2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 25

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Proposed Quebec Charter of Values

Inquiry—Debate Adjourned

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer rose pursuant to notice of October 28, 2013:

That she will call the attention of the Senate to the negative effects of the Quebec Charter of Values on Canadians.

She said: Honourable senators, today I rise to draw your attention to the Quebec secular charter and the effect it will have on Canadians.

The Quebec Charter of Values has been given a very long name and, in the interest of brevity, I will only name it once. It is called the “Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests.” From now onwards, I will call it the PQ plan.

When this plan was first revealed, I was very sad. Then I became very angry and now, with your help, I want us to stop the PQ plan from becoming a reality in Quebec.

For my entire career, I’ve been working to fight against discrimination. I’ve been working to enhance the rights of minorities, and I have stood up for the values of Quebec.

Honourable senators, you know that I work hard to make our country truly bilingual and to have the francophone culture as part of our culture in the rest of Canada. My family and I have benefited greatly by the generosity of the people of Quebec. For my grandson Ayaan and me, some of our best memories were when we were in Quebec City. We were truly made to feel part of that beautiful city.

In one fell swoop, this PQ plan will reverse decades of work that countless others and I have done.

[Translation]

I will start with a story. On June 10, the Quebec Soccer Federation imposed a ban on turbans and similar headwear on soccer fields.

The ban prevented children who wear turbans from playing soccer with their teammates. The separatist Quebec government did not denounce this ban as discriminatory. Instead, it defended the ban.

A team of 13-year-old soccer players in Brossard saw this ban as an opportunity to stand up for the rights of other players. No one on the team was Sikh or wore religious headwear.

Their coach, Ihab Leheta, asked the members of his team to tell him what was more important than the game. One player answered “school,” another player said “family,” and a third player said “injustice.” Their coach replied that he could either say that it was not his problem or take action.

At their next game, all of the children on this team wore orange scarves, which they had borrowed from the local Sikh temple, as a sign of solidarity. They risked losing the game by default. They were willing to give up their chance to play in order to fight injustice.

They argued with the referee and the coach of the opposing team for this right, because, regardless of the opinion of those in power, they knew it was the right thing to do.

These children, like Martin Luther King Jr., understood that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Today, someone else was a victim of discrimination, but tomorrow it could be them.

[English]

Honourable senators, today it is the minorities in Quebec. This PQ plan is targeting minorities by preventing them the opportunity of gaining state jobs if they wear any conspicuous symbols of their faith. This includes turbans, head scarves, kippahs and large crosses. Small, inconspicuous symbols are acceptable, but unfortunately, there is no such thing as a small turban or a small hijab or a small kippah that is not visible.

According to a report by the Quebec Human Rights Commission:

… individuals who belong to these [minority] groups already face significant obstacles in the job market, the proposed measures will, in all likelihood, have a negative impact on the effective implementation of equal access to employment for such individuals.

The ban on religious symbols is clearly rated against certain visible minorities.

In a statement made in October, I spoke about what it means for a Sikh to wear a turban. I told you that for a practising Sikh, wearing a turban is not only a matter of religious freedom but also a religious obligation. It is an intrinsic part of his identity. It is an essential component of his ethos. Since making that statement, for the first time in the 40 years that I lived in Canada, I began receiving phone calls telling me to go back to my country.

Honourable senators, I am a proud Canadian. I have been working for Canadians my entire career. Yet, in the minds of some people, I am an immigrant and thus not entitled to be treated equally. If they do not like what I say, they ask me to go back from where I came from. To them, I’m not truly a Canadian, but I know you know and I know that I’m a proud Canadian.

Hearing those words on the phone made me sick to my stomach. It reminded me of the feeling I had when Idi Amin, the dictator in Uganda, said something similar when my family and I became refugees in Uganda, because we were Ugandans of Indian origin.

[Translation]

I thought that in coming to Canada, the land of equality, justice and respect, I had left behind me that profound sense of exclusion that comes from those we consider our own, that feeling that begins in our throats and reaches deep down to our hearts.

We have all heard of the disgraceful cases of discrimination that have occurred across the country since the creation of the Quebec Charter of Values. A mosque in Saguenay was splashed with pig’s blood.

In a shopping centre in Quebec City, a woman was told to change her religion and remove her veil because the government would force her to remove it anyway. Her 18-year-old son was spat upon.

On a Montreal bus, a woman wearing the hijab was insulted by a man who told her that “with Marois, we’ll take that thing right off your head.” A Muslim was verbally abused on an Ottawa bus. There has been a 300 per cent increase in reported attacks against Muslims. The list goes on.

Honourable senators, these are the consequences of the Quebec Charter of Values. It turns discrimination against minorities into an acceptable practice to the state, thereby legitimizing it in the public sphere. However, those who promote such divisions between Canadians do not realize that our country is strong because of its diversity, not in spite of it.

Minority communities promote a culture of inclusion in our country. They deepen our ties with other countries around the world. They contribute new perspectives and new ways of solving problems. They foster more trade.

[English]

People from diverse backgrounds work on more social issues. They help us better understand the problems facing the developing world, allowing us to do more. They give us the opportunity to learn new languages, new music, new dress, new food, new practices and new ideas. Metropolis British Columbia, a research group specializing in immigration and integration, states:

… minorities are often viewed as bringing with them advantages associated with specialized skill sets and contacts which can result in increased productivity.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, as Canada’s population continues to age and as more and more of the populous baby boomers retire, the relative significance of immigrants and of visible minorities to labour-force growth and our economic well-being is expected to continue to expand.

