What the new values charter really accomplishes

Pauline Marois and co. may denounce the guy who, in a video that came out yesterday, ranted against a Muslim woman on a bus — but they’ll gladly take his vote.

Bernard Drainville
Bernard Drainville himself. Photo via Flickr

“To preserve social peace and promote harmony, we have to avoid letting tensions increase.” —Bernard Drainville, the Quebec minister responsible for the proposed Charter of Quebec Values.

He said that yesterday, right? I mean, that’s when we first saw the video of a fat slob on the #69 Gouin STM bus swearing at a woman wearing a headscarf, using the slogan of racists everywhere, telling her to go back to where she came from and telling her, “This is our home! With Marois, we’re going to take off your hat.”

No? Okay, then it must have been on Sunday, when we first heard about an Algerian-born woman who has lived in Quebec for 14 years who was told to remove her headscarf and change her religion by a woman at the Place Laurier shopping mall in Quebec City. She then told the woman, Badia Senouci, that the government would soon be making her remove it in any case and spat on Senouci’s teenage son.

Non plus.

In fact, it’s what Drainville said eight days ago, when he introduced the charter proposal, before we knew anything about these incidents.

Yes, Drainville said  the charter is intended to promote social peace and decrease tensions.

A little like trying to put out a smoldering fire by throwing gas on it.

But these are isolated incidents, right? How can you link them to the charter when these are the kind of altercations that occur daily, in Canada as well as Quebec?

Well, we can link them because, in both cases, the assailant referred to the government’s plan. Sure, Drainville’s proposal only removes head scarves from government employees, but these extremists seem convinced that it’s just the first step in the “de-Islamification of Quebec.”

They feel emboldened by what they see as the government’s endorsement of their racist aspirations.


The tensions that Drainville refers to were pretty much non-existent before the PQ started talking about their plans to adopt a “secular charter” (renamed the “Charter of Quebec Values” when they realized that you can’t claim religious neutrality while debating under the cross hanging in the National Assembly).

Even today, the only examples of tensions caused by religious “accommodation” that the PQ can drag up are old and insignificant. Like the Muslim group that asked that pork be removed from the menu for their trip to a sugar shack in the spring of 2006. Or the 2006 incident in which the Parc YMCA was asked to tint windows to their exercise rooms to prevent young students at the neighbouring synagogue from ogling scantily clad exercisers. (Management said yes, but members reversed the decision.)

In interviews conducted after introducing the charter, Drainville couldn’t come up with a single new incident of “unreasonable accommodation.” After years of massive publicity over the issue of accommodation, his only examples were seven years old and had nothing to do with government services.

Meanwhile, in the places where you’d expect the most problems of accommodation, in the heavily multicultural schoolyards and classes of Montreal, there was not a whisper of conflict.


Instead of peace, the charter is turning people of good will against each other.

Francophones tell Muslims that they don’t understand how it feels to be a minority in a sea of English while Muslims say you don’t know how it feels to be a minority in a sea of Christianity. Neither is heard.

Wars of words break out on Facebook pages; friends of long date debate, berate and block each other. Neither is heard.

Huge debates erupt over whether Islamic women should wear headscarves or veils — something the charter doesn’t resolve and never will. So why is it even part of the discussion?

If Drainville really wants to see social peace and harmony, all he has to do is drop the plan to bar state employees from wearing religious symbols. That’s it, that’s all.

The four other elements of the charter are just sugar-coating. They can go ahead, most critics agree, although most of it isn’t needed. The rules governing how to determine if a workplace demand for religious accommodation is reasonable, for example, already exist. And you don’t need a charter to implement them.

But the PQ won’t stand down, of course, because the reason it came up with the plan in the first place was to attract the support of people like the fat man on the bus and the spitting woman in the shopping mall.

Premier Marois may denounce them, but she’ll gladly take their votes on election date.

And if the cost of those votes is social peace, so what?

Maintaining power is much more important. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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