A Montreal-based group is calling on all Canadians to join them on January 12th and 13th to protest against the Quebec government’s proposed Charter of Values for the province, urging Canadians to join them by wearing a hijab, turban, kippa or crucifix for a day.
“We invite all Canadians to walk in the footsteps of a visible minority for a day, to show their support for our Canadian and Quebec rights and freedoms and protest against this discriminatory charter,” Sama Al-Obaidy, Support Another spokesperson, told OnIslam.net.
“As the hearings about the charter are scheduled to begin next week in the National Assembly, we will be speaking as one voice against Bill 60 and demonstrating what the true values of Quebec and Canada are – those of multiculturalism, understanding, respect and social harmony,” she added.
The proposed Charter of Values would prohibit public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, including hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and larger-than-average crucifixes.
Bernard Drainville, the province’s Minister for Democratic Institutions from the governing Parti Quebecois (PQ), unveiled the plan for the Charter last September 10th.
The Minister argues that preventing public servants from exercising religious freedom at work is part of a broader secularism or “state neutrality”. “If the state is neutral, those working for the state should be equally neutral in their image,” said Drainville in unveiling the charter.
There have been a number of changes between the charter as it was unveiled in September and the charter in bill form that will be debated in the public hearings starting on Tuesday, January 14 at the National Assembly in Quebec City.
The ban on religious symbols has been expanded to include not just religious headgear and jewelry, but also clothing and “other adornments.” Anyone doing business with the province is expected to adhere to the charter.
When the charter was first launched it was proposed that a five-year exemption would be given to some public institutions, such as the Jewish General Hospital, where many employees wear religious clothing and symbols. Now, every public institution has a transition period of one year to implement the charter.
More than 250 groups and individuals are expected to make submissions at the public hearings.
The response to the proposed charter has been heated and polarizing in Quebec and has generated criticism from Canadians in the other parts of the country.
The visible minority groups in the province, most especially by Muslims, have felt the fallout from the Charter controversy. There have been incidents of Muslim women being confronted for wearing the hijab. Sama Al-Obaidy was verbally and physically attacked in a Montreal Metro station by a woman who attempted to forcibly remove her hijab.
This incident led Al-Obaidy to launch the Support Another Campaign with two other Montrealers, Nariman El-Doraini and Yusr Al-Obaidy, with the intent of promoting awareness and solidarity within Canadian society.
“Since the discussions of the charter of values have surfaced, there have been hundreds of reported cases of verbal and physical assaults against visible minorities, wearing religious symbols, in our own streets of Quebec,” Sama Al-Obaidy said. “Not only are these acts unacceptable, but they do not represent us nor do they belong on our Canadian soil.”
The group is requesting Quebecers to join their campaign to oppose the charter.
“On January 12th, we call on everyone to join us at Place Jacques Cartier, to stand in solidarity as one voice united against the charter,” Al-Obaidy told OnIslam.net. “And on January 13th, we will continue the campaign, by asking everyone to wear their religious symbols in their schools, workplaces and everyday life, to help further spread awareness and continue the protest on a personal level all across the country.”
In Quebec, the majority of immigrants coming to the province settle in the Montreal area, 87 percent according to Statistics Canada, the country’s census bureau.
As a result, the proposed charter has put the large diverse populace of the island of Montreal who oppose the charter up against the mostly homogenous areas in the remainder of the province.
The controversial charter is also facing criticism internationally. Amnesty International, the prominent international Human Rights organization, slammed it for restricting two fundamental human rights: freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Amnesty says that the charter would essentially violate Canadian and International law.
Canada, which has a population of 35 million, consists of 10 provinces and 3 territories and is the second largest country by total area in the world. It is a federal parliamentary democracy and English and French are the two official languages.
Canada is considered a middle power and ranks among the highest in the world for education, quality of life, openness and freedom.
Quebec is the only Canadian province with a mostly French speaking population and it has adopted French as its official language.
The country is one of the most diverse and multicultural nations on earth. In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, and take pride in their ancestry.
Canada’s laws and policies recognize Canada’s diversity by race, cultural heritage, ethnicity, religion, ancestry and place of origin and guarantee to all men and women complete freedom of conscience, of thought, belief, opinion expression, association and peaceful assembly.
Muslims are the fastest growing religious community in Canada, according to the country’s statistical agency, Statistics Canada. Canada’s Muslim population increased by 82 per cent over the past decade — from about 579,000 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2011,
The survey of almost three million people showed that Muslims now represent 3.2 percent of Canada’s total population, up from 2.0 percent recorded in the 2001 Census.
Two-thirds of the country’s 1 million Muslims lived in the three largest metropolitan areas combined – Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver. Toronto had the largest population of Muslims, at just over 424,900. Montréal had just over 221,000 and Vancouver about 73,200.
See also “‘Support Another’ kicks off Charter hearings with rally”, Global News, 7 January 2014