Categorized | Canadian Politics

Trudeau takes a swing at Quebec religion plan, other politicians stay on sidelines

Posted on 28 August 2013 by admin

A media report this week published leaked details of the controversial PQ proposal — saying it would prohibit people like doctors, teachers and public-daycare workers from donning turbans, kippas, hijabs and visible crucifixes.

The Liberal leader castigated the idea and said the Parti Quebecois government would damage Quebec’s reputation if it proceeded with such a policy.

“Like we saw with the (recent) soccer turban ban, people laughed at Quebecers,” said Trudeau, a Quebec MP.

“And I don’t think it’s who we are and I don’t think it honours us to have a government that does not represent our generosity and openness of spirit as a people.”

The Prime Minister’s Office, for its part, said: “It’s a debate that will occur at the provincial level,” while Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney tweeted late Wednesday that “freedom of religion is a universal principle.” The previous day NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, whose party has nearly five-dozen seats in Quebec, sidestepped the issue by calling the leaked report a “trial balloon.”

Trudeau said the purported plan was responding to a non-existent problem and said he couldn’t understand which rights the PQ was seeking to protect that weren’t already protected in the Canadian or Quebec charters of rights.

He said state institutions should indeed be neutral, like the Quebec government says, but he added that the individuals who work there are entitled to their religion and freedom of expression.

Past polls have suggested such a plan would have strong public support in Quebec. However, news of the impending details has drawn the wrath of several Quebecers.

Dr. Sanjeet Singh Saluja, who wears a turban as part of his faith, said Wednesday that the PQ’s controversial “Charter of Quebec Values” would drive people from the Sikh, Jewish and Muslim communities away.

“The sad thing is I don’t know if I’d be able to stay here in Quebec,” said Saluja, an emergency-room doctor with the McGill University Health Centre.

“Even though I love my practice here in Quebec, my faith is something that’s important to me and I don’t feel comfortable giving up that part of my persona and I don’t think a lot of people would be willing to, either.”

Saluja, who was born and raised in Montreal, said this type of legislation could have a significant impact on hospital wait times in Montreal because many resident physicians in the city come from Middle Eastern countries and wear hijabs.

A spokeswoman for McGill said training for the Middle Eastern residents is funded by their own governments. She said their Montreal stints usually last from four to six years and the university admits approximately 35-40 trainees per year.

The PQ minority government, lagging behind in popularity, hopes to win votes by championing a “secularism” plan that polls have suggested has considerable support in the province.

Polls have suggested that while the idea has strong support it’s far less of a priority for Quebec voters than other issues, like the economy.

A few hours after Trudeau attacked the PQ plan, Kenney tweeted his own objection: “A child is no less Canadian because she or he wears a kippa, turban, cross, or hijab to school. Kids have always worn religious symbols in Canadian classrooms, w/out jeapardizing (sic) social cohesion. So why is this suddenly a divisive issue?”

Mulcair was more cautious Tuesday when asked about it while in Montreal.

“I’m not going to respond to trial balloons,” said Mulcair, adding his party presented a substantive report in 2007 before Quebec’s Bouchard-Taylor commission on the accommodation of minorities.

“When there is something concrete on the table, I’ll have no hesitation to respond to it.”

The Government of Ontario, however, reacted to the PQ proposal Wednesday without any prompting in an issued statement.

“Our government would oppose the introduction of any legislation in Ontario to restrict or prohibit people’s freedom of expression and religion in public places,” Ontario Immigration Minister Michael Coteau said in the news release with the heading: “Religious Symbols and Coverings in Places that Receive Public Funding.”

“Ontario’s diversity and freedom of expression and religion is a model to the world — where we celebrate and respect each other’s differences.”

CONSERVATIVE SNUB TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS COULD COST BILLIONS

New Democrats are urging the Conservatives to negotiate an end to the ongoing foreign service strike or risk losing billions in economic benefits that international students bring.

“Instead of working towards resolution, the stubbornness of the Conservatives could leave hundreds of Canadians unemployed, cost our economy billions and damage our post-secondary education sector,” said NDP National Caucus Co-Chair Rathika Sitsabaiesan (Scarborough–Rouge River). “The Conservatives created this conflict, they must now negotiate with diplomats and resolve the matter quickly.”

Canadian Foreign Service officers have not had a contract since June 2011 and will not issue new visas until the government negotiates in good faith. Canada competes with countries like the U.S. and Australia to attract students from abroad. A 2012 Conservative government study confirmed that international students contribute upwards of $8 billion in economic benefits to the Canadian economy every year.

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