08.31.2013 07:31 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: Quebec, values and history

In the fall of 1936, as the plague of Nazism continued spreading across Germany, Oldenburg issued a decree.

The northern German district had decided to order the removal of crucifixes from public buildings, and even from Catholic schools. For equivalency, Oldenberg’s fascist leaders also ordered that pictures of Martin Luther be taken down in Protestant schools.

While Adolf Hitler had been notionally a Catholic — his mother had been quite devout — his connection to the church was not strong. His interest in churches seemed to be limited to their architecture.

In his treatise, Mein Kampf, Hitler would attack the Catholic Church, denouncing it for being insufficiently concerned by what he called the “racial problem.” While his National Socialist Party charter lamely promoted freedom of religion, Hitler disbanded the Catholic Youth League in his first week as chancellor. Religious education was thereafter discouraged.

When Catholic clergy responded by offering spiritual teaching outside work hours, the Hitler regime prohibited state employees from taking part. And then, in 1936, Oldenberg happened.

A Hitler Youth anthem of the time pithily summed up Nazism’s view: “We follow not Christ, but Horst Wessel; Away with the incense and holy water; The church can go hang for all we care, the Swastika brings salvation on Earth.”

If you are an informed Canadian (generally) and a worried religious Quebecer (specifically), you know where we’re going with this modest history lesson, of course. So let’s get one thing out of the way, right away: Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois are not Adolf Hitler’s NSDAP. If you think they are, you’re an idiot.

But when you read about Oldenburg, you perhaps recalled the PQ’s Orwellian-sounding “Charter of Quebec Values.” I know I certainly did.

For the Quebec public sector, Marois wants to ban religious symbols worn by the religious. Proclaiming herself in favour of religious freedom — as the Nazi Party did in its charter — Marois last week declared: “We’re moving forward in the name of all the women, all the men, who chose Quebec for our culture, for our freedom, and for our diversity,” she told a gathering of PQ Youth in Quebec City.

Except that it’s not true. The “charter” will not move Quebec, or Canada, forward one step. It will not advance Quebec’s “culture,” it will strangle it. It will not enhance Quebec’s “freedom,” it will tarnish it. And, most of all, it will not enhance “diversity” — it will, instead, murder it.

As some of us (but not all of us) have written in these pages many times, religions should not run governments — and governments should not run religions. Past measures taken by both the federal and Quebec governments — against Muslims who choose to wear burkas — were a slippery slope, we argued. No less than the Orthodox Jewish leadership in Montreal agreed.

We now know why. Marois’ “vision,” as Quebec’s Jews and Muslims foretold, will create disunity and division. If she figures out a way to get her hateful charter through the National Assembly — where, ironically and hypocritically, a crucifix is prominently displayed — she will stir up sectarian turmoil the likes of which this country has never seen.

Here’s why: To the faithful, religious symbols are not mere ornaments. They are part of their being — literally, part of their identity. To them, Quebec’s intended Charter is the equivalent of hacking off a limb.

Marois should read about Oldenburg. Not for what the Nazis did in the fall of 1936, but for what the people did next. They rose up against the decree against religious symbols. They revolted.

The Nazi Party sent in their propagandists to defend it, but the people of Oldenburg shouted them down. Thousands rallied to end it.

And they did. In a rare defeat for Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, the Oldenburg decree was rescinded, never to be attempted again.

People power works, then and now.


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    Stew says:

    Of course French Canadians, their culture and traditions have never experienced bigotry or racism, ever.

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    Bernard Dowling says:

    Mr Kinsella:

    Invoking Hitler or the Nazi’s has always been rather dicey when commenting on almost any news item. However your point here is well taken and I am in agreement with it. Well written.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Agreed that People Power can move mountains and it already has — forcing a rethink on Marois’ Bill 14…

    Can the same be accomplished here? I hope so.

