Fighting Quebec’s restrictions on religious symbols

(Updated) Leaders at Queen’s Park will debate and vote on a motion Thursday that calls on all MPPs to oppose any future legislation that would restrict or prohibit people’s freedom of expression and religion in public places.

This follows the Quebec government’s plan for a “values charter” on religious freedom. If passed it would mean a ban on religious clothing and symbols including the Jewish kippa, Sikh turban, Muslim hijab, and large Christian crucifix in the public sector.

The plan is facing heavy opposition across the country, with federal cabinet ministers like Jason Kenney weighing in. “We are very concerned that would discriminate unfairly against people based on based on their religion, based on their deepest convictions.”

Ontario MPP Monte Kwinter who drew up the motion, says
“I just want to make sure that Ontario is on the record that we will support our diversified communities, we will cherish them, we will value them.”

That stance was echoed by many here in Hamilton.

Rabbi Dan Selsberg of Beth Jacob Synagogue: “This feels like old style where the dominant religious group tries to compel behaviour onto the minority. This is the same thing just wearing a different hat as it were.”

“That’s precisely what Canada doesn’t need.”

Ines Rios founded the St Joseph Women’s Immigrant Centre in Hamilton where she has worked with people of different faiths and cultures for 25 years.

“The world is a lot smaller than it was 50 years ago, 100 years ago. So now we have to learn how to live together and do it in a respectful way.”

That’s precisely what Rabbi Selsberg believes makes Canada a great country.

“No one group has a monopoly on the truth. That’s what makes Western societies like Canada flourish. This goes against that.”

In Ontario, where about 25 percent of people belong to a visible minority, many are appalled by the Quebec charter.

Rabbi Selsberg: “I can’t imagine it working in Ontario where part of the ethos is great pride in the increasingly diverse society that exists here.”

Ines Rios: “I cannot imagine that that would contribute to any peaceful world.”

At McMaster University which has a population of about 25,000 students, all of different faiths and backgrounds, many students say they wouldn’t want to be a part of a society that infringes on religious freedom and limits diversity.

“I think that completely goes backwards. We’re in the 21st century. You can’t just all of a sudden be ‘oh, no scarves, no turbans, no crosses’, because it’s freedom of expression right?”

Rabbi Selsberg: “There are legitimate limits to what jobs people can do and how they do them, but wearing a kippa or a large crucifix or a hijab, that likely isn’t one of them.”


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