(1840)

They also noted that over the 1992 to 2001 period, employment of visible minorities grew on average 4.7 per cent per year versus 1.25 per cent for total employment.

If time permitted, I could go on to state more economic benefits that increased diversity brings to this country, but I will have to save that for another day. Suffice it to say that increasing diversity is essential for Canada to prosper.

Canada does its utmost to ensure that Canadians, no matter what their background, are treated fairly and given opportunity. It is a proud tradition that we hold, and it serves a practical purpose of uniting this large and diverse country.

Upholding this tradition prevents majority populations from curtailing the rights of minority populations from participating wholly in society.

For example, the majority anglophone population cannot prevent minority francophones from attaining state jobs in the rest of Canada. If we do not uphold this tradition, we risk producing a scenario where francophones may feel ostracized and judged for their culture in the rest of Canada. francophones may be unable to gain access to service in the French language in the rest of Canada. Francophones may have little representation in the unions that protect workers’ rights in the rest of Canada. Francophones may feel as if they have no value in this country, as if their contributions and sacrifices were not recognized and cherished in the rest of Canada.

It would be a total tyranny of the majority upon the minority in the rest of Canada. That circumstance we can never accept. I know that all of us will fight hard for Canadians to have the same rights across the country, because in Canada, all people are considered equal. We celebrate our differences. We accommodate those differences because we realize that they are inseparable from the individual.

We recognize individuals are as much entitled to their religious symbols as they are to speaking French. This is the country where hockey games are broadcast in English, French, Punjabi and Arabic. The unity of Canada is born from our diversity.

Quebec shares these proud Canadian values as well — the values of equality, fairness and respect. We should not forget that Quebec has a history of standing up for its minorities.

In 1986, the Government of Quebec published the Declaration on Intercultural and Interracial Relations. This declaration condemns racism and racial discrimination and commits the government to encourage the full participation of every person in the economic, social and cultural development of Quebec, regardless of colour, religion or ethnic or national origin.

In 1990, in Quebec, they published a white paper entitled Let’s Build Quebec Together: Vision: A Policy Statement on Immigration and Integration.

Three principles were reinforced in the government’s policy: Quebec is a French-speaking society; Quebec is a democratic society in which everyone is expected to contribute to public life; and Quebec is a pluralistic society that respects the diversity of various cultures.

In 2008, the Government of Quebec published Diversity: An Added Value: Government policy to promote participation of all in Québec’s development. This policy set out three policy directions: recognize and combat prejudice and discrimination, tackle all forms of discrimination and ensure better representation of under-represented groups in public and private institutions and businesses, and ensure coherence and complementarity of efforts to combat prejudice and discrimination.

Those are the values of Quebec, of forming its unique French- speaking identity while recognizing and promoting the identity and rights of all minorities in Quebec.

Honourable senators, the Quebec separatist government is trying to alter the true values of the people of Quebec because they think that will help them win an election. They are exercising the politics of division.

Unfortunately, the separatist government made a grave miscalculation. They failed to calculate that the people of Quebec are a compassionate, reasonable, fair-minded people. The people of Quebec respect and value all of their fellow citizens, regardless of what symbols they choose to wear.

Honourable senators, we too must act. It is not enough for us to simply bring this up as a topic of discussion. We must work to ensure that those who wish to divide us do not trample upon the rights of Canadians. We must work to ensure that Canadians are not forced out of jobs because of their religious convictions. We must work to ensure that the proud Canadian values of respect for our differences and justice for all are upheld.

Honourable senators, when I was young, my mother wanted me to be a pianist and my father a politician. You can see who won. When I practised the piano, to annoy my mother sometimes I played only on the white keys and sometimes only on the black keys. The sound had no harmony, and it was very difficult for my mother to tolerate. She would shout from the kitchen that to have real harmony you must play on both the black and the white keys. You cannot have harmony if you play only on the white keys or play only on the black keys.

Now I understand what my dear mother was trying to tell me.

Last weekend, I attended an event organized by the Kohinoor Folk Art in Surrey and saw the most beautiful Bhangra dancing performed by young Sikh children.

Suddenly, in the middle of the event, without any prompting and on their own volition, these children started singing “Jingle Bells” using instruments from the subcontinent. It brought tears to my eyes. I suggest you go to my website; it’s a sight to see these young turban Sikh children playing “Jingle Bells” with Indian instruments. That is what Canada is all about.

This is what harmony and integration means when a young urban Sikh boy feels so much a part of our great country that in a formal event they remember that this is Christmas time, and they want to sing Christmas jingles as well. They truly are our Canadian children.

Today, I’m rising to tell you that I will work very hard to prevent the Quebec separatist government from stripping the rights of minorities simply because of their faith. Will you?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Hervieux-Payette.

[Translation]

Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette: I would like to ask my colleague whether she is planning to appear before the committee of the Quebec National Assembly to share her concerns.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: I will try. I certainly have spoken to my very good friend Madame Houda-Pépin in Montreal, and we have agreed to disagree on this issue. We’ll continue to be friends, and I’ll keep working to try and convince her that whether she agrees or not that a woman has a right to wear a hijab, I believe in this great country that I have a choice, as a Muslim woman, not to wear the hijab. That is my choice and I do it proudly; and no man and no state will tell me that I will wear a hijab. That’s my choice.

In the same way, if there is another Muslim woman who wants to wear the hijab, it is not for me or the state to tell her she cannot wear a hijab. That is what the beauty of our country is all about.

(On motion of Senator Cordy, debate adjourned.)

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *