servent l’État et tout à fait logique et dans le cours normal des choses de demander aux autres (religieuses et religieux catholiques dans les années 60) d’enlever leurs cornettes, capes et soutanes pour exercer le même genre de profession? Cet exercice nous l’avons fait en tant que collectivité dans les années 60 et selon moi il est encore d’actualité de refaire cet exercice. Ces enseignants et professionnels religieux ont emboîté le pas dans les années 60 afin de mettre leur engagement de l’avant dans la société québécoise. Je me demande ce qui nous empêche de faire la même chose aujourd’hui. Ne pas leur demander devient une discrimination en soi voire un mépris. La peur nous tenaille-t-elle à ce point? Avons-nous fait une gaffe monumentale dans les années 60 en exigeant celà de nos religieux catholiques? Quand on défend quelque chose on doit toujours faire un examen de conscience en ce qui a trait à nos motivations à défendre cette dite chose. Voulons-nous vraiment défendre cette chose ou ”attaquer” plutôt ce que l’on voit comme incarnant son opposant? Là est mon point, je n’ai pas de réponses. Mme Marois met quelque chose en lumière et cette lumière éclaire une chose qui fait mal…un paradoxe québécois.

    • Isabelle… Thank you for your clear, lucid comments. To answer your question, my principal objection to the Charter is that it polices INDIVIDUALS’ beliefs that privilege Christian secularism. 1. Despite the well-developed iconography and symbolism of Catholicism, Catholic believers — indeed, Christians generally — have never had to wear specific garments, hairstyles, or display specific symbols AS A CONDITION OF THEIR FAITH. (Yes, the regular and ordinary clergy do, but this is not what we are talking about.) The same is not true for certain observant Jews, Muslims or Sikhs. Their religions, as many of them understand it, demands that they wear yarmulkas, payot, hijabs, turbans, kirpans, etc. They cannot remove these things without offending their beliefs or removing themselves from their religious communities. That means that, if their are in or seek public employment — not just government work, but in schools, hospitals, universities, CEGEPs, CLSCs, etc. — they have to chose between employment and sacrilege. Christians, no matter how fervently they believe or whether they believe at all, do not face this dilemma. Consequently, the Charter privileges Christian-secular forms of identity performance while discriminating against members of those religions which REQUIRE their adherents to wear certain specific symbols and garments.

      Secondly, as I have noted (it is not an original thought, for it has been noted elsewhere) that what constitutes a religious symbol often depends on the individual’s most private beliefs. A headscarf is ONLY a hijab on the head of a Muslim woman; a beanie is ONLY a yarmulke on the head of a Jewish man. Consequently, in order to enforce the Charter the state MUST inquire into the individual’s private religious beliefs. Indeed, this violates both section 3 and section 9 of Québec’s own Charter of Human Rights. (And would be an interesting avenue for a legal challenge to the Charter, should it pass.)

      Finally, even with the Charter, Québec is far from a “religiously neutral” society or state, as I pointed out in my letter. Christian symbols. language and even temporality (for the want of a better word) are omnipresent and unavoidable, from Christmas and Good Friday to Jour de l’Action de grâce. I am sure that Christian-Secularists never think about this, since they produce their secularism from WITHIN this Christian discourse, but I do not know a single non-Christian québécois, whatever their beliefs in a deity, who is not made at least a little uncomfortable by this. We tolerate it because we understand the historical context of our society, and we respect that history, but we are always aware of it.

      And, as I note, the symbolism of the state itself is Christian symbolism. I have the flag of Québec displayed prominently and proudly in my living room in New Jersey, but I know that its symbolism represents the crucifixion and the Holy Trinity.

      For the state to demand personal conformity to a standard that it does not demand of itself is at least egregious, and possibly repressive. I am not saying that Québec — the state and the society — must erase the symbols of its history, but only that it is ethically obligated to extend to its non-Christian citizens the same toleration that we extend to it.

      • the crucifixion and the Holy Trinity.
        La croix au centre est effectivement un symbole chrétien mais y a pas de sainte-trinité la dedans ( les fleurs de lys sont pour notre origine française et le bleu serait le symbole du ciel bleu Québécois ( c’est ce que l’on nous apprend à l’école)

  45. Ethnics and money = non-catholique = pro Canada for the most part. The various Quebec government policies since 1970 have caused the most successful et5hnic cleansing in the history of mankind. Approx a million people have left Quebec since these policies have been instituted. This charter is just a continuation. The P.Q. has calculated how many voters of the Ethnic and money class they require to scare away to achieve their dream and do not imagine that they care how many families they split up. The blessing for us how are not of the pure blood(their words) is that there is no border that stops anyone from moving away and therefore no reason to create concentration camps or refugee camps. If there was this frontier non-catholic(non-francophone if you prefer) refugee camps would be bloated around the various borders. i still live in Montreal, i have chosen to stay, raise a family, have a business etc. i am not writing from away. i love that we have a caring society, i love the variety of the city, but do not fool yourself. Outside the city, if you are different whether ethnic or skin tone or sexual orientation etc. you are not welcome point finis. The proof is in the towns and farms of rural quebec. Areas that were settled by les autres have been re colonized by demographis, street names changes. Commercial signs erased and history has been rewritten. These are not signs of inclusion. The policyhas succeded in almost the entire provence, montreal has been the great failure of this policy. They will continue to try. Each person who leaves is another success to them and they know that eventually we will get tired of the continual harrassment.


    • If this is a true ethnic cleansing, why has there been so little said or written about it? Why are the “cleansed” so quiet? Why has the UN not taken notice? Why is the rest of Canada unconcerned?

      • Linda – please rest assured that the rest of Canada is NOT unconcerned. I’m in Alberta, and this is painful and frightening. What’s so insidious and wrong about this is that it is a fundamental fist step in e dehumanization of anyone who has different beliefs, and calling attention to those differences (visible expressions of faith) as being dangerous to the public good. I am moved deeply by the fact that it took a man with the name of Friedman to remind Mme Marois of the danger of starting down this road. In another society, in the 1930’s, Mr. Friedman would have been forced to be known as simply “Jude”, thus beginning the process of depersonifying him to an ultimate place where getting rid of him could be justified. God forbid it happening here, but that’s how it starts.

    • Frankly, in Nova Scotia, everyone I talk to IS concerned. I am afraid for my job, if this kind of nonsense ever moves out here. More importantly, I am afraid for my kids. What kind of Canada is this becoming? I love wearing hijab and being visible as a Muslim – it has sparked a number of excellent, in-depth conversations that I otherwise would not have had. Bravo Mr. Friedman!

  46. Excellent writing, Matt. May I suggest that you have the text translated into French and send both versions to Le Devoir and La Presse?

  47. Wearing a crucifix or religious ring is not a right. The government cannot be seen to endorse any religion or the existence of a god. This goes beyond that. This is about demonstrating leadership to our children who are indoctrinated from childhood into believing in such superstitious nonsense. The time has come for the rational to say ‘enough is enough’ .. and this is what this charter is about.

    The people who are so opposed to this, many of them are the same people who fought against same-sex marriage. They are the same ones who feel their divine bigotry allows them to deny a woman the right to have an abortion. If people want to wear their ghastly trinkets.. they can do so at home. Many places of employment have uniforms.. and so this shouldn’t be any different.

    I don’t want to be served by people wearing crosses and such. Every religion pretty much is against homosexuality, and i don’t need to be subjected to that reminder when I get services from a government employee.

    People are raising a stink because they think this is racism or discrimination. Religion is no race, and it has been given white glove treatment for so long. The times are changing, and religion is being left behind for the better.. and that’s why this charter is a brave new step forward for society.

    • Rob… I find your comment fascinating. If, as you say, “The people who are so opposed to this, many of them are the same people who fought against same-sex marriage. They are the same ones who feel their divine bigotry allows them to deny a woman the right to have an abortion,” then how do I fit into your worldview? Please read some of my other blog posts.

  48. Pingback: Dear Madame Marois | Kassem Mezher

      • No, that doesn’t make any sense. A hijab or a cross is usually a sign of active religious belief. The flag and the calendar just happen to have religious origins but they are not seen or used as such nowadays. Like names of towns and streets. Dead, inactive, leftover marks of a nearly extinct religious Quebec.

      • Perhaps that is the case for members if the Quebec Christian majority. For those of us who are not Christians or secular Christians, they are signs that Quebec is an explicitly Christian culture — even when secular — and that we are outsiders. We tolerate it because we understand Quebec’s Christian history.

  49. This is not a case of religeous articles, this is more like a dictator saying that you will pay attention and do as we tell you. I remember a guy like that in the 40s don’t you? How quick we forget.

  50. As a New Yorker with a special affinity to Québec (especially Montréal), I’ve been on the sidelines, watching this scenario unfold with great interest. Your piece on this matter is beautifully articulated and hits the mark. Well written, well said!

