The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class: Martin Patriquin

Another reminder by Patriquin of one of convenient forgetfulness:

On the morning of Jan. 31, 2017, with camera in hand, I walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. Less than 48 hours before, a gunman had walked into the centre, killing six and injuring 19. Once the police had finished their work, mosque administrators opened the doors to journalists, if only to show firsthand the often-visceral consequences of unchecked hatred and ignorance.

It was like the aftermath of war. Men and women parishioners wandered around, dazed and weeping. Bullets, dozens of them, had splintered drywall and shattered glass. And blood was everywhere: on the carpet and prayer rugs, on the Linoleum floor outside the main room, caking the stairs to the basement and circling a storage closet drain. It smeared windows and pooled in sinks. I left with it on my boots.

‘Senseless violence’

The province’s political leaders were immediately and appropriately sombre. Quebecers “must avoid words and gestures that separate, divide and attract hate,” said Premier Philippe Couillard. François Legault, leader of the conservative Coalition Avenir Québec, expressed his solidarity in the face of “senseless violence” with Quebec’s Muslim community. Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée said the most by stating the obvious. “It’s not easy to be a Muslim in the 21st century,” he told reporters.

If time weakens emotions and fades memories, the year since the shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class. Last week, the National Council of Canadian Muslims asked the federal government to designate Jan. 29 as a national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia. In Quebec, the idea of questioning exactly why the shooting took place was largely met with shrugs or worse.

Both the PQ and the CAQ quickly opposed such a thing. “I think we’ve debated the divisions surrounding the presence of religion enough in Quebec,” PQ MNA Agnès Maltais told Le Devoir. The governing Liberals, who harvest the vast majority of the province’s Muslim vote come election day, utterly waffled on the idea.

Once aghast at the many Muslim victims who had done nothing but gather for prayers, these politicians now declared the deliberate targeting of Muslims passé — an isolated incident perpetuated by a crazy man. “Quebecers are open and welcoming, they are not Islamophobic,” said a CAQ spokesperson. (Only Québec solidaire, the Montreal-centric lefty redoubt, came out in favour of the NCCM proposal.)

Clearly, the amnesia stretches beyond the last year. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lépine walked into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women before turning his gun on himself. Like Alexandre Bissonnette, the man currently on trial for last year’s mosque massacre, Lépine was more than just a crazy man with a gun. He harboured a deep resentment of women, which he weaponized and made homicidal in the classrooms and corridors of Polytechnique.

The Polytechnique shootings sparked a societal debate in the province about gender, feminism and the extent of institutional misogyny in Quebec society, purportedly one of the more equalitarian in the country. It was a painful but wholly necessary exercise, one commemorated by the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

At first glance, it might be difficult to see why most Quebec politicians are ambivalent at best about a similar exercise for Muslims in Quebec and beyond. Lépine blamed feminists for his problems. Bissonnette left an online trail of anti-Muslim rhetoric before the mosque shootings. And as with Polytechnique 28 years earlier, the mosque shootings were but the bloodiest example of institutional enmity against an identifiable group.

Crimes targeting Muslims

Police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada tripled between 2012 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In Quebec City, crimes targeting Muslims have doubled since the mosque shootings, according to the city’s police chief.

Apart from being alarming, such statistics are fodder for Muslim extremists, who use society-wide anti-Muslim animus as a recruiting tool. If this is the case, these extremists have a veritable wellspring of recruiting material in Quebec City’s many populist (and enduringly popular) radio stations, which — with a few notable exceptions — remain largely anti-Muslim and anti-immigration a year after the mosque shootings.

A week after the deadly shooting at a mosque, hundreds took to the streets of Quebec City to honour the victims. 1:54

For its politicians, perhaps it’s less about amnesia than Quebec’s own brand of crass identity politics. The three main political parties are locked in a battle for the hearts and votes of Quebec’s lily-white, lapsed Catholic hinterland in Quebec City and beyond — everywhere, it seems, save for Montreal. The dynamics are such that even the Liberals, who have a lock on the non-Francophone vote, can demonize Montreal’s multicultural reality.

In 2013, the PQ government attempted to ban “conspicuous” religious symbols from the bodies of anyone drawing a government paycheque. Though it failed, the ensuing Liberal government last year passed a ban on face coverings for anyone giving or receiving a government service. Only Québec solidaire protested the law’s blatant targeting of Quebec’s Muslim minority. Everyone else said it didn’t go far enough.

A year ago, these very politicians professed shock and sadness at a murderous hate crime perpetrated on their watch. Demonstrably, as Quebec approaches a fall election, political reality has pushed this emotion aside. Maybe they didn’t forget the tragedy. Maybe they just don’t want to be reminded of the reasons behind it.

via The year since the mosque shooting has made amnesiacs out of Quebec’s political class | CBC News


Quebec judge rejects bid to shut Muslim centre

Sensible decision:

Just because a municipal official saw men praying at a community hall doesn’t make that place a mosque, a Quebec judge has ruled, thwarting a bid by the city of Mascouche, a suburb outside Montreal, to shut down a Muslim centre.

The judgment is the latest twist in a series of disputes where municipal officials in Quebec have tried to curtail the operations of mosques and Islamic centres by citing zoning regulations.

Mascouche was trying to shut down the Essalam community centre, saying that the building, in a strip mall, had a zoning that forbids places of worship.

“This ruling will have a significant reach for all municipalities in Quebec that have to deal with this kind of situation,” Mascouche Mayor Guillaume Tremblay said in a statement sent to The Globe and Mail.

In his ruling, Quebec Superior Court Justice Pierre Labelle said that Mascouche had engaged in a fallacious form of reasoning – “a sophism,” he said – when it argued that since people pray in a place of worship, a community centre that allows prayers must be a place of worship.

“To that extent, any individual or collective prayer held in a residence, school or workplace would turn that location into a place of worship,” Justice Labelle said in his decision released Wednesday.

Similar stories have been public controversies for years in Quebec.

A year ago for example, Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-Yves Lalonde decided in favour of the Badr Islamic Centre in its dispute against the city of Montreal. The city had told the Badr centre that it could no longer hold religious activities after a zoning amendment in the Saint-Léonard borough. However, the judge found that city employees had acted in bad faith and he ruled that the centre had an acquired right.

Justice Lalonde noted that the new locations where Montreal allowed places of worship tended to be in industrial areas, which was inconvenient to Muslims. “The move by the city … creates ghettoization, access problems and is a form of discrimination compared to traditional Catholic churches, which are generally in residential areas,” the judge wrote.

In the Mascouche case, Justice Labelle said the city had not acted in bad faith but held a rudimentary, ill-informed grasp of religious rights.

The problem began in the spring of 2015, when Mascouche Muslims sought a permit to use a hall for community events that included prayers and religious conferences. At the time, several Quebec municipalities were dealing with mosque controversies.

In Montreal, then-mayor Denis Coderre used a zoning change to block the polarizing imam Hamza Chaoui from opening an Islamic community hall in the city’s east end.

In Shawinigan, a Muslim cultural centre relocated after town council initially allowed a zoning change, then rescinded its decision after a public backlash.

By the end of the year, the Mascouche Muslims amended their application, removing mentions of religious activities. They were granted a permit in March of 2016.

Some residents then complained that the hall was being used like a mosque, alleging that more than a 100 people gathered in the evening to pray, Justice Labelle said in his ruling.

The city took action the night of June 29, 2016. It was during the month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast during the day and gather for communal meals and prayers after sunset.

Around 11:30 p.m., a city bureaucrat and two police officers showed up. They reported finding about 30 men praying in a room. Others who were in the room and outside were not praying. A week later, the city rescinded Essalam’s permit, saying that the hall’s use for religious activities contravened zoning. Essalam hired the high-profile constitutional lawyer Julius Grey and challenged the decision.

Justice Labelle noted that the zoning bylaw only talked about prohibiting places of worship but other city documents talked about a ban on religious activities. “The court is of the opinion that city cannot extend its ban beyond the very words of its bylaw,” he wrote.

He also said Mascouche engaged in sophism when it equated holding prayers with the presence of a place of worship. “The initial premise is not universal because prayers can be uttered in all places and not exclusively in a place of worship.”

While he chided Essalam for being disingenuous about holding prayers in its hall, Justice Labelle said the city was obstructing religious freedom.

Mascouche has 30 days to appeal Justice Labelle’s decision.

via Quebec judge rejects bid to shut Muslim centre – The Globe and Mail

Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

And so the cases and eventual challenges begin:

Le directeur général des élections du Québec (DGEQ) a reçu une demande d’accommodement raisonnable pour contourner un règlement jugé discriminatoire par certains partis politiques, a appris Le Devoir. Il s’agit d’une femme portant le hijab qui, souhaitant se présenter aux prochaines élections provinciales, a demandé une dérogation lui permettant de joindre à son dossier de candidature une photo d’elle avec son voile, ce qui est actuellement interdit par le DGEQ.

« C’est la première demande d’accommodement raisonnable qu’on a eue à ce sujet », a confirmé Stéphanie Isabelle, porte-parole du DGEQ. Elle reconnaît toutefois avoir déjà reçu des commentaires et critiques incitant à modifier le règlement.

L’article 6 du Règlement sur la déclaration de candidature mentionne en effet que la photographie jointe au dossier doit donner « une vue de face complète du candidat à partir des épaules, tête découverte », ce qui empêche toute personne portant un turban, un voile ou même un bandana, de se présenter. Cet article a été vivement contesté auprès du DGEQ par divers partis politiques, dont Québec solidaire et le Parti vert, qui souhaiteraient présenter les candidats de leur choix, sans entrave pour une question de couvre-chef.

Le Devoir avait révélé il y a deux semaines qu’en 2014, le DGEQ avait refusé la candidature de Fatimata Sow, qui se présentait pour le Parti vert dans La Pinière, parce qu’elle avait fourni une photo d’elle coiffée d’un hijab. Craignant les répercussions négatives sur sa candidature, l’aspirante candidate n’avait pas voulu rendre son histoire publique à l’époque et avait renoncé à se présenter.

Modification possible

N’hésitant pas à parler de « discrimination systémique », le chef du Parti vert, Alex Tyrrell, a multiplié les démarches, notamment auprès de la ministre Kathleen Weil, anciennement à l’Immigration et récemment aux Institutions démocratiques. Celle-ci a récemment déclaré que le pouvoir de modifier le règlement appartenait au DGEQ actuel, Pierre Reid, qui a confirmé qu’il était en train de revoir ce règlement dans son ensemble. « Depuis l’automne, en prévision des prochaines élections, on est en révision de notre matériel électoral et ça inclut le formulaire de déclaration de candidature », a réitéré au Devoir Stéphanie Isabelle.

Seul le Québec possède une telle obligation. L’exigence de fournir une photo « tête découverte » n’existe pas aux niveaux fédéral et municipal, une preuve étant l’élection du député et chef du Nouveau Parti démocratique, Jagmeet Singh. Elle n’existe pas non plus pour obtenir une carte d’assurance maladie du Québec, un permis de conduire ou un passeport, où la loi interdit d’être photographié avec un couvre-chef, sauf si celui-ci est porté tous les jours pour des raisons religieuses ou médicales.

Des partis peu bavards

C’est d’ailleurs ce qu’a fait valoir la future candidate en soumettant sa demande d’accommodement au DGEQ au début du mois de décembre. Elle préférerait toutefois que le règlement soit modifié au lieu de bénéficier d’un accommodement, qui n’a généralement pas bonne presse.

