10/26/2013 04:48 EDT | Updated 12/26/2013 05:12 EST

Thousands March In Montreal for Values Charter


Thousands of supporters of the Parti Québécois government's proposed charter of values took to the streets of downtown Montreal Saturday in a demonstration organized by “Les Janettes,” a group founded in mid-October by the influential author, radio and TV personality, Janette Bertrand.

Noisy but peaceful, the marchers braved cold winds and rain to back Les Janettes, a group that grew from a letter published by Bertrand that argued progress on equality between men and women was taking a back seat to religious freedoms in Quebec.

The group has now collected 39,000 signatures for a petition that, among other things, calls for the charter to be renamed the “Secular Charter of Quebec” and for a clear line to be drawn between church and state in order to promote equality between women and men and defend women's rights.

Organizers of Saturday’s event said the fact people felt compelled to attend the march despite the cold and rain is proof of how deeply Quebecers feel about the issue.

“It’s very touching for us to see that people feel our message and feel that they have to stand-up for their rights,” said Julie Snyder, one of the founders of Les Janettes. “I think it’s the silent majority that is here today.”

Demonstrator Mariette Aubé-Gagnon pointed to the banning of a protest organized by women drivers in Saudi Arabia that same morning as the reason why she came all the way from Boisbriand for the march.

“You have to get out and show your support,” she said. “We can’t go backwards. You have to stand up for women’s equality.”

Marchers were joined briefly by topless representatives of the group FEMEN Québec, who made headlines in early October for protesting the crucifix hanging in Quebec's national assembly. Police quickly sequestered the FEMEN protesters and the march continued without them.

Quebecers remain deeply divided over the proposed charter of values.