I moved to Montreal in 1999 in order to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. I studied at Concordia, worked hard, graduated, published, got a job teaching, and eventually built a life for myself in this beautiful city. I am the co-parent of a beautiful and fiercely intelligent daughter.
She is a Quebecer through and through. She attends a French school, loves the Canadiens, and Quebec culture. The school my daughter goes to is an excellent one. It has a policy of inclusion. That is to say, it actively practices a philosophy of teaching responsibility in terms of disability awareness, anti-bullying, and cultural differences. My daughter's school is made up of teachers and students of many cultures and religions and she is much richer for it. Recently, she pointed out to me that her school's policy is very different from the proposed charter of values that the Parti Quebecois would like to make law. I am so very proud of her.
One of the things that made me fall in love with this province is its cultural and ethnic diversity. In terms of music, art, and literature, there are very few places in the world as pluralistically charming as Quebec. One of the other things that made me fall in love with this province was its politics. Quebec is, in so many ways, a very progressive society. As a lifelong NDP-er, I believe in gender equality, affordable education, daycare, strong unions. Quebec does relatively well in these areas when compared to the rest of Canada.
In the spring of 2012, I joined many of my students and colleagues on the streets of Montreal to protest tuition hikes. The printemps érable was an expression of a shared value: education must be affordable and available to all.
It was an inclusive movement. For people like me, it provided a much-needed link to fellow Quebecers. Many younger Anglophones were emboldened by the collectivist approach of the movement. Many of us felt completely at home for the first time. One result of the movement was the election of a minority Parti Quebecois government in the fall of 2012 and a temporary freeze on tuition hikes. At the time, I viewed this as a largely positive outcome.
I had hoped for a PQ minority government because I reasoned that we would have achieved the goal of stopping the rise of tuition without having to worry about giving a separatist party any sort of mandate to change the inclusive and multicultural Quebec I had made my home. I was wrong. Pauline Marois managed to betray students and unions in just two and a half years.
What's worse, Pauline Marois' PQ government has managed to create a landscape of fear, hatred and paranoia in Quebec. The charter of values is, quite frankly, a disgusting piece of proposed legislation that seeks to marginalize and persecute people based on cultural and religious differences. Under the guise of state secularism, the charter would violate Quebecers' fundamental human rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
This is why Amnesty International has denounced it. There can be no denying this simple fact: what the Parti Quebecois is attempting to do is a violation of Canadian and International Human Rights Law. It is anti-freedom.
Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that the closest North American laws to the charter in terms of structure and intent are very obscure American state laws that were originally sponsored by the Ku Klux Klan. It is important to mark the irony here: in Quebec, we have a government so rabidly desperate to impose secularism on its citizens that they are behaving precisely like fundamentalist religious extremists.
In 2012, the Parti Quebecois was given a very limited mandate because the voters of Quebec believed they could adequately represent their progressive values. It was clearly a mistake. It is not progressive to tell citizens what they can and cannot wear. It is not progressive to tell citizens when and how they should worship. It is not progressive to put the jobs and lives of citizens in jeopardy if they don't adhere to some twisted version of homogeneous "social order." It is not progressive to suppress the votes of students in order to achieve political power.
There are just a few days left in this election campaign. And as election day approaches, I find myself deeply concerned for the future of Quebec. I am not a religious person. I'm agnostic. I haven't uttered a prayer since I was a child. But it seems appropriate, in the spirit of solidarity with Quebecers whose rights are being threatened, to offer this simple prayer: On April 7th, please let Quebec choose a government that will represent values of inclusion, acceptance, and freedom. Let Quebec be a province where we can raise our children not only to respect, but to honour diversity. Let Quebec be more like my daughter's school -- a place where we can thrive and become better people because we understand the value of celebrating each others' differences.
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