09.14.2013 11:24 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: ten reasons why Quebec’s racist “Charter” could fail

It’s a mutually-reinforcing conceit, former Bill Clinton advisor Dick Morris once observed. Politicians and their staff pride themselves on their ability to manipulate the media and – through them – the public. And the media revels in the fact that their journalism is “worthy of the skills of great manipulators.”

You can see this dynamic at work on the Parti Quebecois’ racist “Charter,” whose much-publicized propaganda poster would have read better in its original Bavarian dialect.

Many media are now shaking their heads in admiration at the separatists’ clever manipulations. If people outside Quebec object to the Charter – which bans religious symbols like crosses and kippahs in the public sector – well, then, it’ll whip up pro-secession sentiment, and the clever Parti Québécois will benefit. And if they don’t object? Well, it shows that Canada is a paper tiger, and the clever PQ will benefit.

Except this: politicians and their advisors misjudge all the time. Despite their clever manipulations, things can go dramatically wrong for them. Here’s ten:

1. Private sector votes with its feet: Already, this seems likely. Many Quebecois remember what happened the last time the separatists sought to divide civil society – they propelled businesses, people and capital down the 401 to Toronto. If PQ storm troopers start arresting or fining people for wearing turbans, an exodus is unavoidable.

2. Americans object: Quebec, like Canada, is unduly preoccupied with U.S. opinion. When President Bill Clinton expressed disapproval about a sovereign Quebec during the 1995 referendum, it helped turn the tide against the separatists. Now, the New York Times has taken note, in a story headlined “Quebec Calls for Ban on Wearing Symbols of Faith.” Other Americans will too.

3. International community objects: The United Nations – with which Quebeckers have greater affinity than others – will be petitioned to intervene. The “Charter” inarguably violates section 18 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights: that section promotes religious freedom, and “manifesting” one’s religion “in public or private.”

4. Famous people object: Actors and rock stars – as Fort McMurray learned this week – command headlines. They get more coverage than politicians do. If Stephen Spielberg refuses to film his next blockbuster in Quebec because public policy is possibly being lifted from der Sturmer, it’ll hurt the PQ – big time.

5. Religious figures object: PQ ministers are presently indifferent to what garden-variety clergy have to say – but what if every priest, minister, rabbi, imam and Sikh pathie condemns the scheme from the pulpit? What if revered figures, like Bishop Desmond Tutu or Pope Francis, do likewise?

6. Friendly fire: To the surprise of many, one (former) Bloc Québécois MP expressed serious reservations – and was expelled for saying the law will do “grave” damage to the separatist cause. And big-name PQ advisors, like Josee Legault, called it “incoherent and absurd.” Given the half-baked nature of the Charter’s rollout, more friendly fire is likely.

7. Leaks: Where there are governments and controversy, there are leaks. It’s inevitable that memoranda will seep out of Quebec City, showing officials – elected and otherwise – objecting to the xenophobic plot.

8. Litigation lags: The PQ is counting on the Supreme Court finding their intended law unconstitutional, to provoke a Quebec-versus-Canada confrontation. But the PQ posses only a minority – and they may be defeated before the desired constitutional challenges ever take place.

9. Extremist flare-ups: Inevitably, there will be demonstrations and counter-demonstrations – and a pro-PQ activist will say something that is wildly racist, impolitic, or both, on-camera. It’s happened before, as when a PQ minister made her condescending “Yvettes” comment during the 1980 referendum. It’ll happen again.

10. Public opinion changes: More and more, pollsters are getting it wrong – in Quebec, too. Public opinion is wildly in flux, all the time. What is popular now can be less so in weeks.

Will any of these come to pass? You can count on it.

And the Parti Quebecois’ clever manipulators won’t look so clever then, will they?


  1. smelter rat says:

    #8 is a critical point.

  2. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    You have to hand it to Pauline. No one in Quebec politics has a greater capacity for conferring on her own government a not so deliberate short end of the stick.