  51. I am greatly pleased by your letter to Mme Marois. I have read many of the comments and postings ahead of mine and it seems Mme Marois has started her own little secular war that I hope will not take any lives the way the war in Ireland did. Religion and politics are so personal expressions of individuality that to attempt to govern clothing to me seems a grave step backwards to communism. Next they will be regulating who should do what activity based on their capability, and an all out fascist movement will evolve if she is not stopped now. A little taste of control is a very dangerous thing in a politician hands, it corrupts and conceits the real idealism as to why they were elected in the first place.
    Thank you for taking the time to get people talking and really thinking about what they are attempting to do.
    History repeats itself so they say, but a highway to historical oppression is where this is headed.
    By the way, I am fluently bilingual, born and raised in Ottawa, of Irish immigrant parents. My mother in the 1960’s thought that French would be very important in the future and fought hard to have us, English children, educated in an all French school, not these French immersion schools but the real hard core you were punished if you spoke English in the school yard, in the halls, on the bus going home…etc My parents were not able to help us with our homework at first until they themselves learned French which they did. Language and identity are what make us unique and individuals. Mme Marois I fear is starting down a slippery slope to having the politicians as “bergers” and her country folk as “des moutons” Thank you again for your letter.

  52. I agree with Rob, this is a conversation that needs to be had before it is too late. I do not want my children fed Halal Food at her CPE or be taught by a woman wearing a Hijab teaching my daughter that she is better than her because she practices her religion. There is no religion is schools and there should be no religion in the public sector. Even Christmas is gone from the public sector..we bend..why can’t you! Happy Early Holidays from Quebec!

    • Please explain these things to me… What is the danger of your child eating Halal food? How is a teacher wearing a hijab teaching your child that she is better? What is the danger of the hijab?

    • There is no religion in schools? You must not live in Quebec. Quebec has a mandatory “values” course which teaches about religion. Ontario doesn’t. Quebec funds Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Fundamentalist and other schools equally out of YOUR tax dollars. While other provinces have a Catholic system (because of the Constitution) taxpayers there choose which system they support. Not in Quebec. Religious private schools get your public tax money whether you like it or not. So much for the myth that Quebec wants to be secular. Worried about creeping fundamentalism? The problem isn’t with your kippa-wearing doctor or hijab-wearing daycare worker…. it lies in the hypocrisy of a government that claims to want to promote a secular state, but throws public funds at religious education. I don’t have a problem with funding religious schools so much, but I find it hard to take this “higher mission” seriously when $milllions go to non-secular education costs from our taxes. If that’s what the government wants, then just stop paying money to private religious schools.

      This is all about using bigotry, ignorance and racism to win votes for the PQ. The government is so focused on grabbing power, that they are willing to set people against each other. They are appealing to the lowest common denominator.

      Quebecers like to think that they are somehow more sophisticated and in tune than their fellow Canadians. Hardly. The hatred that we are now seeing displayed in the streets to people who wear religious clothing or items is being flamed by this Charter.

      And if you seriously believe that these people will simply comply, you’re fooling yourself. They will leave this place, and quickly, taking their skills, education, families, jobs, taxes, and spending power with them, much to the detriment of Quebec. And we will deserve all of the negative aspects that this brings. We will have brought it on ourselves for our shortsightedness and small-minded thinking.

      • Just to clarify how provincial funding works for private religious schools in Quebec: the government provides a subsidy to the school per child, toward only the secular part of the curriculum. And in so doing, the government pays less for that child than if the same child were in a public school. Last time I checked….

      • A teacher wearing a hijab is sending a message to my child that woman are inferior to men!
        If I have to choose between freedom of religion and Equality between men and women. I choose the latter!
        There is a reason Turkey band hijab’s in it University’s and Public-sector in 1935 that Tunisia had once band it and France banded it in school and the UK is also looking into it.

        You must be aware of the polarization and radicalization happening in the Arab world and North Africa today.
        Where one saw very little hijab’s in Egypt a few years ago now they’re everywhere.

        You must also be aware of Quebec’s large North Africa Immigration.

        And you are right to say that Quebec is littered with symbols of Catholicism but that’s our history, this is about our future and how to move forward .

        Modern Quebec is a society that has torn away the chains of religion. It is normal that such a society has a debate on whether or not to allow people who wear overt religious symbols to work where they represent the State.

        I’m always sad to read how fast Anglo Québecois love to call there fellow Quebeckers xenophobe and prone to totalitarianism.
        How mush they love Quebec well at least that little part of Montreal they call home. How they hate the language laws and the fascist PQ. How Rene Levesque is somehow now a great man as if we don’t remember all the things the gazette would wright.

        As a French Québécois its getting very tiring of being the victim of Anglo Quebeckers white man’s burden superiority complex….

      • I teach. I wear hijab. I run the Gay/Straight Alliance at my school. Incidentally, one of the things I have taught is ‘Healthy Living’ (sex-ed to you non-Nova Scotians), where I was vocally supportive of birth control and a woman’s right to choose. I think I have proved my “open-mindedness credentials” time and time again…and guess what? The headscarf never got in my way.

      • It’s great you are doing all those things. Would it be so hard to do it without the hijab though? Can we have an agreement not to display religious beliefs in school? Is it so hard to do that compromise?

  53. Thank you. Your letter is all the more poignant and important because it comes from a member of the “majority.” This is one of those moments where the ugliness, hypocrisy and hatred of my country is so heavy it’s hard to find the words to fight back; I first felt like that when I saw white working class people burning a Mohawk in effigy in Chateauguay during the Oka crisis, because they couldn’t get to work in the morning. Then responses like this remind me that that side, whether they like it or not, doesn’t own what it means to Québécois (or Canadian).

    • Thanks, Mr. Friedman.

      In response to Emily Moore-Laflamme: I think it is good for my students to see an overtly religious woman standing up for equal rights for all — against racism, against homophobia, against discrimination in all its forms. I think it makes them question what is and is not intrinsic to religious belief. I think it shows that one can be a person of deeply held religious conviction, whose religious convictions are not only not opposed to equality, but inspire the believer to work for the cause of equality.

      On a personal note, it is good for me to always have my convictions reflected back at me. When I stand up for equality, knowing that I am visible as a Muslim, it makes me remember that equality is an essential part of my faith. I am aware, always, that my behaviour — good or bad, noble or ignoble — is going to reflect on my religion. This inspires and reminds me to always work for justice.

      Lest you think that I am anomalous as a Muslim, I would like to point out that there are many Muslims and Muslim organisations working for equality. Just a quick list: Omid Safi; the organisation Muslims for Progressive Values; the Unity Mosque; Amina Wadud; Zarqa Nawaz; Scott Kugle (whose book ‘Homosexuality in Islam’ is a materpiece); Khaled Abou El Fadl; the gay-empowering groups Al-Fatiha and Queer Jihad. There are many many many more. Some of us wear “Muslim clothes”, some don’t. Our clothing, either way, does not and should not define us.

      In the end… I LIKE my hijab! Don’t you think everyone should get to wear the clothes they like?

  54. Bonjour,

    Vous dites que Marois “presume to look into their (aux immigrants) minds and souls” et semblez trouver cela mal. Mais dans vos derniers paragraphes, vous accusez Marois de faire, dire, entreprendre certaines choses, ce qui, selon moi, est aussi presume to look into her (à Marois) mind and soul. Entreprenez peut-être une vraie conversation avec Marois et peut-être que les présomptions se clarifieront. Je suis une femme du monde, totalement bilingue (français-anglais), d’un père fédéraliste anglais et d’une mère indépendantiste francophone, j’ai voyagé beaucoup aussi. Je suis indécise quant à la Chartre, mais il faudra d’une manière ou d’une autre que le débat se fasse. N’accusez pas sans avoir plus étudié la question. Vos arguments sont trop faibles pour me convaincre. Par exemple, avez-vous lu le Coran? Que pensez-vous d’Elisabeth Bradinter?

  55. Hi Matt
    Well done Matt. I’m what you call an half-half. That is a product of a really french canadian father and an English mother from Ontario. I was born in Québec but I don’t know anymore who I am in this Québec. I love your letter. So True.

  56. May I suggest that you read the REAL Quebec story. Not the one thaught in our school system, which was rewriting to satisfied the needs of the conquerors.

    “La bataille de londres” avec frederic bastien

    Your grandfather must have been an amazing man. Do you really believe he would be against this chart if he was alive today? He lived in the times where the Catholic church had a strong hold here, and see where it lead them.

  57. My late mother, Betty Palk was the first woman in the Prov Quebec to own land in her own name.
    Her five proud daughters grew up in Montreal knowing this. I am the middle daughter. I am the nurse who graduated from the Royal Victoria Hospital which sits atop Mount Royal. We were taught not to be judgemental. Our patients arrived at our hospital vulnerable. They came from every culture.
    I felt so proud to be a Canadian and not a racist. Deep inside my nurses gut I know that this Charter is wrong, it is racist and makes me feel ashamed. But, I also know that the people of Quebec would never let this pass. It is so uncharitable.
    Thank you for your very fine letter.
    Nancy Hiron
    London, ON

  58. Bravo! This letter embodies the Quebec I know and admire. There will always be the negative impressions that all outsiders have of Quebec but there are those like yourself that put it into words so eloquently makes me proud to have the province of Quebec as part of Canada. Once again Bravo! This as an outsider that is as English as they come in Canada.

