Four Emerging Issues FSWC Is Monitoring in Quebec

May 2, 2018

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As Quebecers prepare for a provincial election inOctober, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) would like to take theopportunity to encourage all political factions in La Belle Province to hearout concerns from minority communities and avoid inflammatory rhetoric.

Our team in Quebec will be monitoring developments on anongoing basis and have highlighted four current events issues that are ofinterest to FSWC.


1. Religious symbols in the public sector

Thepresence of some cultural tension in Quebec in recent years is most often theresult of debate over laïcité (which loosely translates to secularism) policiesproposed mainly by the two main opposition parties: the sovereignist Parti Québecois(PQ) and nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), the latter currentlyleading the governing Liberals in polls.

Both the PQ and CAQ advocate forrecommendations made by the Bouchard-Taylor commission (p.150), a public “Consultation Commission onAccommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences” that completed itswork in 2008. The measures causing most anxiety in Jewish,Muslim, Sikh and other communities would seek to prohibit public sector employeeswith “powers of coercion” (judges, peace officers, etc.) from wearing religioussymbols.

PhilosopherCharles Taylor of Bouchard-Taylor reversed his opinion on this controversial, decade-oldrecommendation but the report is still widely cited by politicians and mediacommentators. 

MNA David Birnbaum worea kippah in the National Assembly to mark Yom HaShoah last month; PQ leader Jean-François Lisée implied this was inappropriate since politicalsymbols are prohibited in the legislature. 

Thesedebates were most tense in 2013 following the former PQ government’spresentation 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 TVtalk show) to defend her right to wear the hijab and to advocate for tolerancefor religious symbols. She was later subjected to aggressive insults and sued agroup of political commentators for defamation. 

Morerecently, another young woman, Sondos Lamrhari, 17, hasbeen making the news simply for wearing a hijab during her training at Quebec’spolice academy. Lamrhari says she is looking forward to working for theMontreal police department. Under a CAQ or PQ government, this could beimpossible.


2. Border migration

There havebeen larger waves of migrants coming into Quebec from the US border since lastyear. Last summer, the migrants had to be processed at the OlympicStadium

Again,this has led to some uncomfortable political rhetoric, with the PQ leadermaking quips about building afence. The PQand CAQ are both advocating for stricterimmigration control, withsome media commentators even implying that immigration is harmful toQuebec society.

Approximately 150 people are entering Canada illegally dailythrough Quebec, nearly triple the volume border officials typically manage.Over one weekend last month, 600 people crossed the border.


3. Nativist groups

Culturaltensions due in part to the two aforementioned issues are also leading to acorresponding rise in activity for nativist groups, the most popular of whichis La Meute, or Wolfpack (it claims no racistintent).

Acts ofvandalism or other hate crimes committed by less organized groups are rising,as FSWC recently reported. Quebec has seen an 11% increase from 2016.

Anti-Muslimrhetoric in media has been particularly harmful in Quebec following the January2017 Quebec City mosque shooting which claimed the lives of six worshippers.The perpetrator, currently awaiting sentencing, has implied that politicalrhetoric influenced his actions to some degree.


4. Education 

Unfortunately,teaching on the Holocaust and various human rights abuses throughout modernhistory has been largely absent from primary and secondary school education formost Quebecers. Under the current Liberal government, this is slowlybeing rectified but notimetable has been presented by the Ministry of Education on incorporating morehistorical material into the curriculum.

There hasbeen a small rise inethnic tensions reportedbetween children at school, according to one study.  

Lack ofaction on human rights education may contribute to the lack ofsensitivity  seenin some political disputes, like those involving the Orthodox Jews of Montreal’s Outremont borough. Groups like Friends of Hutchison have been proactive incountering discrimination in the neighbourhood; the Outremont Hasid blog also tracks developmentsthoroughly.  

In March,a handful of Outremont residents wore yellow badges to a borough councilmeeting in protest over Orthodox Jewish school buses clogging local streets.

“They always bring up theirpainful past,” one protester said. “They do it to muzzle us. We’re wearing the yellow square because theschool buses are yellow.”