  3. CanadianKate says:

    #8 is the reason for the charter. It will cause the government to fall, they will go to election and the people of Quebec will elect a majority PQ party. The PQ don’t need the majority of Quebecers to support them (although they may have that), they only need a bit more than 1/3 of the people in the majority of ridings, thanks to our first-past-the-post system.

    And going to the polls with this issue instead of the economy also tilts the field in their favour.

    Once they have a majority, they may continue with the charter as released or they may water it down due to reasons such as the ones you suggest.

  4. Tiger says:

    Re #1 — isn’t that the goal? Each professional who leaves is one fewer “Non” vote in the next referendum.

    Don’t think there will be one, as support for separation is down in the 30s now, but this is an attempt by them to sort out the electorate. Demographic trends were against them; this helps them mitigate that. (Or so they think.)

  5. Mike Tevlin says:

    I think that your point #1 is very strong. As I write this I am sitting in my condo in downtown Toronto, looking at the head office of the Bank of Montreal. That move and the many other companies that pulled their professionals out of Quebec must have been a terrible blow to the economy. (pretty good for Toronto ‘though)

  6. Brammer says:

    #1 is something I have never understood about the PQ. If the long term goal is separation, how do they think they will survive as an Island of white secular French in a North American sea of English?

    Not trying to be condescending, but does Quebec really think it has the economic clout to demand the same bilingual concessions it now receives thanks to the support of the official languages act?

    • robin says:

      One of the most perplexing results coming from referendum votes on separation is the fact unilingual francophone dairy farmers in La Beauce region of Quebec, south of Quebec City, vote overwhelmingly in favour of separation when their industry is sustained by a 50 percent dairy production quota to supply Canada with dairy products. If Quebec separates, it is most likely they will lose this protected supply managed market privilege. Sometimes the practical realities are overshadowed by sentiment. Hopefully, common sense will prevail. I also heard that the most adamant supporters of the Quebec Charter live in rural regions of Quebec where the likelihood of encountering someone wearing religious symbols, garments or headwear is extremely low. I lived in Quebec for three years and despite how many unilingual francophone friends I had, no matter how welcome I was among them, there were times when it was clear: I was not and would never be one of them, regardless of how well I could speak French. It is the same sentiment among First Nations who welcome non-First Nations people into their communities or even other First Nations people from different nations. However, as Canadians we have chosen to be accepting if not respectful in the interests of peace, order and good government – a fair and civil society. I live in western Canada where we have other challenges.

      • Tiger says:

        The Beauce is federalist:

        “The region, which stretches from Quebec City to Maine, is unlike any other in the province: it’s been referred to as “the Japan of Quebec” for the fierce entrepreneurialism that characterizes its residents. It’s also among the most resolutely federalist ridings in Quebec, despite an overwhelmingly francophone population.(A history of the region, published in 1974, was entitled Les Beaucerons, ces insoumis, or These Obstinate Beaucerons.)”

        It’s Max Bernier country. Votes over 50% CPC even when he doesn’t campaign. And the neighbouring ridings are 3 of the 4 other CPC seats remaining in Quebec.

      • I went to high school in rural Quebec, where the local populace was about 50% anglo, 50% francophone. In our high school of 1,500 students, there was a single black person, and a single East Indian. To say it was ethnically homogeneous is an understatement. When we lived in Montreal, there was bigotry and racism, especially anti-semitism, but out in the country it was over the top. I was fascinated when a black kid came to the school in grade 10. It was as if everybody knew their racist ideas were nonesense, and everybody was eager to meet the new kid to confirm their suspicions that he was not a bicycle thief, or a pimp by virtue of his skin colour. Attitudes changed before my very eyes, as Al became one of the coolest kids in the school. I think you are spot on that people fear the unfamiliar, and bigotry seems to me to be a product of igorance. I have always assumed that the over the top racism I still see in rural Ontario is just another manifestation of that same ignorance. That will not help people in rural Quebec to overcome their ignorance / bigotry unfortunately, especially as they are gouing to be seeing far fewer visibly different people if this charter ever comes into effect.