  59. I very rarely reply to articles that I happen upon but couldn’t stop myself after realizing how eloquently written this was and how much this issue has bothered me in the recent past. I am a proud english catholic quebecer that grew up on the outskirts of Quebec City and can proudly speak 2 languages and would be even more proud if I had the chance to learn another. I’ve lived in montreal for 10 years and now teach science at high school. We teach acceptance and tolerance and the right to personal beliefs and values. How dare the government determine what is permitted in terms of religious expression? Why should I, as a catholic, be allowed to continue to wear a cross around my neck when an equally educated and responsible teacher is made to feel less because they do not have the same religious rights as I do?

    The ability of someone to do their job is not determined by what the wear on their heads…but what is in it.

    • Yes! I would be proud to teach alongside someone like you. One of the reasons we decided to send our daughter to school rather than to homeschool her was to expose her to beliefs, values, and ideas that we wouldn’t think to present to her…or that we outright disagreed with. I think she will be a stronger person for interacting with things that her upbringing at home might not give her.

  60. I am a non-French québécoise who thinks the charter is bâclée, on so many levels, but mostly because it creates categories among citizens, stigmatizes minorities, and in using the word “nous” to legitimize it, the PQ are defining who is a Quebecer (non-religious, small-town francophones) and who isn’t (the rest of this great province). I lived in a handful of places before settling down in Quebec City, I love it here, and I feel like if I don’t belong here where do I belong? But God, this makes me sick. What right does this minority government have to presume to speak for all Quebecers and define who is a Quebecer and who isn’t?

    This letter needed to be written. it’s great. It brought tears to my eyes, frankly.

    Et pour batir un pays, il faut pas oublier d’inclure
    les citoyens des autres ethnies et leurs cultures…
    Alors j´sais pas ce que t´en penses
    Mais pour moi ça a ben du sens
    De faire quelque chose de rassembleur
    Qui ferait d´nous des innovateurs
    Une société plus équitable
    Où le développement serait durable
    Et là c´est sûr que j´cocherais “oui”
    Pour un pays…

    (Les Cowboys Fringants, Lettre à Lévesque)

  61. Bien dit! Bravo à toi pour avoir les mots pour dire ce que je pense de la charte des valeurs. You expressed exactly what I feel!

  62. This is an excellent article very well written and to the point.. I would highly suggest you send this to the Montreal Gazette
    Your cousin Mark from Montreal

  63. This Charter is also bringing all the ROC Quebec-bashers and bitter ex-Montrealers out of the woodwork. “Well what do you expect from those arrogant, racist, bitter, English-hating francophones?” I’ve always had good counter-arguments for them before– genre, “Well, if it was your language that was at risk of being co-opted by another one, wouldn’t you want to do something or other to defend it?” or “Just what is so damn hard about learning French? Half of Montreal is tri-lingual.” But this Charter business is playing into all the frustrating stereotypes about xenophobic Quebecers that I’ve always tried to deflect. Now the best argument I can come up with is, “You do realize it’s a minority government and only about 40% of the population is in favour, right?” I feel like I’m dealing with a member of my family who has done something terrible. On the one hand, it’s awful, but on the other hand, Quebec *is* my province…

  64. Brilliant. You have coalesced all the thoughts I’ve had on this topic, but with care, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity. For my family, from NS to AB, you have inspired consideration and admiration. Bless Canada and Quebec. And us all.

  65. Interesting read. Your main mistake was to write it in english. Many Quebecers won’t bother reading it or can’t because the main language in Quebec is still French. Although i disagree with you, i would still recommend it to anyone interested in the debate. Here’s is my opinion: religion has absolutely no place in public service. None. The small sacrifice of not displaying it during working hours is nothing compared to the very important principle of a neutral state. If a religion can’t allow it’s followers such freedom, such compromise, then that religion is dangerous. I am very proud of the relatively non-religious society i live in. Catholic christianity is pretty much dead here. There are marks left by history, street and town names, empty churches, etc. but it’s dead in the average quebecer mind, i can assure you. Which is why your argument about the chart being unfair by privileging christians has no power. So, i will support the chart, finally a government is strong enough and brave enough to address these issues (they really should remove the cross at the assembly though). And I don’t even like Pauline Marois at all. Anyway. My advice: get you letter translated if you even care about the debate.

    • je suis d’accord avec toi Emily, mais ici, dans ce blogue, nous sommes peu. Je ne voie rien de mal pourtant à ce que le Québec soit reconnu une fois pour toute comme un îlot résolument laïque dans un Canada pieux. Un autre exemple de société distincte. Les immigrants iront ou ils se sente le mieux.

      • Nous invitons les immigrants venir au Québec pour nous aider accroître notre état économique et par la suite on leurs dit de s’en aller où ils se sentent le mieux??

    • Well yes that is YOUR opinion. If someone wants to wear a turban or hijab it’s THEIR choice in a god damn free country. They are not preaching religion while in public service, they are doing their job as a teacher, doctor, whatever. The fact that a turban or a hijab stands out to you makes you a judgmental person and not progressive at all.

    • Emily, it is extremely difficult, bordering on impossible, for a secular person to understand that religious people do not have a choice to go bearheaded. We are not in a position to judge if that is a good thing, bad thing or dangerous thing. Suggesting so is being judgemental – and that defies a law in everyone’s religion and is itself a negative character trait. I’d sooner fire a judgemental person than one with a crucifix around their neck. We only have to strive to understand that ipso facto, the laws of orthodoxy require certain attire.

      For goodness sakes, the Pope would not go bearheaded. So we cannot possibly ask for a religious person to remove anything. They cannot. So once we wrap our heads around ‘they cannot’, we must then understand that by prohibiting religious head gear such as hijabs, kippas, and the like, that we are ‘selcting out’ specific ethnicities from working in public places. Just like saying we don’t hire homosexual teachers or doctors, because we fear how they might influence our children.

      Do you see the parallel? As we cannot ask a homosexual to remove his sexuality in a public job and think of himself as homosexual only in his private time, so we cannot ask a religious person to remove what their religion requires them to wear.

      The key to living in such a society is having mutual respect for a fellow human being, and having enough self confidence to understand that we cannot be negatively influenced by what is on someone’s head or around their necks. These people are not out to convert anyone to their ways! We should care more about what is IN their heads.

      I wouldn’t dare to ask the Pope to remove his headgear if he wanted to be a doctor here, although there was one person way above in the blog who said, yes, he would expect the Pope to do that!

  66. Well written. Congrats Matt. In the past year, Quebec has become a big joke to a lot of my friends abroad starting with the soccer fiasco… Now, this charter will costs us millions of dollars for what? To make some people hate or love others more. Mme Marois should be arrested for creating what I personally see as racism.

  67. Wow !!!!! Thank u matt!! Tu l’as très bien dit !! Juste bravo pour ton courage, ta sincérité et ta bonne volonté !! Mille fois bravo!!

  68. Too bad so many Canadians refuses to acknowledge Quebec’s as a society, it’s own values and pay some respect. Quebecker (the original Canadians called Canayens back then) will always struggle for their identity that was stollen to them 250 years ago by the english with the flag and now the national anthem.

    • Marc. I, like so many others, am a first generation immigrant to Canada and Quebec. I understand that francophone Quebecois have some beef with what someone else did to their ancestors, hundreds of years ago. I’m sorry for their suffering, but it wasn’t me who did it. Can you explain to me what makes me a worthy target of retaliations? (I’m not an anglophone. I originate from Denmark). How much have you suffered under anglophones, yourself? How is it possible to steal an identity?

  69. I am, just like you sir, a proud québécoise! Although i was born in Vietnam, i call this province my home. I hope that your letter gets to Mme. Marois. Bravo M. Friedman d’avoir si bien exprimé sur papier ce que la majorité d’entre nous pensons! Et merci.

  70. I think that all who oppose this charter are very mislead in the belief that Islamist are not among you to propagate their beliefs. I imagine none of you are realizing how much issues this is causing in Europe and how they are trying to deal with a growing problem called Islam and their religious principles. Oh wait, yes these 5 million plus Muslim in France have all very well integrated. Go ahead keep believing they are here to be model québécois or better yet model Canadian’s

  71. Sorry but this article was low on reasoning and long on pavlovian leftist mantras. It makes certain overreaching assumptions such as it is good for secular society to accept religious fanaticism in the name of “diversity” (whatever that is), or otherwise it is “dominant” and colonialistic (whatever that means).

    The authorship is excellent – no question. But the dearth of meaning that can appeal to the brain as opposed to language games appealing to the guts, is the obvious deficit of this piece.

    • Colonialism, diversity and cultural dominance are all well-studied social or historical phenomena. You can look them up in a dictionary, or on Wikipedia. What does “pavlovian [sic] leftist mantras” mean?

