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Canadian Politics


Seven reasons to support (something like) the Quebec values charter

2_Matias-Garabedian_flickrby Arthur Milner

1. We need to have a public discussion about immigration and religion

During several visits to Europe over the last 25 years, friends on the left would tell me, in hushed voices: immigration is a big problem, but you’re not allowed to talk about it, because if you mention it, it means you’re a racist. Since that time, the far right has grown, largely on the basis of fighting immigration. I’d say it’s better to discuss difficult questions openly, because if we don’t, the situation will fester and the far right will grow.

2.         Our understanding of the implications of immigration and/or religious practice needs to become more sophisticated

We need to stop relying on slogans like “freedom of religion” and “freedom of expression.” They’re excellent principles and good slogans, but they don’t replace discussion, and they’re not the solution to all problems. We need to stop calling people who disagree with us racists and xenophobes.

3.         I don’t want people with extreme views to have power over me or my children

This is not about religion, it’s about extremism of any kind. A Nazi uniform or a Black Bloc outfit (as we’ve seen at various G8 or G20 summits) is a pretty good indication of extreme views, and few of us would support a government employee’s right to wear such clothing on the job.

Much the same way, a religious uniform is not a bad indication of religious conservatism. Religious people who do not wear religious insignia or clothing tend to be more moderate, more liberal in their views. Those who do wear religious insignia or clothing are more likely to be fundamentalist and take literally what is written in sacred texts. Fundamentalists are more likely to believe that men are superior and that God created Adam a few days after he created trees. They also tend to believe that women who don’t dress in the prescribed manner are loose or whores, and that nonmembers of their particular religion will go to hell. I don’t want people with such beliefs sitting in judgement over me or teaching my children.

This is not about religion. The large majority of people of all religions do not wear religious garb. Of course, there are fundamentalists and extremists who wear standard Canadian clothing. Similarly, there are many people who wear religious dress who are not fundamentalist or extremist. These moderates should have little problem removing their religious symbols while at work.

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About the Author

Arthur Milner
Arthur Milner is Inroads’ culture columnist and a member of its editorial board. He is a former artistic director of Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company.


  1. A. Singh

    Your co-relation between religious observance and extremism while intriguing is not based on evidence at best it’s anecdotal. In countries that have banned religious “symbols,” such as France, we have seen a rise in discriminatory and violent incidents. In 2012, France had 469 reports of discriminatory acts against Muslim individuals and institutions, an increase from 298 in 2011. Of the 418 attacks against individuals, 353 were attacks against women. Therefore extremism can also be linked to introduction of bans that marginalize certain individuals, such as Muslim women wearing a headscarf, and make them vulnerable as targets of hate or violence.

    The idea of promoting liberties by denying religious minorities their rights is counter-intuitive. While it does play well with a section of society that dislikes difference, a strong democracy will ensure the protection of rights for all citizens including minorities. The PQ Charter outright supports discrimination based on religious identity, so that an individual is forced to choose between their religious identity and their job. This discrimination is wrong from legal, moral and ethical perspectives.

    Your argument that religious “symbols” are an indication of fundamentalism is a broad generalization and the co-relation seems weak at best. A person may choose to practice something for a variety of reasons: devotion, identity, culture, comfort and many other factors. Trying to read the minds of other people is a dangerous habit, and we need to be careful in creating broad generalizations and stereotypes.

  2. Rob Dudski

    Really interesting read, and you brought out some good points. I do have a question, though. I realize you’re not looking at this as a black and white issue, but would you support the as it is bill as it is rather than condemn it?

  3. gstevenson

    Like Arthur, I believe in a clear separation between church and state, but I think we interpret that familiar expression very differently. I agree with Thomas Jefferson, who originated the principle, that its purpose is to protect religious minorities, not to suppress them or to hide them in the closet. I see nothing wrong with a Sikh wearing his kirpan or a woman covering her hair, even if they are employed In the public sector. I don’t believe that all young Muslim women who cover their hair are doing it because of parental pressure. In fact many of them came from Christian backgrounds and are married to Muslim men. I see nothing wrong with a practicing Catholic, like Charles Taylor, teaching in a public university where his religious faith is well-known. The state should not support any particular religion, but it should not be hostile to religion in general, like the regimes in China and North Korea.
    Arthur cites some interesting but not surprising data on the fertility of religious and non-religious people. All I can say in reply is that my three aunts had a total of ten children and my mother stopped at two only for medical reasons. None of them were “rabbits” as the author cited by Arthur invidiously describes them. If non-religious or anti-religious people are worried about these data, I have a suggestion for them which is not meant to be flippant: have more children yourselves! By any standard the average of 1.67 children per woman achieved by non-religious people is pathetic and will reduce their population by half in about four generations. As one who does attend religious services, I am not afraid of the competition if you guys (and gals) decide to try harder.

  4. Milner responds. The reported increase in violence in France after the banning of religious symbols seems to have been short term. We would need to know the long-term effects. What would you suggest instead? You’re right, I think, that symbols are a weak indicator of fundamentalism. But a refusal to remove those symbols for work purposes would strengthen the correlation. Garth Stevenson doesn’t “believe that all young Muslim women who cover their hair are doing it because of parental pressure.” I never said they were. And I accept his challenge that ye of little faith should go forth and multiply! But my main point is that society is not static and that fundamentalists are gaining numbers and strength. Neither Mr. Singh nor Garth discusses this. If now is the wrong time to act, when is the right time? If the PQ is doing the wrong thing, what is the right thing? If the answers are “never” and “do nothing,” fundamentalism will continue to grow. Finally, I would say to Mr. Dudski, the Charter is changing and will likely change again. And it is very unlikely to pass given the PQ minority. Still, as long as it includes removal of the National Assembly crucifix, I would likely vote in favour.

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