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    Tom Maxwell says:

    “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme” – Twain:

    To Sir With Love

    The Parti Quebecois under Pauline Marois as the Marine Le Pen of “les Nègres blancs d’Amérique” (2008, Gilles Duceppes ranted: “I say to all the Uncle Toms from Quebec that are in Ottawa!…” – offensive on a number of levels) is in the process of implementing a strict program of enforcing Quebecois cultural norms and behaviors on unruly populations. The PQ like inner city teacher Thackeray hope to arrive one morning and find a classroom of well-dressed, well-scrubbed students ready to go to the museum.

    The first phase of this program is banning the wearing of all religious symbols. No turbans for the Sikhs (the story is told of Vlad the Impaler who receiving a Turkish emissary demanded he remove his turban as a sign of respect; his refusal was remedied by beheading.) No hijabs (one wonders how certain orders of nuns will fare under this rule?) No Kippas for Jewish folk – but what of the large, wide brimmed black hats of the Orthodox? Bye-bye my cowboy?) I have not heard Rastafarians mentioned, but their long, elegant dread locks, one symbol of their religion, would presumably have to be shorn. Would Bob Marley have to be banned entirely and an agent of subversion? Conversely, many a Protestant is defined by a tight crew cut – will they be forced to something like the flowing locks of Justin Trudeau? Or is long hair the province of Sikhs and Rastafarians and must be banned entirely? Will Hindus be deprived of adorning the “third eye” with colour? All makeup and facepaint? Will First Nations be forbidden their spiritual artifacts – feathers, beads and such like? And what of the so-called cults of personality? A total ban on Che Guevara t-shirts and berets? Perhaps no as Cuba was the paradise some of the FLQ fled to? T-shirts with religious themes? Perhaps the Quebecois Nation in Mao suits and hairnets? But then we are back to cults of personality – the PQ banning the PQ? It’s a tangle.

    The dark secret of all this is phase two. The Quebecois have reasoned that Canada, as a constitutional monarchy and monarch as a leader of the Church of England, means that Canada is itself a religious symbol. As such, this means that under their symbol control policy, no flags, no t-shirts, the money, no Canadian symbols at all – perhaps even banning of the English language – language is, after all, the ultimate symbolic system. While the Queen as symbolic executive has not prevented or spoken out against Canadian/Quebecois leaders being Catholic or Presbyterian or Buddhist or secular or whatever, the Quebecois demand symbolic purity. These are the politics of tribal purity. The Marois/”les Nègres blancs d’Amérique” regime as the Idi Amin or Robert “I am the Hitler of Africa” Mugabe of the Americas – a mass exodus from and ruinition of Quebec.

    It is certain that non-Quebecois both inside and outside Quebec are sickened, disgusted, nauseated by all this. The Quebecois should shake themselves out of their own stagnation. Renee Levesque, liaison officer and war correspondent for the U.S. Army in Europe, reported from London while it was under regular bombardment by the Luftwaffe, and advanced with the Allied troops as they pushed back the German army through France and Germany. He was with the first unit of Americans to reach Dachau concentration camp, and was profoundly moved by what he witnessed – so much so it was the impetus to cleanse Quebec of fascist elements via the quiet revolution. As the PQ works to put the national back into its version of socialism, would Levesque still say, “I never thought that I could be so proud to be Québécois?” The answer is no.

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      Eric says:

      Have you read the law? I doubt because its not public yet. But you shoul no that the religious symbole will not be illegal everywhere so calm a little, you will still have the right to listen bob marley in quebec. The intediction of religious symbol will be only for the representant of the state, wich is laique and must stay. If you want to pray whatever god you believe to, you could keep doing it in your house, your religious building or even in the street.

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        Jim says:

        Typical ignorant statement of someone who places no respect in the diversity in others. Someone may move to Québec, become a productive member of society and blend in without difficulty; however, this does not give you the right to strip them of their individualism based on your arbitrary self-righteous beliefs. Your statement is ignorant on the basis that your claims are founded upon a value system that is rooted in your particular upbringing. You do not find symbols offensive so long as it is what you are used to, such as a small crucifix that is on a necklace (common in your social circles). You find anything remotely different as intolerant and should be removed from sight, just like the blacks were forced to ride in the back of the bus in the segregationist U.S., so that the whites would not have to look upon them as they travelled. The underlying message is that you have the right, so long as “we” do not have to see “you”. That will certainly harmonize Québec!!! What might happen two generations from now if the French Québecois continue to maintain a low birth rate and the immigrant populations end up surpassing you kind in electoral votes. Could they then decide that because they are more numerous than you that Québec values have now changed and decide, with the same logic, to allow you to speak French and demonstrate Catholic symbols so long as you keep it hidden and out of sight. NO…you certainly would not agree with that would you? Shame on you!!!