      And, speaking of “overreaching assumptions”, your second sentence is premised on:
      —”society” is “secular” — Mr. Friedman points out that the Charter would inappropriately cement certain vestiges of a Catholic society in one that is now, at the very least, non-Christian. He also explains how he values a society that is “inclusive” and “open”, instead of one specifically “secular” (that is, entirely areligious).
      —”accept religious fanaticism” — i.e. rejecting the PQ’s proposed charter means accepting fanaticism. But considering the actual displays under discussion, then for this premise to hold, yarmulke-wearing (for instance) would have to be indicative of fanaticism. That is not commonly accepted, and you haven’t made any effort to argue it.

      Winston Churchill said, “a fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” If you have no axe to grind, why not stay on the subject Mr. Friedman has raised, and meet his points with reason instead of derision?

      • Yes ask the priminister of England how he now feels about the problems he is having to deal with, England being such an accommodating country.

      • The US is a country with many, many faults but one good thing about it is that it has slowly, slowly become a more or less integrated society. Wave after wave of immigrants were treated badly and in the end became valuable co-citizens. I think that Canada and the UK are now experiencing more of this kind of thing than before when they were reasonably homogeneous societies (English and French are both Northern European and closely related) except for the First Nations people they displaced. But now people from all over the world come to Canada as they do to the US and perhaps Canada and, more particularly, Quebec, are not prepared for the era of globalization? I completely understand the desire not to have one’s own culture swamped, but forced assimilation and bigotry towards those different from ourselves can be an ugly thing. Instead of forbidding people to wear their religious symbols or garb, how about an education campaign to help Quebecers understand other with different (non-secular, non-Christian) beliefs?

  72. Interesting read, Mr. Friedman, very well written.
    Out of curiosity, what do you think of the suggested “Charte de la laïcité” proposed by the CAQ. I think a lot of Quebeckers are in agreement with this version of the charter, and I personally think it would be a reasonable compromise. It keeps the focus on secularism and does not mix in the idea of “Quebec values”.
    First, it suggests to legally declare Quebec as a secular state because right now it is not written anywhere from a judicial standpoint. It would apply the concept of a secular state in several ways.
    It would prohibit wearing religious symbols during working hours, but ONLY for state employees in position of authority (i.e judges, police officers, primary and high school teachers). CEGEP & university professors, nurses, doctors, and office clerks, for example, would NOT be affected by this charter.
    It would then put a framework on what an “accomodement raisonable” is, and that particularly in terms of whether or not it incurs extra cost to the state. For example, if halal food is to be more expensive than regular food, then no, it is not an accomodement “raisonnable” to provide all CPEs with it. If it’s the same price, no problem! Another example would be the use of a separate room for prayers in public schools. If there are unutilized spaces available, no problem. If it requires taking a room that would otherwise serve the school’s primary purpose, teaching, and convert it into a room with religious purposes, then it’s not ok. Even though it might not be perfect, it should be noted that this attempt to give a framework is to avoid intolerant abuses that might occur WITHOUT a framework (hem hem! Hérouxville).
    Finally, it would recognize that the province does carry a catholic heritage, and is part of our society’s patrimoine. This would explain the continuity of long established holidays that were originally religious but no longer are in people’s minds.

    I thought your article was well thought out, and therefore I would like to hear your opinion on this proposal.

  73. Mr. Freidman,
    Your letter brings a breath of fresh air in this crummy atmosphere!
    Thank you very much!
    I strongly believe in a society whose people can express their individual liberties. Whether these liberties have a religious flavour or not! One’s liberty starts and ends with that of one’s neighbour.
    In my perception, society is responsible to protect this liberty and the limits between each neighbour. That is why there is a basic need for laws. To guide its people in the appreciation of the nature of one’s liberty and of one’s responsibility towards one’s neighbour’s liberty!
    The government is, for me, the body who holds the charge of balancing each individual’s liberty. It is a very complex task! I realize that it may be!
    Nonetheless, if respect is at the basis of initiatives, the results should prove to be right. Each of us also holds a responsibility in this too! We need to express our opinions and council on our perception of what a ‘‘just society’’ is.
    I wish there were more people expressing their perception of what they want Québec to offer its population ……… at an individual level as well as at a global level.
    I am not an Anglophone and you must have noticed it in my writing. Nor am I a scholar. But I wanted to put to public reflection my taught besides yours as they are great and much better articulated than mine!
    Have a nice day and may our Québec evolve further in the open and welcoming society we wish it to be and become!


  74. Forgive me, but here is a copy-paste of a post I composed in response to a friend who shared this blog post with me. Forgive the references to you in the third-person, but I don’t want to rewrite it.

    With respect, here it is:

    It’s a well-written and sincere article. I think there are stronger arguments against this absurd new “Charter of Values”, but I’ll leave them aside. Also, Friedman is clearly a left-winger who isn’t able to connect the dots between his own political orientation and its constant “progression” towards further totalitarianism – manifested in what we’re saying now with this tyrannical proposal to prohibit “religious symbols” for employees of the provincial public service. Praising politicians like Levesque and then denouncing this latest proposal illustrates the disconnect in his mind. Lastly, I think the author greatly miscalculates the character of contemporary society in Quebec, which he describes as open-minded, pluralistic and tolerant. Given Quebec’s hardcore leftist orientation (both socially and economically), it’s unsurprising that so many Quebecers (over 60%, I believe) are sympathetic to this proposal. I think Friedman suffers from a bubble-world view of Quebec, where his local experiences in Montreal are assumed to represent the character of broader Quebec – they do not. The Quebec of his mind doesn’t seem to be the same as today’s real world Quebec.

    • Thank you for the comments. Friedman will try not to speak about himself too often in the third-person.

      Although I am, as you note, a “left-winger” (I played defence in youth hockey), I really don’t think either that the current Parti Quebecois is much of a left wing party (its economic policy is more of a Keynsian-inflected neoliberalism, in my view, and the appeal to nationalism has historically been a strategy of the political right), or that the Charter is an issue that is easily domesticated by traditional right-left categories. Indeed, I see it more as an egregious failure of those categories.

      My experiences of the “broader Quebec” are fairly extensive. While I neither have quantitative data, nor put much confidence in what Joan Scott called “the evidence of experience,” anecdotally, I have noted that most of the Quebecois I have met from outside Montreal have too much on the plates (like everyone else) to spend much time either worrying about the sovereignty question or what constitutes “Quebec values.”

      They/we do trust our elected representatives and leaders, however. And, having delegated them to speak for us/them, we tend to be invested in their policies. I suspect that most people in Quebec, even those who support the Charter, did not even conceive that there was a “problem,” or that Quebec’s values were threatened, until Mme. Marois told them so. It certainly was not an issue in the last election.

  75. Since I have been fighting almost my whole life against oppression against myself for being gay by religious groups I am 100% in favour of the proposed Charter of Rights.

  76. I hope you are sarcastic when you write to Mme Marois: “I know that you speak and read English very well”. We all know her spoken english is horrible. So, you are either sarcastic (mocking) or your standards for “good english” is very, very low.

  77. Matt

    Well done – however, while you are writing and rationalizing with your head it is difficult to change one’s heart. Like the blond hair blue eye society one dictator wanted years ago here the problem will exist until our society is totally “pur laine”

    • You might be right that this is an emotional, rather than an intellectual issue.

      Having said that, I don’t think that the category of “ethnic cleansing,” or worse, is terribly relevant here. While I agree that nationalism is extraordinarily problematic — and I’m thinking of writing something about that while I have everyone’s attention — and has been a central component of some of the worst tragedies in human history, I’m not sure that it is the only way into this issue.

      But, yes, Mme. Marois does seem to be playing to identity and base emotions. As some (very few, in fact) of the comments suggest, it can be difficult for the head to appeal to the heart.

      Many thanks for your comment.

      • Mat, after spending the past 40 years integrated into francophone culture, I am supporting that Les is precisely correct, not “might” be right, ie that striving for french nationalism is at an emotional level. The proof from an intellectual perspective is that what they are striving for has no logical explanation.
        In the old Grade 5 history book, in the chapter describing the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, when the French were seized by the British, it is said that General Montcalm proclaimed that he will get his country back one day…..Just watch the local news every single day in this Province and you will see that this is all that they are striving for…to fulfill Montcalm’s dream all these years later…and they will never stop until they succeed.

  78. I never comment on opened letters, or shared posts from Facebook, but this is so beautifully written. As a proud Canadien-Québecois bilingue I salute you. Pour notre province – La Belle Province- et plus particulièrement nos valeurs en tant que citoyens, Bravo.
    – RB

  79. As a new Immigrant in Quebec, I would like to write a few words for your responds. When we are living in a region we have to respect the law, role and regulation, come to the point, Quebec is a French province and we have to speak french and learn french here, as an immigrant I know it how the immigrants living in other canadian province and in Quebec totally different, we not feel like an immigrant in Quebec it is like our second home. but in other English province we are immigrant people is different totally situation is different for immigrants. I like Quebec and French language, the law and roles of Quebec.

  80. It may be…we are all being “played”. People and their behaviour are well documented, and researched…so those in power use that information to gain control. It may not be a “sure thing” for them to get elected by using this to gain a few more ridings…but what if this is the only “card to play” for them? Then they will do it. Because all other parties play the game the same way.

    Our emotions are irrelevant to them. People in power will toy with us any way they can to get what they want…and tell themselves “the end justifies the means”.