Interrogé sur la procédure à suivre lorsqu’une demande d’accommodement est soumise, le DGEQ a dit qu’il n’y a pas de « procédure prévue pour le moment dans la loi électorale ». Une modification au règlement servirait à régler le problème, mais elle devra être approuvée par l’Assemblée nationale et suivre les étapes, jusqu’à la publication dans la Gazette officielle.

Après plusieurs jours de sollicitation, les principaux partis politiques se sont montrés très avares de commentaires. Le Parti québécois a dit qu’il discutera peut-être de la question à son prochain caucus à la fin de janvier, tandis que le Parti libéral du Québec s’est contenté de dire qu’il se conformera à la Loi électorale et aux règlements du DGEQ. La Coalition avenir Québec n’a pas souhaité faire de commentaires.

via Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

Forget sovereignty, a new political divide is ready to split Quebecers –

New political fault lines? Or just another variation of identity politics?

The divisions that once defined Quebec are dissolving before the eyes of its oldest political parties. Less than a year before the next election, fear of another referendum—or desire for one—is no longer top of voters’ minds, challenging the raisons d’être of both the ruling federalist Liberals and their rivals, the separatist Parti Québécois. Freed from the old worries, though, Quebecers might soon be following the worldwide trend of right-left polarization, splitting along populist and progressive lines.

The Liberals were elected with a majority in 2014 after the PQ’s attempt to capitalize on Quebec’s decade-long identity debate with the Charter of Quebec Values. It will go down as one of the worst misplays in the province’s political history, says François Pétry, a Université Laval political scientist, because much as they like debating the value of state secularism, Quebecers are disturbed by the idea of fighting with each other.

Now, after three years of focusing on the province’s economy, and pulling it out of deficit, Premier Philippe Couillard is wading into that same territory. Bill 62, a new law banning face coverings while receiving public services, was championed by the Liberals, and is already subject to two court challenges.

 It is drawing ire from all sides. Civil liberties advocates say it unfairly targets a tiny portion of Muslim women, while the nationalist opposition parties, Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and the PQ, say it doesn’t go far enough. Premiers across the country have denounced it and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the federal government is studying legal ways it could join the chorus. “It’s not a good initiative, purely on the electoral front,” Pétry says, adding the law figured nowhere in the Liberals’ election platform. “If you start to create conflicts between Quebecers, [you’re] probably going to suffer the consequences.”
It’s one of the few mistakes Couillard has made, according to Pétry, who tracks politicians’ promises and says Couillard has kept more of his than any premier in recent Quebec history. That and the government’s strong fiscal performance makes the Liberals’ recent slump in the polls a paradox. The most recent by Leger, published in October, had the Liberals running second to the four-year-old, right-of-centre CAQ on the question of voting intentions, with 29 per cent support compared to 34 per cent for the CAQ.

Couillard may be paying, says Pétry, for ethics blunders made by the party under its former leader, Jean Charest, which have tainted how voters view the party. What’s more, the Liberals have been in power since 2003, save for a two-year stint by the PQ under Pauline Marois, leaving many antsy for change.

“For the first time in 40 years, a party other than the PQ and the PLQ could be in power, and that’s a real feat,” says Dan Pelletier, a 45-year-old Laval security guard who plans to vote CAQ in the next election. Pelletier says he’s for legislation like Bill 62, as long as it’s done “with respect for the [minority] communities that live with us, without becoming authoritarian.”

Still, the CAQ, which has been criticized for sowing us-versus-them political division, has vowed to enact even further-reaching religious attire legislation, which would put Quebec at greater odds with the rest of the country. It’s a prospect that worries Emilie Nicolas, co-founder of Québec Inclusif and a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Toronto, who says Quebec has seen “a progressive normalization of distrust of Muslim communities” since the early 2000s.

Discussions surrounding religious accommodations have long been placed in the context of Quebec’s separating of church and state in the 1960s. Some say that watershed moment can no longer be used to explain Quebec’s unease with those different from its French settlers. “In this day and age no society is an island,” says Arjun Tremblay, a postdoctoral fellow at the Université du Québec à Montréal who studies the politics of multiculturalism. He doubts any Quebec leader can steer clear of addressing identity for long—it “strikes an emotional chord in a lot of people,” he says, “and can be used to mobilize segments of the electorate.”

