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Montreal Is an Island of Tolerance Amid a Sea of Rednecks

You know by now that whenever Quebec makes international headlines, it’s never for anything the rest of the civilized world thinks is good.

The Quebec government's guide to reducing ostentatiousness amongst its rank and file.

You know by now that whenever Quebec makes international headlines, it’s never for anything the rest of the civilized world thinks is good. So thanks again, Pauline Marois, for thrusting this province into the limelight of the absurd. After pastagate and the turban affair, Quebec in 2013 is now synonymous with clueless, paranoid dumbasses who are afraid of people with weird names and brown skin. Bravo!


Except, it should be noted, in Montreal. In lovely, crumbling, corrupt, traffic-congested Montreal, a lot of people pretty much hate the Quebec Charter of Values. And with good reason: Montreal, as opposed to the rest of the province, is multicultural. It’s cosmopolitan. It’s chock full of people with unpronounceable names (see this article’s byline—silent j!), many of whom wear all kinds of silly things on their bodies.

In a rare display of ecumenical harmony, Montreal’s city council unanimously denounced the charter, this just a few months before this November’s city elections, when passions should be whipped up into a frenzy. City councillor Alex Norris said that other than some discussion on the wording of the resolution, the motion calling for an “open secularism” passed fairly easily. “In Montreal, we see diversity as a strength, something to be celebrated and not seen as a threat. Inclusion in the workplace is the best way to integrate newcomers to society.”

In Montreal, where over a third of the population are immigrants, the charter is arguably deepening the social divisions it was supposed to smooth over. If you believe Pauline Marois’s government, the charter’s main goal is to ensure that no one faith gets preferential treatment and that social cohesion, based on strict state neutrality when it comes to religion, is maintained.

What the charter will do, if passed—and there’s still no guarantee that it will—is, first, ban state employees from wearing overt religious symbols. So don’t look for a bus driver wearing a yarmulke, a daycare worker wearing a headscarf, a bureaucrat with a big-ass cross (a small one is okay though), or a doctor wearing a turban.


That’s probably not a problem in some smaller town like Trois-Rivières or Drummondville or Quebec City or anywhere else outside Montreal, where 80 percent of the population is francophone and maybe 10 percent is anglophone (who tend to live in isolated enclaves like the Eastern Townships or in some pockets of the Gaspe). But in Montreal, where just only over a third of people are unilingual francophone, it comes across as big-time nanny-state overreach.

Second, it panders to the fears of small-town Quebec, where the PQ gets the majority of its seats in the National Assembly. Xenophobic places like Hérouxville, where 6 years ago they tried to enact an immigrant code of conduct that initially included "no stoning of women in public" and "no female circumcision" are, presumably, where much of the charter’s support comes from—two-thirds of Quebec’s population dig it (a more scientific poll by Leger Marketing late last month showed 57 percent of Quebecers support it). And whaddaya know, the split comes down largely to language, as do all things in Quebec: 65 percent of francophones, and only 25 percent of anglos, like the charter.

And third, it’s ginned up yet another confrontation with the feds. The NDP and the Liberals, both headed by bilingual Quebecers, hate it, and so does the Harper government. Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said Ottawa will challenge the charter’s constitutionality, so get ready for a possible us-versus-them showdown that will get everyone across the country all riled up, to the PQ’s likely benefit.

In some ways, the PQ’s push for a secularist charter is understandable. It’s been half a century since the nascent francophone Quebec awakening threw off the overarching hegemony the Catholic Church wielded over the population. At 64, Pauline Marois is a child of the Quiet Revolution and church attendance in Quebec is already very low.

There is a deep-seated antipathy to religion here—and why shouldn’t there be? There’s plenty to criticize about organized religion, from its inherent sexism and homophobia to the ultimate absurdity of believing in a make-believe man in the sky laying down a bunch of dumb rules. But in reality the threat religious adherents pose to Quebec secularism is pretty low. So why the dickish behaviour PQ? Clearly this is another move by the Parti to drive the wedge between Quebec and the ROC, and while Montreal isn’t having it, everyone here is nervous how this will all play out. Follow Patrick on Twitter: @patricklejtenyi


The Quebec Government's Plan to Ban Religious Symbols May Be a Stroke of Political Genius