    Andrew Coyne
    “They don’t have to win most of Quebec public opinion over to their side on this. They only have to get enough people in the right ridings. It’s, so it’s a hail mary pass, but it’s also pretty targeted.”

    Peter Mansbridge 5:15
    “…it really seemed to me that…they actually want to be defeated on it. They want this to drive them to an election.”

    Chantel Hebert
    “They want an election and they want it…if possible, after a municipal election. So December 9th is the window. And why do they want an election in the cold, at the end of the fall?…because otherwise the election…it’s a minority government…will come in the spring with the budget. It will be about the economy, and they have a very poor economic record so they want to choose their ballot box question.
    It’s not as if they have a variety of choices. They think this is their best shot. So they’ll be looking at polls to see if they get the momentum they need. And if they do, I suspect they’ll be sorely tempted to try it.”

  81. So Matt is now censoring critical comments. My comment just got deleted. Is this the same Matt for “tolerance”, “diversity”, “anti-privilege”, etc.?

    No tolerance to dissenters? No diversity of opinion here? Use your position of power and dominance to silence others?

    • No, Leaf. I am censoring abusive and insulting comments. I welcome dissent, but I don’t welcome insults, either to me or anyone else who comments. If I did not respect the diversity that you bring to the discussion, I wouldn’t have approved any of your comments.

      • Overleaf is only commenter whose comments I did not approved. There were two which were insulting and abusive. I think you can find a number of pro-charter comments here.

  82. Why is it necessary for you to spend so much time justifying your right to respond to Mme. Marois by stating how far back your family’s roots are in Quebec? You know you can never go back far enough if you don’t have a ‘french’ surname. You are otherwise considered ‘mixed’ and none-the-less have no real credibility with her and her ilk. Just the way it is from my experience as mixed French and Irish and I can trace my French roots through the women in my family back to the 1600’s and les filles du roi. We’ll never be accepted as pure laine and the Charter of Values reflects this attitude.

  83. Brilliant job. I really must commend you on this excellent analysis explaining the ACADEMIC AND INTELLECTUAL reasons for the emergence of the charter (small “C”). In MY opinion it is more cynical than that. I enjoy the philosophical debates about the merits of a neutral/secular state and the unavoidable inequalities and imperfections that trying to achieve such a state will cause. Nevertheless, I smell something more cynical going on, something more political and Machiavellian in nature. Two words: Winning Conditions. The hard-core wing of the PQ has either abandoned it, set up more radical smaller parties OR in some cases, decided to let Marois live for now as leader. In return Marois has been forced to sell her soul to the hard line element. They want a referendum but they know the appetite for another referendum is very, very low right now. In fact it is off the radar. The main goal of the PQ government is to start creating these winning “conditions”. This policy is a STATED political strategy for the PQ. They do not disguise it. Winning the right to govern Quebec – for the PQ is NOT about fixing the economy and creating jobs – real jobs that come from investing in Quebec. They will not be concerned with improving the lamentable infrastructure, nor will they really care about fixing the corruption in this province (unless they can stick it to federalist parties). No. Make no mistake about this. The secret agenda (not so secret) is to start manufacturing and incubating the WINNING CONDITIONS that will give them even SOME reason to hope that a referendum has an outside shot at success. Why do you think the Quebec Soccer Federation was allowed (with covering fire from Marois and the PQ) to deny the right to Sikh (male) children playing organized soccer? The answer is a) there IS a little underbelly of racism in Quebecois culture – to deny it is lying to yourself and b) so that Marois and the PQ can USE the response from Ottawa and the CANADIAN Soccer Association as yet another instance of our Canadian masters telling Quebec what to do! Saying Sikh can play soccer – in their back yards and not with other kids (a comment directly from the head of the QSF) – MUST be referred to as racist. Ignorance is racism too. In the end Marois got her reaction and painted a tableau that the Quebecois were once again being backed into a corner. Being forced to capitulate and abandon a law or regulation that the PQ brainwashed them to believe is part of their “pure laine” DNA. Disgusting. Using innocent children for political gain.

    Now the charter (small “C”). I have no doubt there are some intellectuals and academics that had pure intentions relating to the creation of a “neutral state”. The point is that, once again – the PQ is not really interested (that much) in the altruistic merits of a neutral state. WINNING CONDITIONS is what they are interested in. Maybe the intellectuals and academics were even used themselves, because what the PQ really wants (and what they got THIS time) is UNIVERSAL condemnation for certain parts of the charter that go way overboard. When Ottawa, on the same day the charter (did I specify that I am treating it with the disrespect it deserves – with a small “C”) is revealed, threatens legal action: they are taking the bait and falling into the PQ trap. When Premiers, members of provincial legislatures, academics, media personalities, editorial boards, and columnists in English Canada express their shock and outrage, it allows the PQ to turn to the people and say “You see! It is us against them. It has always been us against them! They do not understand us. We will fight for Quebec and for you!”

    The point is that if Quebeckers were investors – they would be classic contrarians. We almost purposely think UNLIKE Canada at different times and in different circumstances (if that makes sense). Quebeckers are NOW more likely to SUPPORT this absurdity because people are telling them they should NOT! What a mess.

    This is the start of an end-game and it is all about Winning Conditions. Make no mistake – for the PQ – the end will OF COURSE justify the means. It is sad and counterintuitive, but they will be happy if MORE highly educated, high income-earning English-speakers and ethnics LEAVE Quebec or decide to never come here in the first place. That is Phase II in the Path Towards Winning Conditions. For us Montrealers, we are scared sh!tless at what Phase III and beyond will mean for us. It is getting difficult living here.

  84. Bravo!
    (Je vous écris en français pour les raisons que vous avez expliquées.)

    Je trouve votre lettre intelligente, sensée et incroyablement juste! Je souhaite de tout mon coeur qu’elle se rende à Mme Marois et qu’elle fasse réfléchir notre gouvernement! Votre vision du Québec est celle que je partage, je vis à Montréal parce que la diversité culturelle est tellement enrichissante et si un jour on interdit cette diversité, je ne voudrai plus vivre ici!
    Aujourd’hui j’ai vraiment honte de faire partie des Québécois francophones. Je trouve que ceux qui souhaitent avoir un Québec exclusivement blanc, catholique et d’expression française sont des éléments extrêmement contre-productifs. J’aimerais qu’ils fassent l’effort de cesser de voir les différences pour des défauts et qu’ils en profitent pour enrichir leur culture et leur façon de penser.

    Je ne vous remercierai jamais assez pour avoir exprimé votre point de vue de façon si brillante!

  85. I was six years old when I moved to Montreal from Scarborough with my Catholic Mother and Protestant Father. I grew up observing. I noticed that the guy who took our garbage out, down three flights of stairs was French. Our cleaning lady was French; how I loved Antoinette. When I was eight my parents punished me for saying that I did not like the French. My best girlfriend was fluent in both English and French (from having attended a French School) and whenever she was called upon to speak French with someone I remember feeling so PROUD to be her bestfriend. As a child I was envious of the people who could speak both English and French.
    I can kind of see why the French would feel pissed at the English. I compare it to my perceived anger that inner city black youth feel toward their white peers in the States. Or the long battle for the Jews to have their own homeland.
    The French in Quebec would, I think, like to have their own country. I can get that.

    We don’t really want anyone to break up this family.
    We really don’t want them to leave us.

    I cannot tell the people of a Quebec majority what to do anymore than they can dictate what I wear on MY body.
    I look back at me as that very young racist child, I realize that I was simply an innocent sponge for the environment that imprinted itself upon my behavior and belief system.
    I stopped thinking that way the moment I left home.

    Maybe if we let them leave home their thinking might change.

  86. M. Friedman, you are superb. One other thought: Mme. Marois has possibly invented this as a wedge issue in her quest for separation. Not a very fair fight, is it?

  87. Racisme ??? O.k ça d’air qui en a qui on rien compris aux québécois! .
    Maintenant la charte : est pas mal radical merci ,mais aux dernières nouvelles c pas trop rose ce qui se passe dans
    L’monde quand on parle de religions … ( sourtout le mononk de ma blonde qui dit q’on vit dans le peche pis qu’on s’en vas direct en enfer apres ca )… Hahhiiihhi
    c juste un premier essaie pour concrétiser un vieu rêve utopique … ou tout le monde seraient des frères .Y’as tu kekchose de si compliquée la dedans… Pis oui nos grand pères étais malencontreusement raciste ,y vivaient dans’l bois aussi… Nous les jeunes quebecois on est pas Raciste . Demande a Raghid ?pis on vit dans le bois ( évolution)! Et les jeunes Quebecois sont vivant et plus intelo que jamais on en a vu de toute les couleurs!!
    Pauline est avec les Jeunes et les vieux . C’est à nous a apprendre aux vieux singe à faire des nouvelles grimaces .
    Demain nous appartiens tous
    Vive le Québec libre!

    Now for m’y fellow Canadians you should stop freaking out over this yes tabou but geniunly good heart attempte to àn old utopic dream where all Man Would be brothers and learn french!