Tremblay, like others, points to the Trump administration’s “thinly veiled anti-Muslim” immigration and refugee bans. A far-right movement is gaining ground in the province, especially in Quebec City, where less than a year ago a mass shooting at a mosque left six dead and 19 seriously injured. The suspect, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, was said to have an affinity for Trump and the white nationalist groups supporting him.

The attack fuelled calls for the Quebec government to launch a formal commission looking into systemic racism in the province. But a month after it launched, Couillard changed its focus and name, ridding it of terms of reference relating to systemic racism in favour of vaguer language on discrimination and integrating immigrants. Nicolas says the move, compounded by Bill 62, shows how out of touch Quebec politicians are with the appetite among young voters to address social justice issues. “Millennials are not that young anymore,” she says, “and it turns out that they can vote if they feel like it makes a difference.”

Case in point: the Nov. 5 election of Valérie Plante, the first woman voted mayor of Montreal, who ran on a platform of progressive politics and on her independence from the political establishment. Her cheery demeanour helped. Plante’s predecessor, Denis Coderre, a former Liberal MP and cabinet minister, was seen as arrogant. Quebec’s main parties may be driven and divided by 1990s politics, Nicolas says, but that’s changing, “actually as we speak.”

Whether the Liberals find a way to renew themselves or dig deeper into old debates will determine how they do come October 2018, she predicts. Either way, the old guard remains in place and has 11 months to pick up the pieces. And if there’s one thing the experts agree on, it’s that 11 months in politics is a long time.

via Forget sovereignty, a new political divide is ready to split Quebecers –

Ban the niqab, keep the cross? | National Post

Good long read by Graeme Hamilton:

Until last summer, the Cyclorama of Jerusalem in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Que., was largely unloved. Visitors to the massive 360-degree panoramic depiction of Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s crucifixion were growing scarce, and those who paid the $12 admission often left disappointed.

“It was just bizarre and I would not recommend,” one critic wrote on Trip Advisor last year. “This painting is from another era when pilgrims flocked from all over and were believers, which is not the case these days,” another wrote in August. Compared to the soaring Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica next door, the Cyclorama was a kitschy eyesore.

But then something strange happened. News broke at the beginning of August that the Cyclorama was up for sale and that the owners were looking for a foreign buyer to pack up the crucifixion panorama and move it elsewhere. Instead of a shrug, the news was met with instant mobilization. A group of academics called on the province to buy the Cyclorama before it was lost, and the minister of culture declared it a “heritage jewel.” Attendance jumped. And two weeks after the first news reports of the sale, the government announced that the attraction built in the late 19th-century would be protected as an official heritage site. The government is now in discussions with the owners about providing financial aid for upgrades to the building.

The swift intervention to save a religiously themed tourist attraction seems odd for a province that prides itself on its secularism — or laïcité in French. Indeed, the drive to limit the place of religion in the public sphere is shaping up to be a central issue in next year’s election. The Liberal government of Philippe Couillard passed its religious neutrality act, Bill 62, in October preventing women who wear the niqab or burka from providing or receiving government services, and the opposition Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec have promised even stricter legislation if elected.

The Cyclorama of Jerusalem outside Quebec City. (

But there are frequent reminders that secularism in Quebec comes with an asterisk. Typically, the religions that need to be restricted are those of minorities – Muslims, Sikhs, Jews. More often than not they are practiced by relative newcomers to Quebec. And despite the conventional wisdom that Quebecers broke free from the yoke of the Catholic Church in the Quiet Revolution, a stubborn attachment to Christian symbols remains, leading critics to label Quebec’s secularism “catho-laïcité.”