  7. Sharknado says:

    The Quebec ‘pur lain’ exposed for the racist, fascist, bigots that they are…bunch of godless cowards.

    • Mike Tevlin says:

      Actually, my grandmother was pur lain (proudly 12th generation French Canadian), and she was far more open minded than this. My mother who, while not pur lain, was brought up to be perfectly bilingual with all French Canadian traditions, is far more accepting and open minded. Not all French Canadians are as bigoted as this bill is.

    • Sharknado: And Quebec Anglos (and the rest of Canada) before 1960 dished out exactly what to francophone Quebecers? Quiet bigotry, exclusion, and prejudice. Remember ‘Speak White’? Sorry to scratch old scabs, but your lack of historical context is appalling. Francophone Quebecers have good reason to resent English Canada. These syndromes take generations to work themselves out. French-speaking Quebecers are no different from Anglos in their ethnocentrism

  8. robin says:

    Sharknado: I am deeply concerned about your vitriolic and venomous comment which paints all unilingual Francophone Quebecers as the same which isn’t true and, rightfully or wrongfully, implies that you are as intolerant as the small minority of people within the PQ Party you wish to criticize. Sadly, your comment feeds into the Premier Marois’ strategy which is to incite animosity and draw intolerant comments from people in a very public debate.

  9. robin says:

    Mme. Pauline Marois and her PQ Charter of Values brigade are the political equivalent of Separatist Tourette’s syndrome. Tourette’s was once considered a rare and bizarre syndrome, most often associated with the exclamation of obscene words or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks, but this symptom is present in only a small minority of people in Quebec with Separatist Tourette’s.

    Separatist Tourette’s is no longer considered a rare condition in Quebec, but it is not always correctly identified because most cases are mild and the severity of tics decreases for most Quebecers as they become educated and mature. Extreme Separatist Tourette’s in adulthood is a rarity but not completely eradicated.

    Therefore, when confronted with a rare eruption of Separatist Tourette’s it is best to ignore it since it will not affect their health or life expectancy; and, if ignored, it will be less persistent and may eventually disappear.

    Unfortunately, there appears to be a new negative phenomenon emerging which is dubbed Separatist Tourette’s Echo which is a relatively new knee-jerk malady in which non-Separatists mysteriously echo Separatist Tourette-like intolerant rants.

    Nonetheless, it is unlikely to spread since it has only affected the weak minded and less well educated with low IQ; others appear not to be susceptible to catch Separatist Tourette’s Echo.

  10. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    We will not only see the federal government pursue a reference before the SCC but also watch for a new tactic of how Harper sends a message to Quebec: a competence egale — watch for a number of minority community appointments to la Cour superieure.

  11. patrick says:

    You’re really stretching here Warren.
    What does the private sector care if religious trinkets can’t be worn in government buildings? The law has no affect on private businesses. Where is the loss of money that would spawn another corporate exodus from Montreal? (I’m always amazed how the PQ cost the Quebec economy billions is never the story it should be)
    Where are people being stopped from expressing their faith, other than working with the government? How is anyone going to get arrested in public. You make it sound as if people will be picked up off the street. You can believe what you want in public and in private, following the UN charter, but the government has decided to become secular and not favor one myth over another.
    And how is it racist to ban all religious paraphernalia when no one is singled out? Assuming that the PQ’s intent is to completely secularize the government service (I don’t really believe it, but lets pretend) and give no sway to one religion or another, then there’s nothing that is specifically excluded.
    Rock Stars? Actors? Oh no, will the Biebs … oh who cares. Really?
    Religious leaders? Well, yeah, anything that threatens their power structure will get their holy robes in a knot. So what? When’s the last time a religious leader made enough noise to change the actions of a government, specifically related to faith? I don’t remember either.
    The US? Well the break up of Canada (Quebec can’t separate from Canada since Canada was founded on the union of Upper and Lower. I really think we have to change the language on this) would have been a huge inconvenience but there would have been no war, just paper work. And I think you’re making up the impact the Clinton’s statement had on the referendum. I don’t recall it being a major story or causing a dip in PQ’s fortunes.
    The rest of your column is about process and it will be a difficult charter to follow through on, even in Quebec.
    And while I would approve of all religious iconography being removed from government, I don’t believe for a second that intent of the PQ’s is public service secularism. This is purely “manufacture a crisis to exploit a crisis”, partially aimed at non Christians and as always, separatism.
    As for Canada being a paper tiger if it doesn’t complain loudly enough, that’s absurd. More it’s the sign of a people maturing and finally putting to bed old wives tales and ancient boogey men.

  12. dave says:

    I understand the ban applies to Quebec Government employees.
    I am wondering where you would draw the line on a government worker wearing religious garb or attachments…would you want a person wearing apparell or an attachment to show evidence that what is worn is integral to that person’s spiritual journey?

    • Barry Beaubois in Ontario says:

      If a Quebec government employee wore a lapel pin or small sticker identifying themselves with the words “SIKH”, “JEW”, “MUSLIM”, “CHRISTIAN”, “ZOROASTRIAN”, “ATHEIST” and dressed casually would that be considered illegal? That would be a written declaration; and how about a verbal declaration? Does the Charter of Values cover verbal and written ID’s as well as garments and symbols; is it all VERBOTEN, all muzzled?

  13. Rose Flannigan says:

    While the Parti Quebecois’ plan is odious and devious, it would helpful to have the intellectual courage to open one’s eyes and look at the psychosocial root causes. The fact is, Jason Kenney and Co. dream of importing a hundred million plus temporary foreign essentially unassimilateable workers (and therefore abusable, malleable, servile souls who would never dream of protesting labour/living conditions – slavery is “halal”). The Conservative clique has degraded the doctrine of multiculturalism to mean a program to subsume the Aboriginal, Quebecois and Canadian Nations in an orgy of laissez-faireism and asset stripping. You, we, them are now merely redundancies that need to be carted away to the junkyard of history. Parliament is prorogued. The press, academia are bought, servile. The people beleaguered and brainwashed. This is only the beginning of sorrows as people realize they have little to nothing left to lose. Weimar Republic, Canadian style. Social engineering going, going, gone horribly wrong.

  14. Paul says:

    what about crosses etc that are tattooed on necks , fingers etc like crosses, JC , and the like

    are tuques still okay?

  15. Barry Beaubois in Ontario says:

    Hold on, Warren, and let’s look at this Quebec Charter of Values gambit from a PQ separatiste/sovereintist/independiste perspective.

    Also let’s remember Jacque Parizeau’s bitter remarks claiming that it was “les ethnique” vote (and money) that defeated his referendum.

    What to do with the ethnics if they are blocking a successful separation of Quebec from Canada? Get rid of them, now!

    This PQ attempt to isolate and expel the “ethics” will spook them to leave the province. First the ethnic government workers and then their ethnic community will follow them out of Quebec. Expect a large exodus of anglos and allos from Quebec notwithstanding whether this Charter is legal or not. It should take about 2 years before we see the full exodus taking hold.

    Marois is expecting a win-win result either way. If the Charter is deemed illegal, that will establish her credentials as the only politicians who are fighting for the French Culture in Quebec. If the Charter is legal, that will accelerate the exodus of the NON-voting ethnics. Either way, the ethnic anti-separatists will find it extremely uncomfortable and unwelcome in Quebec.