  88. It’s in the design for retaining power. Politics 101. Create conflict, raise ire, rally those who would re-elect, remain in power. This happens everywhere – including and especially here in the states. It’s lame but it’s typical, expensive and keeps focus away from what’s really important…

    I wouldn’t worry too much, Queben. Marois isn’t taken very seriously by anyone outside the party – so her political aspirations will be short lived. I would never call her a bafoon or idiot, she did get elected afterall. But she sure can play those roles really well. Reminds me of Bush in some ways. We survived that fiasco, Quebec will survive this one. Just turn up to vote to keep this waste of time and money from happening again…

    Well written, Matt. Can you believe she’s reasonable and suspect her motives at the same time? To be reasonable could preclude acting on ignorance – but suspect motives would by definition, demonstrate the opposite of reasonable. Just sayin’

  89. “Though not explicitly prohibited by the Charter, they are not excluded, either. Will Jewish, Sikh and Muslim public employees be forced to visit the barber to hold onto their jobs”
    What a stupid idea based on nothing.

  90. Mr Friedman
    I completetly disagree with your letter the pluralism you proclaim is just an uthopia. I am not canadian and strongly beleive that the migrant must adapt himself to his or her new country not in the other way around. Canada is a land of liberties can we say the same about yemen, saudi arabia, pakistan afghanistan, north corea etc etc. Or do you think that in those countries you can overtly express your secular ideals or a christians can have a mass in Saudi Arabia ??? or a jew can request to the government permit to build a synagogue in islamabad??

    • Godofredo,
      Didn’t your parents ever teach you that “two wrongs don’t make a right”? Just because other countries are not inclusive, doesn’t mean we should follow their examples. Personally (and I say this as an observant Muslim) I would LOVE to see growing religious/non-religious pluralism around the world.

  91. very well written and its speaks to the point I applaud you sir I doubt I could have written something half as good and I believe I would have had an extremely difficult time being polite to Marois under the circumstances. I am not a seperatist but i can recognize the greatness of Levesque and this woman in no way even comes close. I any case as I said I applaud you

    • Mme. Marois and I certainly have our differences, and I doubt we would get along very well personally. On the other hand, there’s no point being impolite. One of my values — one not enshrined in the Charter, unfortunately — is to at least try to act without malice. It isn’t always easy, but it is something to strive for.

  92. Yes – many legitimate points of views – yes – the PQ might be trying to eliminate ethnic voters in order to separate. But – religion has NO place in public life in a democratic / secular state, more so with public servants. Religions divide, are the main reason for violence and hatred around the world and in history. When a public servant (or anybody) wears dominant religious symbols he shows that his believe trumps public service and anything else. Where does it end? Why are teachers forbidden to advocate for political parties? Should teachers promote cults, creationism or that 2+2=5? Who does that cannot be a public servant. Neither should someone who publicly promotes untruths, hokus pokus, especially when around children. Survey shows that 46% of ALL Canadians are in favour of discussing banning of religious symbols. Religion was and is the source of all evil, has no benefits and divides us. And please don’t tell me that someone with a religious head gear wears it for sun protection … laughable. It is a statement that he is right and you are wrong – his god is the only true one, while yours is fake – and sane people (atheists) are right out evil. For my part, with all respect for personal expression, religion is not when displayed publicly and spreads lies, in-group / out-group thinking and division.

    • Klaus… Thank you for your comment. As I have noted elsewhere (I don’t expect you to read through every comment at this point!) there are two significant contradictions in the Charter and its stated aims. 1. It seeks to produce a “religiously neutral” society. Unfortunately this is not possible, since the symbols Christianity pervade every aspect of Quebec society. Consequently, by banning non-Christian symbols from the public sphere, one simply privileges the Christian symbols that are already there. 2. Whether a yarmulke or a hijab, or whatever, is a religious symbol depends on the beliefs of the person wearing it. Can a non-Muslim woman, or even a non-observant Mulism woman wear a hijab, while only observant Muslim women are forbidden to? To even ask the question — and, incidentally, to enforce the charter — one has to inquire about the woman’s beliefs. Incidentally, such a question would violate sections 3 and 9 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights.

  93. Matt Friedman,
    Please let me congratulate you for having put forward such an interesting debate as this, I can’t forgo the appreciation of your being a very considerate person in general as to having put yourself in second parties shoes and that you can view the world from behind the eyes of people from different cultural backgrounds. As someone whose mother tongue is Farsi , who knows English and French, I have automatically developed such an affinity toward western culture in General and frencophones and anglophones in particular, hence, I really had a great time reading your letter and the following points of views. However, having read your arguments, this question just occurred to me and I ‘d like to hereby share them with you and the other participants in this debate. What are the limits and boundaries of tolerance? should you also tolerate some of the followers of certain religions as to allowing them to practice such things as polygamy or taking young teenagers as their wives only because they think that it’s their intrinsic rights to do so?( it should be explained that polygamy or having official temporary wives is allowed so that they can quench their lust or simply because they want to support a woman or a widow who needs to be supported, having in mind the traditional frame work of thinking and ways of life in their cultural backgrounds ) or should the circumcision of girls be permitted? if these people are so observant as that and can not dispense with some of their ways why , in the first place, they would want to move in to a society so hostile, from their points of views, toward their believes and traditions? From the other hand how on the earth some of the westerners can abide the so called ” clope des échangiste ” and orgy parties while making such fuss and abhor the polygamy at the same time? there are many other instances that can be put forward as questions in terms of eating habits and savors of different people with different cultural back grounds. I’d like to emphasis that these are questions per Se, and I,m not taking side with any arguments to back up either of them.

    • Mehran… Thank you for your comments. Some of the questions that you raise are, indeed, important. However, I really don’t want to go into them in detail right now. Please know that these are questions that I ask myself all the time. On one level, it’s quite simple: exploitation and oppression must be resisted. On the other hand, as a historian, I am aware that nothing is ever really simple.

      I also think that issues of child marriage, genital cutting, etc., are something of a red-herring. Those issues deal with questions of exploitation and violence. However, expolitation and violence do not figure in the question of what religious symbols an individual wears as an article of clothing, jewellery, a hairstyle, or whatever.

  94. Pingback: A Provincial Proposal That Affects All Canadians | ABlawg

  95. I have one thing to say, and I say it in all earnestness…. Matthew Friedman for Premier ! go ahead….I dare you to come ‘home’, there’s always lots and lots of room for ‘the likes’ of you!

  96. My Name is James Stacey. I am Canadian. I left Quebec in Apr, 1976 to pursue my career with the Canadian Forces. Having served our great Country for 20 years all over the world, I can speak intelligently on the Worlds view of Quebec. To the world, Quebec is full of disorganized seperatists, who have but one aim, to stand alone, as a country. To fracture the very core of Canada, but their narrowist views, and bigotry. The further development of this so called “Charter” is a joke.
    I left for many reasons, and As I travel this great Country, Iam always clear on where I come from, Alberta, where I now call home. I would NEVER confess to anyone that I was born in Quebec.

  97. I applaud you for your beautifully written letter Matt. You have gone so much further than sharing your thoughts and feelings. IN MY OPINION, you accomplished a truly great task – that of sparking just enough fire under many normally-silent people to have an open discussion of what is happening in our great city, province and country. What a great group facilitator you are!

  98. The Quebecois, NOT French, have whined and complained for decades about being oppressed and now they wish to oppress. What a bunch of hypocritical fools. Matthew Friedman, you have said it very well! Thank you! I hope your message reaches those who posses some sanity in Quebec.

  99. playing the perpetual devils advocate I don’t particularly find this statement brings anything of real value to the debate. This 1st third of the text is somehow supposed to show (who?) that the author is Quebecois. Ok, you are a true Mordecai Richelieux esq Quebequer. Does this mean you have earned a right to comment? Do you feel you need to be a Queb to weigh in on this debate?

    The statement goes on to talk about “providing for an environment of religious neutrality, the Charter seeks to regulate belief”. The examples about head scarfs are goofy to be kind. People who work for the state (and most office type environments) are not allowed to wear any form of head dress. This is what is commonly known as a dress code. Whether it be a baseball cap, bad hair day “babushka” or even hoody these are not allowed. There is an accommodation being made to respect various religions. The same argument reversed could be used to say that the current state of affair is is discriminatory. Say a person who is not Muslim is having a bad hair day; they could not under the current state of affairs wear a “babushka” as this is against government or corporate dress code. Yes, my argument is equally goofy.

    The text goes on to talk about Christian secularism. This may or may not be correct. However, the PQ is clear that the secularism proposed will respect Quebec’s heritage and testifies to it’s historical path. The government is not being hypocritical in choosing this. It is making a choice. A choice to be a secular society that does not renounce it’s heritage. I believe that it’s very arrogant of you to believe that somehow Mme Marois and the majority of her colleagues are unable to grasp your concept. This shows me the lack of respect and thought you have given to what this debate is about.

