The calls by the PQ to establish the so-called Values Charter is receiving a lot of attention, deservedly.
The PQ government claims that it wants government employees to appear "neutral" and not wear any visible religious symbols or headgear.
The idea that someone is "neutral" only when they meet a certain dress code that is defined by one particular perspective is troubling. It means that other citizens who follow a minority culture or faith are considered anomalies.
Not only is it misguided, but it is also discriminatory.
At its core, this debate raises the oft-repeated questions: What does it mean to be a Quebecois? Is one's citizenship defined by their ethnicity? Religion? Can a member of a minority group reconcile their multiple identities or do they have to give up one to be accepted in the other?
As an immigrant, it took me a while to come to terms with these questions.
When I first arrived to Canada, I brought with me excitement and hope about my new adopted home.
At the time, I wanted to remove any visible or invisible signs of being a foreigner so I can belong. I wished I didn't have an accent. I intended to assimilate. I rejected the hyphenated-Canadian label; it made me feel less of a Canadian. I wanted to be like everyone else and to be treated like everyone else.
Ironically, the more I became a "Canadian", the more I understood the seemingly confusing subject of identity. What may have been an apparent conflict became an asset and a source of pride.
What contributed to my discovery was a combination of critical thinking, self-confidence, and personal growth. But most importantly a welcoming society that helped me reconcile the various aspects of my identity.
Does my ethnicity define my citizenship? What is my identity?
Ethnicity is an inherited feature, defined by the ethnicity of one's parents and lineage. It does not define citizenship or identity. It is not necessarily defined by country of origin either.
One has no choice in the selection of their ethnicity. It is what it is: Hispanic, Anglo, French, Indian, Persian, etc.
One's identity is a much more complex character. It is defined by one's experiences.
The experiences one faced throughout their life shaped and determined their values, priorities, grievances, beliefs and aspirations.
Many factors contribute to the type of experiences one faces. As a male, I faced different experiences than a female who would've had an identical life to mine. Thus developing different identities and perspectives.
People with identical ethnicity but who grew up under differing circumstances will have less in common than people with different ethnicity but who grew up in a similar environment and faced similar experiences.
Citizenship, on the other hand, is not determined by ethnicity or identity. It is also not exclusively defined by a passport, birth certificate or citizenship card. It is one's loyalty to a system of laws. It is a commitment to values, and conviction in a set of principles.
For example, part of what defines Canadians is their pledge to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, their commitment to a democracy that separates church from state and an unrelenting pursuit for an inclusive and fair society that includes vigorous debates so those who disagree with any of the aforementioned principles have a safe space to promote their beliefs.
Nationhood is stronger when built on ideals and morals rather than racial, ethnic or religious commonality.
It means that no matter what faith one follows or how they dress, they should be seen as a "neutral" citizen before the government and its laws.
It is not a surprise that some individuals have a preconceived notion of what a "neutral" person should look like that fits their own norms.
However, our leaders have a responsibility to remind us all, members of minority or majority, of the inclusive founding principles of our society and to avoid creating damaging and unequal tiers of citizenship.