    Marois knows that it’s the NON-voting ethnics and the ambivalent quebecois who will always frustrate Quebec independence. Now her Charter will solidify support not only for separation but also for her minority government. It will also flush out all Quebec politicians as pro or con sovereignty. No more sitting on the fence for anybody.

    There is certainly a method in her madness, and the end game is Quebec independence as she has proclaimed is the raison d’être of her PQ government. Also, in the next federal election, look for a revival of the BQ in some form and winning big in Quebec. Buh-bye NPD orange crush, Liberals and Conservatives too. It’s either you’re for or against the nation of Quebec!

    Of course, with the provincial economy tanking, what better strategy than wrapping yourself in le drapeau du Québec!!

  16. dave says:

    I just read this proposed charter of values. Here’s my rough version:

    Amend Qbc Charter fo Human Rights and Freedoms to emphasize religious neutrality of the government.

    Duty of religious neutrality of government empoyees working with the public.

    Limit wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by gvt employees…some might be okayed, but would be reviewed every 5 years.

    Gvt employees uncover the face to provide gvt services.

    Establish an implementation policy respecting missions of various gvt service sectors.

    I do not see a problem with this. I do not see racism, I do not see bigotry, I see an attempt to keep gvt from pushing any particular religious traditions.

  17. So… what happened to the separation of Church and state?

  18. Adam says:

    From the “Best of Reddit” today,

    “It got fired up a few years back with a legal case of allowing (or not) a religious ceremonial knife in elementary school. Then there was a case about allowing muslim girls to forego phys ed classes because there were pool activities – and they refused to swim because it meant unveiling. More recently, there were cases of women refusing to unveil to identify themselves to policemen, to government officials or even to take ID pictures.

    And gradually, the awareness grew that many of these religious beliefs were ill-fitted for regular life in Québec. Heck, our own catholic church has been summarily pushed aside for 50 years now and few of us regret it. Resentment grew at people fervently bringing their religions back into the fold, which felt as if they were trying to take our society back 50 years.

    I wouldn’t mind either way about religious beliefs, symbols and attire, as long as none of the daily life is affected. We expect people to cooperate with schools, government and policemen – which makes it hard to justify taking ID pictures in a Burqa, or refusing to unveil to identify yourself, or foregoing school activities, or carrying weapons.

    The whole charter of values debate degenerated when the time came to draw the line. Overreactions abounded among “core” québécois, retorting with: “if those are your traditional religious values, well, here’s ours so deal with it.” While few of us would care for religion and catholic crosses on the walls of schools and parliament before, many raised their pitchforks at immigrants trying to have it the other way around.
    IMHO those reactions were exaggerated and childish, in both camps.

    Québec is a beautiful, inviting place, and the point is: we want to keep it that way. Most have a hard time believing that immigrants, who choose our part of the country, resist/refuse to adapt to the way of life that makes it so great. Many people believe, rightly or wrongly, that allowing these cultures to change our daily modus operandi will make our province less serene.

    As it stands, it’s an overreaction that sought a good solution, but no one has a good solution yet as we’re all learning to deal with multiculturalism. Eventually, rules will change, habits will develop and communities will learn to coexist/merge. We just have to adapt to some compromises first. That’s the part where the Charter is a good idea, though it is thoroughly misguided as of yet.

    So I hope that in a few years’ time, we will find out that the Charter of Values was a healthy blunder on the steep road towards a more acceptable, long-term solution. The alternative is growing resentment and intolerance, which is hardly what anyone wants.”

    With all due respect to the tinfoil hat separatist conspiracy theories perhaps this is simply a populist reaction to a growing segment of non-cooperative residents with remarkably inflexible religious beliefs.

  19. john70 says:

    Americans, International Community, Famous People, Religious Figures, they object?! I did not hear them objecting when a stricter law was passed in France several years ago.
    But I’ll give you that – “Extremist flare-ups”. Some people might decide that going to Syria to be gassed is not a good option and they might choose to stay home to fight the easier fight.

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