    In your closing points you talk about the political motives etc… I cannot say if your suspicions are correct or more of a conspiracy theory. What I can say is that I personally find that the English media has been very bias with this particular government (such I have never seen before). The comments I have read and heard towards Mme Marois have been egregious (est election 2012). This has served to somehow demonize her to the point with which there was an assassination attempt (Richard Bain) on her person. I would like to see more actual debat and less holier then thou rhetoric within the English speaking community and specifically media.

    Context. I would like to point out that this debate is not something that the PQ has picked out of thin air. La Chartes des valeurs québécoise is something that the PQ ran on in their electoral campaign in response to a great discomfort (malaise) in Quebec society. The debate relates to les Accomodements raisonnables. Here are a few examples of events that created the current state of affairs in Quebec:
    In 2006, the judgement by the Supreme Court of Canada to allow a young Sikh boy to wear his Kirpan to a Montreal school.
    There was also complaints about the crucifix hanging in the National Assembly of Quebec. From this a proposal was made to have it removed and to also stop prayer at municipal government meetings. A unanimous vote turned this proposal down.
    Following this a human rights tribunal ordered the city of Laval to stop reciting prayer before it’s meetings.
    Last example was the Hérouxville debacle.
    All of this occurred while the Liberal party (PLQ) was in power. To not have to deal with the actual malaise they created the Bouchard-Taylor commission. This only fanned fuel to the fire with live televised rants from every Tom, Dick and Jane about what they thought was to be done. The commission gave it’s report, however the malaise continues. Also note that this is not a local and Quebec only issue. A similar debate was held in France which led to similar (some might say more draconian) laws being proposed and adopted. Look up Loi française sur les signes religieux dans les écoles publiques and la Loi du 11 octobre 2010 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public.

    In closing, I’m not religious. I have always lived in a multicultural environment and I don’t personally agree with the law being proposed by the PQ. However, I do believe that the general issue of les Accomodements raisonnables does need to be addressed and I think that the current environment is not conducive to a proper debate. In my opinion most of the blogs and editorials I have read which are against the proposed law tend to only look at the issue in a simplistic way. I also feel for those who are in favor of the proposals as they may be branded as racists (yes and some of them might be). I hope that if you’ve have taken the time to read this you will at least read up on the issue (beyond blogs, editorials and where you normally get your news) before reaching an opinion. Lastly if you do decide that you are against it (as am I) that you will at least understand a little better those that are for it.

  100. First of all, thank you for a great read.
    It’s the best piece I read on the subject thus far.
    I also read most of the very numerous comments. (269 at this time…)

    People can argue all they want (and they sure do), a fact remains: you don’t have to spend too much time reading the constitution of Canada to invalidate any text that would be worded as such and passed into law in this country. The constitution starts with the charter of rights and freedoms, first stating that “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. Then it goes on enumerating those freedoms and rights, and “freedom of conscience and religion” sits right on top of that long list of GUARANTEED freedoms and rights.

    My understanding is that the charte dictates that wearing religious symbols while serving the state voids it of its neutral religious stance and that this dangerous and potentially biased condition therefore requires a restriction of the “freedom of conscience and religion”, which is the first provision of the supreme law of the land.

    Now, some might think we Quebecers shouldn’t have to be subjected to the canadian constitution. That’s perhaps debatable, but I don’t think this imbroglio has anything to do with human rights. I would strongly protest against the drafting of a constitution that would omit to protect my right to think freely, or that would permit the state to cast me aside in a systemic and lawful manner because of my beliefs.

    I don’t think public opinion should dictate whether the state should be aloud to strip any human being of his fundamental freedom of conscience to “protect” its own religious neutrality. Our courts protect us against such abuse of power.

    One thing that strikes me as odd, is that out of all those comments, there’s very little mention of the Supreme Court and the Constitution.

    I wrote a little PHP script, and did a rough word count of all the comments posted on this piece. Out of 25,728 words (that’s about a quarter of a novel… again, a rough count) the word “constitution” was only mentioned twice, and so was “supreme court” (here’s the raw data:

    I hope we still live in a country governed by the rule of law, and not by the rule of man.

  101. Sir Matt Friedman,
    Multiculturalism seem the general way to go for our the generation. But, when you look at the issue in other society such as UK, you can see a real problem when there a group of people that refuse to accept the local culture and promote muslim from political power source.

    You said, Quebecker are “people of THRUST”, but, doesn’t that make us more likely to be fooled by those who refuse to integrate?

    Religion alway aimed at controlling the people and as historian yourself, you should know that Muslim propanganda as alway used the same kind of PATTERN to reach is end.

    I’ll just leave this here:

    As a historian, you should know that on the long run, this pattern has high chance to be used once, the preliminar condition are completled, right?

    I see tree sane solutions: knowledge, secular teaching environement and secular state. Do you see any other way?

  102. All that for not even 3,000 public workers (barely 0.5% of public workers)? Please. Blackberry will soon fire 5,000 employees, will you write about that too? 😉

    Sometimes we lose 10,20, 30,000 jobs in Canada, why don’t write about that? 😉

    Most people that are against this charter of values make these common mistakes in this text. To presume that we want to prevent someone from being religious. And believe that we are attacking faiths. And most people that are against the charter only speak about the smallest aspect of the charter: religious symbols in the public work place.

    Nobody will prevent anyone from living their religion AT HOME or in the proper place. Geez, Sweden will soon make it illegal for MEN to urinate in a standing position. Matthew, will you write about that too if it ever comes to Quebec?

    I know a lot of people that are not happy with their work dress code, wearing suit and tie when women wear short/no sleeves and long skirts; especially from spring until autumn. They keep their job. I know even some guys that said no to a job because they didn’t want to wear a suit and tie.

    Quebec is ANTI-RELIGION in its root. We got rid of the catholic church influence. We will not allow other churches to affect our lives. Religious people asking to remove ham from school menus, or asking to hide windows of gyms: this is over. The charter is 80% about that. Most people panic about the wearing of religious symbols as a public worker, which affects so few people.

    14 countries prevent the wearing of religious symbols in public functions. Many of them restrict them to the population using public functions (schools, etc..). Many are religious countries too, muslim countries too. This is nothing new.

    And last but not least, with baby boomers massively going on retirement for the next 10 years, Quebec will be missing so many employees that there will be a shortage. Religious people that do not like the dress code in a job will be able to find another easily.

    • Docteur Dan: The letter actually points out many ways in which Québec is not as secular as you (or me) would like to see it, let alone anti-religious. The crucifix at the National Assembly, the prayers allowed to pursue in municipal councils, and the fact that the only common symbols worn by Christians would all be allowed under the Charter also show some sort of a a bias towards the Christian Catholic faith: “we” do not have to change a thing, and especially not those last remnants of Catholic presence that are still in our public institutions. The Charter would not be a step towards the secularity of the institutions in that way. What it would do however is creating an obstacle mostly applied to recent immigrants and women who would have to choose between their conscience and highly desirable working conditions in a very diverse environment that promotes integration.

      Also: I assume by the gym thing you are alluding to the YMCA incident on Avenue du Parc, well for your information, it was members of said gym who first asked for the windows to be “blurred”, because they were the object of the insistant gaze of passerbys in the alley. Only later did a Chasidic organization offer to finance the operation, through a recurrent donation that they offer to the Y. Of course, another piece of great reporting from the Journal de Montréal made it sound like “religious fundamentalists don’t want to see women exercising and make the Y blur its windows. And had it been the case, it would not have fallen under the Charter. Just like most cases of so-called “religious reasonable accomodations” reported in the media, it was not one since the Y (or the sugar shack, remember that one?) is not a public institution and can do whatever it pleases. Peace.

  103. Thank you.
    I come from a family where only a few survived the nazis. The ability of the hitler youth to rise up and inflict the first blows of Kristallnacht resulted from a society that had already marginalized and demonized not only jews but any non arian people. It is no coincidence that on the day of announcing this quite blatantly xenophobic charter that pigs blood was spayed on a mosque. Since then ethnically hateful graffiti has been spray painted on a variety of different religious buildings. Where is the outcry from the Party Quebecois? It is condoning this by its tolerance and silence.
    It is also very apparent that the Catholic church has nothing to say on the subject.

    “In Germany they first came for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
    Then they came for me –
    and by that time no one was left to speak up. ”

    if anyone thinks to make a comparison to the nazis is too much of a stretch, make sure you speak up now.

    • Mark: that comparison really is too much of a stretch. The author of this letter, as a historian, knows better than to pull that card. Although I do not vote for the PQ, I recognize they are a very democratic institution, and they have historically been a coalition ranging from centre-right to centre-left advocating more autonomy for Quebec or sovereignty. They also have always been extremely respective of the British parliamentary system, to the point of respecting a Constitution that was signed without Quebec’s agreement. Unless you can prove me otherwise, their program has precious nothing to do with what Hitler had proposed in Mein Kampf. There is absolutely no support in the population for any form of violence towards any group of people, nor could I ever imagine a group organising to promote it. Ours is an extremely peaceful -and historically pacifist- society.

