Shattering Canada’s solitudes

F&O Blog Gyroscope Quebec charter
Handout, government of Quebec. The proposed charter would ban the wearing of kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and “large” crosses by employees of public institutions.

By Deborah Jones

Opponents of Quebec’s controversial proposed “charter of values” are their own worst enemies.

You’d think a workplace ban on kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and large crosses worn by public employees would unite religious minorities and other political activists. Instead, opponents bolstered the provincial government proposal by choosing today to hold an ostensibly “multi-faith” rally

The problem with the date is blindingly obvious; it’s inconceivable that it was an accidental oversight. Calling a rally on Yom Kippur – the most holy Jewish day of the year – effectively ostracized all observant Jews.

Quebec premier Pauline Marois argues the values charter is needed to promote a sense of identity in the province. Her flip comment that Quebec rejects multiculturalism because in Britain it led to “people beating each other up and setting off bombs” was a diplomatic faux pas – and a crystal-clear glimpse of the thinking behind the charter. The exclusion of Jews from the rally – the failure of charter opponents to accommodate even each other – is a gift to this Parti Québécois position.

Canada was never a country of Two Solitudes – an absurd national catch-phrase since Hugh MacLennan’s novel of that name was published in 1945. The fantasy of English/French duality imperiously ignored everyone else –  the aboriginals who arrived first, the myriad of Asians, Africans, all the non-English Europeans. Canada has in fact always been “multicultural,” but never more so than now. Remarkably, mostly, multiculturalism works. Remarkably, mostly, Canadians get along. 

But Quebec’s fierce cultural protectionism, and bone-headed disrespect shown by minorities to other minorities, threaten the delicate balance of accommodations that Canadians mostly manage. The solitudes are a myth. The possibility of many entrenched factions is quite real.