As Quebecers prepare for a provincial election in October, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) would like to take the opportunity to encourage all political factions in La Belle Province to hear out concerns from minority communities and avoid inflammatory rhetoric.
Our team in Quebec will be monitoring developments on an ongoing basis and have highlighted four current events issues that are of interest to FSWC.
1. Religious symbols in the public sector
The presence of some cultural tension in Quebec in recent years is most often the result of debate over laïcité (which loosely translates to secularism) policies proposed mainly by the two main opposition parties: the sovereignist Parti Québecois (PQ) and nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), the latter currently leading the governing Liberals in polls.
Both the PQ and CAQ advocate for recommendations made by the Bouchard-Taylor commission (p.150), a public “Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences” that completed its work in 2008. The measures causing most anxiety in Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other communities would seek to prohibit public sector employees with “powers of coercion” (judges, peace officers, etc.) from wearing religious symbols.
Philosopher Charles Taylor of Bouchard-Taylor reversed his opinion on this controversial, decade-old recommendation but the report is still widely cited by politicians and media commentators.
MNA David Birnbaum wore a kippah in the National Assembly to mark Yom HaShoah last month; PQ leader Jean-François Lisée implied this was inappropriate since political symbols are prohibited in the legislature.
These debates were most tense in 2013 following the former PQ government’s presentation of a “Charter of Values,” which never became law.
A young activist, Dalila Awada, appeared on Tout le monde en parle (Quebec's popular Sunday evening TV talk show) to defend her right to wear the hijab and to advocate for tolerance for religious symbols. She was later subjected to aggressive insults and sued a group of political commentators for defamation.
More recently, another young woman, Sondos Lamrhari, 17, has been making the news simply for wearing a hijab during her training at Quebec’s police academy. Lamrhari says she is looking forward to working for the Montreal police department. Under a CAQ or PQ government, this could be impossible.
2. Border migration
There have been larger waves of migrants coming into Quebec from the US border since last year. Last summer, the migrants had to be processed at the Olympic Stadium.
Again, this has led to some uncomfortable political rhetoric, with the PQ leader making quips about building a fence. The PQ and CAQ are both advocating for stricter immigration control, with some media commentators even implying that immigration is harmful to Quebec society.
Approximately 150 people are entering Canada illegally daily through Quebec, nearly triple the volume border officials typically manage. Over one weekend last month, 600 people crossed the border.
3. Nativist groups
Cultural tensions due in part to the two aforementioned issues are also leading to a corresponding rise in activity for nativist groups, the most popular of which is La Meute, or Wolfpack (it claims no racist intent).
Acts of vandalism or other hate crimes committed by less organized groups are rising, as FSWC recently reported. Quebec has seen an 11% increase from 2016.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric in media has been particularly harmful in Quebec following the January 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting which claimed the lives of six worshippers. The perpetrator, currently awaiting sentencing, has implied that political rhetoric influenced his actions to some degree.
Unfortunately, teaching on the Holocaust and various human rights abuses throughout modern history has been largely absent from primary and secondary school education for most Quebecers. Under the current Liberal government, this is slowly being rectified but no timetable has been presented by the Ministry of Education on incorporating more historical material into the curriculum.
There has been a small rise in ethnic tensions reported between children at school, according to one study.
Lack of action on human rights education may contribute to the lack of sensitivity seen in some political disputes, like those involving the Orthodox Jews of Montreal’s Outremont borough. Groups like Friends of Hutchison have been proactive in countering discrimination in the neighbourhood; the Outremont Hasid blog also tracks developments thoroughly.
In March, a handful of Outremont residents wore yellow badges to a borough council meeting in protest over Orthodox Jewish school buses clogging local streets.
“They always bring up their painful past,” one protester said. “They do it to muzzle us. We’re wearing the yellow square because the school buses are yellow.”