      The proposed Charter seems to mark a departure in the party towards a more identity-based form of nationalism: it goes way beyond the defense of French language (seen as the main tool of civic integration -and there is widespread consensus from all parties on this point), and enters the realm of religious belief (a deeply personal matter). As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I believe a great part of the support for this measure can be explained by the tremendous power that the Catholic religion once wielded here, and how older people fear that their struggle to make our institutions secular and public would be jeopardized. One could also point out that this support is geographically based in areas where people hardly ever meet people of other religions, and this ignorance (not resent, nor hatred) makes it all the more difficult for them to conceive how this is an issue of fundamental rights. All municipalities on the Montreal Island, where the bulk of immigration comes, have clearly announced their intention to opt-out of the Charter (yes, it also includes an opt-out mechanism, so much for fascism…), were it to become law, meaning that it would be almost unapplied. Once again, I am not excusing the government, but this reeks of electoral calculations, among other things.

      On another note, the desacration of the mosque in Saguenay happened over a week before the proposed Charter was presented, and Mme Marois and several members of the cabinet did in fact immediately condemn for what it is: a hate crime, as did the Bishop of Saguenay. Please get your facts straight before crying wolf, the accusations you are tossing here are very grave and hurtful. Nobody benefits from overheating the debate. Thanks.

      • dear Guillaume 1)I am sorry the charter was leaked the day of the desecration and that is what is hurtful not me linking the two. It was then officially announced later. Since then churches have had “greeks go home” and I have seen news casts of youth shouting at a moslem woman on a bus since then. Hardly “pacifist” behaviour.
        2)To exclude people from work in schools, hospitals or even public institutions because of wearing something that is mandated by that religion precludes them from those jobs. The french denied the tutsis work in many areas in Rwanda based on the banning of the tribal signs not only on their heritage. If they dressed like hutus they could teach! When the tutsis rose up to confront the hutus the latter felt justified in attacking back at them. It was the organized youth of Rwanda that largely perpetrated the genocide as it was the hitler youth that was organized for Kristallnacht. The thinking caring German intelligentsia all left or were equally persecuted. People keep saying “how did It happen?” well when all the little signs of scapegoating minorities were perpetrated, the message was given that it is alright to be xenophobic. To a far lesser degree same exact thing happened in the Brixton race riots of London in the 1970s and 80s . young skinheads routinely were involved in “Paki Bashing.”
        3) The fact that the support is in rural quebec where people hardly ever meet people of other religions means that a member of visible minority religion would be at greater risk. If they were prohibited from wearing any religious garment the average rural quebecer might not even know the person saving their life at the hospital was a jew, muslim or sikh
        4) Oh and is “Opting out of the charter” is that like opting out of Bill 101?

  104. I am really, vocally opposing the proposed Charter, just so it’s clear that we’re on the same page here. Part of the reason I am angry at the PQ is for pitching this terrible “solution” to a “problem” that only exists because yellow newspapers claimed it did. They are willingly taking advantage of the ignorance of some to court votes in key counties outside Montreal, which is appaling. But mind you: the type of ignorance you may find in rural Quebec doesn’t make people violent. Mostly, they just don’t understand why a Muslim woman can’t take off her veil to work, etc. I will agree that singling out groups as the Charter would do is playing a potentially dangerous game. Though I believe education will do better than namecalling to calm things down, and I try my best at that. But I maintain: the PQ has absolutely nothing in common with the Nazi party, and very very little with the Front National (the PQ really doesn’t attract the right-wing crowd, if that says anything). Compare their platforms and prove otherwise, or please add some nuance to your argument: you did say that they were tolerant and silent after the mosque incident when in fact they were not.

    Meanwhile, interethnic relations are actually quite smooth in the Montreal area (where roughly 80% of the immigration first lands). You can describe how slippery slopes situations worked in other contexts, but it doesn’t mean that the same thing will happen here. Conditions are very different: ours is an aging society, we don’t have such a high unemployment rate, and there is no such thing as an organized violent youth movement against minorities, nor will there be one. And exactly where would the battleground be? The kids in the Montreal area have been socialized in an environment as culturally diverse as that of Toronto or Vancouver. This is the only world they know. The “Us-Pure Laine” vs “Them-all the Others” dynamic that once was (see the St-Leonard riots in the late 1960s) has vanished now, thanks to Bill 101 and two full generations of immigrant children attending French school, developing ties that go beyond origins or mother tongues and fully participating in society. People won’t suddenly turn against lifetime friends for such a ludicrous reason. Even the traditional language divide in the city is more fluid than it ever was. So really, please don’t assume that cultural traits are static: things have changed a lot, and for the better. And most importantly, the proposed Charter will never be adopted (because of the minority gov’t) nor applied (because of the Canadian Charter of Rights) as is. But of course, you are free to live in fear.

  105. @Thomas Bergbusch

    Je suis entièrement d’accord avec vous. Mme Marois à créé un problème qui aurait pu être éviter en législant simplement les trois situations que vous avez mentionnés.

    Mais la mégalomanie a eu le dessus… Elle passera à l’histoire certe mais en tant qu’ intolérante finie. Triste abus de pouvoir.

  106. Your letter expresses very eloquently both the love and frustration I feel for Quebec. I only lived in Montreal for 5 years, but I miss it so much more than any other place I’ve lived. (More than 3 provinces and 3 states, so far.) In many ways, I was more “at home” in Quebec than where I grew up, spent 16 years as a child and young adult.

    And yet, Quebec is also the only place anyone ever asked me *why* I was Jewish, or suggested that I couldn’t enjoy the national holiday as much as a native-born Quebecker (the last from an anglo-native born). I was told repeatedly that I just needed a Quebecois chum or husband, to become fully Quebecois. Why was that the measure? Not how well I spoke French, nor how well I knew Quebecois art, music or film.

    I’ve since moved.. And although in many ways I wish otherwise, I don’t think I’ll ever live in Quebec again; mostly due work, not politics. But I have to say, the day I got a greencard (US permanent resident card), everyone I knew congratulated me and called me “American”. I have many, many concerns about American culture and politics, and I’m far from certain that the country is going in the right direction. But I know that Americans agree I have a right to be part of the conversation.

  107. Matt Friedman, very well done, I have read many of the comments and I am overwhelmed by this discourse. I was raised in Montreal by English parents who sent me to French school, in the 1950’s.
    I was beat up a few times for being a Maudit anglais, until I could defend myself. I worked in Quebec for 15 years, using both languages concurrently. Finally one night I watched Lise Payette, and Rene Levesque speak at the Paul Sauve arena and decided then and there to leave Quebec and headed down the 401 like half a million other Quebec citizens. I finally realized that no matter how well I spoke French, my name was not French and I could not accept being a second class citizen in my own country. After all these years it seems that Mme. Marois still is showing contempt for the citizens of Quebec, and I hope that she fails in this unfortunate manipulation. Voila !

  108. Good letter and well written with genuine emotion and sentiment of feeling. I’m sure that many including myself understand and appreciate your thoughts and intentions because we feel the same as you. Thank you.

  109. Pingback: A covering Christian woman’s reaction to Québec’s propsed Charter of Values | It's Between Me and God

  110. Pingback: Zut alors! | fadeouttechnology

  111. So what’s the difference between Americans and English-speaking Canadians? In the face of this kind of ethnic bullying, whether by a previously-oppressed minority or anyone else, there would be active resistance and pushback. As an Anglophone Quebecer by birth, I’m well aware of the passivity and conformity that lies at the base of many of our characters. And perhaps that’s a good thing in most situations – we’re far less violent. But putting up with crap is anything but noble. We’re too polite by far. That’s why I love this article that tells it like it is.

  112. As a proud Canadian living in Quebec by choice I simply wish our government would stop the smoke screen tactics and get on with running the province. We have the best of everything in Quebec but sadly still have the largest debt of any province, territory or state in North America.

  113. Excellently argumented and well-written letter.
    But for one point: “The Charter seems to be an effort to convince the majority of Québécois who do not live in Montréal or Québec, where cultural and religious diversity is the quiet background to our daily lives, that they have something to fear from those who are different.”
    You do have something to fear I am afraid. Look at the militantism of most young Muslims in France. Tolerance is not in their language. Whole Paris streets are illegally occupied on Fridays for prayers. Their agenda is clearly political. They want to be a force to be reckoned with and use that recognition to gain more clout, which in turm will make them an even bigger force, in an infiniite spiral. This takes an infinity of different aspects and tiny issues, all immaterial on their own. Halal meat is now too often used as the only source of meat. Muslim proselytism in prisons is often violent. Special swimming pools hours for women (who else can book a public pool for themselves?). France has lost some of its freedom and is now a more socially stressed country. Street prayers have become a means of political pressure in many European countries. Likewise the veil has become a political instrument that democracies are ill-equiped to deal with
    : be darned if you deal with it and be darned if you don’t. No such hesitations in Muslim countries: the rules are clear there and you’d better obey them.
    So by all means, do defend Quebec’s freedoms, but do not turn a blind eye to activists who will seek to use this freedom to advance their own causes, and for whom freedom only means the freedom to do as they see fit and promote and enforce freedom-killing ideas.

  114. Very sadly your second to last paragraph sums up the reality of what this is all about. They are literally throwing the least represented members of Quebec society under the proverbial bus for the sake of garnering a few votes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s