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    Rene says:

    If you are not seeking to equate Marois’s policies with Hitler’s, why make the comparison with the 1936 Oldenburg decree? And why limit yourself to Hitler? Stalin was also known to prohibit and outlaw all forms of religious expression. If you wish to condemn the proposed secularist policies of the Marois government in its Charter of Quebec values, deal with such policies once they have actually been announced and the terms known, rather than dealing with hysterical speculation seeking to equate such initiative to the Oldenburg decree. Next you will assert that the secularist policies of the current French Republic are some variant of fascism. As for the Liberal historical narrative on the alleged secularist and anti-clerical sympathies of the Nazis, during this same period, 1936, Hitler was sending his legions to Spain, accompanied by Italian fascists and assorted clerical reactionaries in support of monarchists and the Catholic Church against the Spanish Republic, one of whose goals was the secular division of Church from state, seeking to put an end to the institutional dominance of the Catholic Church. Nor were the Nazis hostile to Catholicism in Vichy France. In fact their interests were so closely interwoven that at war’s end many Nazi officials and their French collaborators, such as the infamous de Bernonville, managed to escape arrest and trial, emigrating to countries such as Canada through the active assistance and collusion of the Catholic Church. Now why would the Church go to such efforts if their interests were antagonistic, as you allege in your narrative? Such narratives as your Oldenburg decree hardly illuminate the actual interaction between established religions, such as the Catholic Church and their relationship to repressive, reactionary regimes such as fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Salazar’s Portugal or Franco’s Spain. Nor are such policies relevant to what is currently being proposed for discussion in Quebec’s National Assembly.

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      GPAlta says:

      The current law in France is racist and xenophobic, and the UN human rights committee has said that its enforcement has violated the International Convention on Civil and Political rights.

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      Jim Hanna says:

      It would seem to me the point of using Oldenberg, aside from its surface similarity, is that it was overturned in the face of vigorous opposition. That is a powerful and good lesson.

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    Bob Sagget says:


    This saga remains a taboo among Quebec’s intelligentsia. What started as an escape from justice for a French war criminal is now a topic that the elite would rather like to forget. Here is a short recapitulation.

    On Nov. 26, 1946, a French war criminal disguised as a priest arrived in Canada from New York. The man who successfully fled to North America with help from religious officials declares to customs agents that he is a tourist and shows them a fake passport.

    The “priest,” Jacques de Bernonville, is the former right-hand man of Klaus Barbie and a former torturer during German occupation of France. He swore allegiance to Hitler during the war and his name was listed on the Waffen SS payroll. In France, Bernonville was a powerful leader of the French militia that hunted resistance fighters.

    Upon his entry in Canada, the runaway goes to Quebec City, then to the small town of St. Pacôme, then to Montreal. But on Sept. 2, 1948, Bernonville is arrested and incarcerated. Civil servants confirm that he will soon be deported to France. Alarmed, one of his major protectors, historian Robert Rumilly, convinces Montreal’s mayor, populist orator Camillien Houde, to call upon public opinion. The involvement of the mayor launches the Bernonville Affair.

    The political storm stokes the smouldering sympathies for the Vichy regime.

    On one side, the intelligentsia and the clerical and nationalist newspapers such as Le Devoir and L’Action catholique paint the man as a hero, a loyal follower of Marshal Pétain, a political refugee, a great Catholic of noble origin, and a Frenchman persecuted by the anglo-Canadian authorities.

    Pro-Vichy and opposed to conscription during the war, pro-Bernonville groups do not want to hear about his crimes.

    The issue is twisted into a controversy over French immigration to Canada.

