POLITICS

Dominic LeBlanc: Quebec Religious Symbols Plan A Modern Version Of 'Separate But Equal' Policies

08/29/2013 02:15 EDT

GEORGETOWN ROYALTY, P.E.I. — While Justin Trudeau was on the defensive Thursday insisting there is no direct parallel between the Parti Québécois's proposed Charter of Quebec Values and the former segregation policies of the United States, a key member of his team suggested the charter is a modern example of "separate but equal" policies.

New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, a childhood friend of Trudeau and the Liberals' House leader in the Commons, told HuffPost that the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech recalled a fight against injustice, racism, intolerance and segregation.

"All these doctrines that appear passé have modern versions," he said Thursday morning. "If separate but equal, and segregation, was the challenge that Dr. King was standing up against, perhaps banning religious symbols and kicking kids off soccer fields because they wear a turban would be the modern version of some of those very profound battles of half a century ago."

The Liberal MP, who was in P.E.I. for the party's summer caucus, was reacting to media stories after Trudeau told a large rally Wednesday evening that, reflecting on King's speech delivered that same day — Aug. 28 — 50 years ago, it is "unfortunate that even today, when we talk, for example, about this idea of a Charter of Quebec Values, that there are still some who believe that you have to choose between your religion and your Quebec identity, [and] that there are people who will be forced by the state to make choices that are irresponsible and inconceivable."

Trudeau said Thursday morning that the Quebec charter would force people to choose between their freedoms of religion, expression and conscience and their economic well-being and acceptance in the workplace.

"It goes to the very core values that were certainly reflected in that famous speech," Trudeau said.

But he backed away from making a direct link between the charter and the U.S. segregation policies against which King was campaigning.

"There is no parallel between segregation and the Quebec charter. The parallel is certainly between the fight for openness, respect and acceptance of everything that everyone is," Trudeau said.

LeBlanc, however, said he does see "a parallel between somebody saying, you know what, it's wrong and inappropriate and intolerant to incite this kind of reaction," as King said then and Trudeau said Wednesday.

Trudeau’s remarks at the evening barbeque were inspired by comments Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler made to the federal caucus earlier Wednesday, LeBlanc said. Cotler, who on that day 50 years ago was in Washington, D.C., recounted what it was like to be on the mall listening to King speak.

Had it not been the 50th anniversary of King’s speech, LeBlanc said, he wasn't sure that Trudeau would have said what he said in St. Peter's Bay, P.E.I.

"I thought that he properly drew a context to some of the rather appalling decisions that the Quebec government is trying to impose on Quebecers today," LeBlanc said.

"Others can decide if they are racist," Leblanc added. "They are certainly not very nice; they are certainly not very friendly; they are certainly not inspired by openness and inclusiveness and tolerance and generosity."

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