    Among the prominent nationalists who try to block Bernonville’s deportation, was a 28-year-old psychiatrist, Camille Laurin, the father of contemporary Quebec language laws. His name appeared on a petition in defence of Bernonville.

    In the U.S., some are amazed. Camillien Houde and Bernonville : it’s the perfect match, suggests Time magazine. Houde’s hero, says Time, “could be made to seem a martyr to Ottawa’s ‘implacable hatred’ for Frenchmen and Roman Catholics.”

    Newsweek shared the same point of view.

    Those who want Bernonville to go back home are bit players. They include the rare liberal press organs in Quebec, former members of the Resistance and some English-Canadian newspapers.

    By the spring of 1951, the political saga had dragged on for nearly three years. Having decided to put an end to an affair that was dividing the country, prime minister Louis St. Laurent wrote to Bernonville on March 19, 1951, advising him to leave quietly but not necessarily for France. On Aug. 17, the fugitive followed the prime minister’s advice. and took a for Brazil, where he spent his days in peace until his assassination at age 74 at his home in Rio de Janeiro on April 27, 1972.

    Sixty years later, there has been no meaningful re-examination of this scandal. The subject continues to be kept out of public debate and schoolbooks.

    Camille Laurin never had to give a strong explanation for his support of Bernonville.

    Sol Littman of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Toronto gave, however, the best analysis on that matter : “If people are taking the responsibility for signing a petition or a letter,” he said in 1994, “they should take responsibility for knowing the facts. I don’t think they wanted to know the facts.”

    The Bernonville Affair raises many disturbing questions about politics, media and intellectuals in Quebec. It shows, for instance, how a dramatic issue can be easily twisted into a local battle.

    There is an easy explanation for the silence about the Bernonville Affair : This shameful story doesn’t fit with the nationalist memory of Quebec. The time when Quebec was a safe haven for French collaborators still represents a tortured memory.


    Yves Lavertu The Bernonville Affair – A French War Criminal in Quebec After World War II.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    We in Quebec also had Adrien Arcand. English Canada, the Chinese Head Tax, Komagata Maru, the St. Louis.

    The list is long and recall generally selective. The two solitudes have that in common.

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    Patrice Boivin says:

    Why do religious people cry fascism, totalitarianism, etc. every time someone rightly and truthfully points out that you don’t need religion to live? If God does exist, it always struck me as obvious that religious people are probably the ones who add the most to his sorrow.

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    Paul says:

    I’d agree with you, but I think Godwin’s Law says you automatically lose this discussion… sorry

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      Warren says:

      Really? And when, exactly, is it proper to refer to that period in history? Ever?

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        Alain Gauthier says:

        In all fairness to Warren, I dont believe this is a case of Godwin’s law, since its not the discussion that went on long enough to eventually invoke the Nazi’s, its invoked right from the start: its much closer to Reductio Ad Hitlerum than Godwin’s law.

        That being said, as a French Quebecer, I find myself very uneasy with what the government is proposing – especially considering the long and well established past links between Franch nationalism and anti-semitism. As a person, I certainly take issue when a religious group asks for an accomodation outside our legal principles: for example, asking for sex segregated swimming in a public (not private) pool – are the sexes equal in law or not? But parking on the sabbath in certain jewish neighbourhoods in Montreal, why should that bug anyone. Some emergency room physician wearing a Niqab, go ahead, as long as you dont ask my wife to war one while in your presence. you live your life, we live ours, basically. Same reason born again bible thumpers really get at me.

        But what I see on the ground is a party in a minority government desperate to create some conflict, some scandal, to score support for a majority and a referendum – and that turns rights of a certain group into an electoral platform, and no matter whether your example is the Nazi’s , Stalinist USSR, Fascist Spain, or modern France, some things deserve to be well thought out and not subject to electoral whims. Rights are definitely one of those things, and thats why Marois is fundamentally wrong.

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          Jim says:

          I had heard a quote (source unknown) that a right does not have an expiry date, nor should it be a popularity contest. This is also one of the reasons why I blame Trudeau and Chretien for concocting the Not-Withstanding Clause allowing provinces to opt out despite the rulings of the courts to the contrary.

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