In the aftermath of the adoption of Bill 62, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the left-wing Québec Solidaire party, saw an opportunity to correct what he saw as a glaring contradiction. The law targeting niqab-wearing Muslims in the name of religious neutrality was adopted in a legislature where a crucifix hangs prominently behind the Speaker’s chair. (A judge last week suspended the application of the niqab ban until another section of the law comes into force.) Citing the need for a “separation of powers between religion and the state,” Nadeau-Dubois called for legislators to debate moving the crucifix out of the legislative chamber, which is known as the Salon Bleu because of its blue walls. His motion went nowhere when the Liberals and CAQ refused to grant the unanimous consent required to debate it. “It’s part of the history of the Salon Bleu,” Liberal member Serge Simard explained to Radio-Canada. “It’s part of the history of Quebec.”

The Quebec flag backdropped by a church near Sacre-Couer-de-Jesus, Que. (Mike Drew/Postmedia)

Haroun Bouazzi is head of Association of Muslims and Arabs for a Secular Quebec. In principle, he says, secularism should be a positive thing for minority religions, protecting freedom of belief while shielding the state from the influence of any one sect. But what he has witnessed in Quebec in recent years is secularism being invoked by politicians and opinion leaders to oppress rather than protect. Seeing Bill 62 adopted under a crucifix was the height of hypocrisy, Bouazzi says. “How can you be so strict about secularism that you want to put people out of a job because they have chosen to believe something, and then vote that specific (law) under a cross?” he asks. “Sadly, secularism seems to be invoked just to take away rights from religious minorities and not for the right things.”

When Bouazzi arrived in Quebec from his native Tunisia in 2000, he absorbed the standard Quebec history of a 1960s rupture with the once powerful church, which led to a commitment to secularism. He now sees that account as a myth. “It’s not true that all Quebecers got rid of religion,” he says.

Solange Lefebvre, a religious studies professor at the Université de Montréal, agrees. “It’s not true that religion has been abandoned. That infuriates me,” she says. “That is the myth of the Quiet Revolution, spread even by academics sometimes.” As the “simplistic” story goes, Quebecers were in darkness until the Quiet Revolution, then they saw the light, were emancipated from religion and fashioned a skilled bureaucracy to perform functions previously controlled by the church. Lefebvre says the actual story is more nuanced because the influence of religion is felt on multiple levels.

“They were emancipated from certain aspects: from a church that played a lot of roles, that had control over health and education services,” she says. “But religious education continued until 2000. Rites of passage were very much in demand. The Catholic Church in Quebec was very dynamic after the 60s — there were bishops who were stars.”

Census data show that while Quebec pews have emptied, a strong attachment to the church remains. The 2011 National Household Survey found that 75 per cent of Quebecers declared a Catholic religious affiliation, and just 12 per cent declared no religious affiliation – the lowest of any region, according to University of Waterloo professor Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme. It is British Columbians who are the least religious Canadians, with 44 per cent declaring no religious affiliation.

Reginald Bibby, a sociology professor at the University of Lethbridge who has long tracked religious trends in Canada, says the identification of francophone Quebecers with Catholicism remains surprisingly high. For example, nearly 90 per cent of adults aged 35 and under who were raised in Catholic homes continue to identify as Catholic. He says many francophone Quebecers have an “à la carte” approach to religion, praying privately and believing they experience God, but rejecting church authority over issues relating to sex, sexual orientation and abortion.

Bibby says the historical importance of the Catholic Church to Quebec-born Catholics is inescapable. Catholicism “is virtually ‘in their bones’ and is not only part of their culture but also part of their personal identities,” he said in email correspondence. “The result is that they feel natural affinity with Catholic symbols, public and otherwise. Any efforts to obliterate those features of their culture is also an assault on identity and can be expected to be met with opposition, sometime vigorous.”

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Quebecu2019s proposed Values Charter in Montreal on Sept. 14, 2013. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Such a response was seen last February when, in the name of state religious neutrality, a Quebec City hospital took down a crucifix hanging by its elevators. The action drew a threat of violence, a scolding from government ministers and a petition signed by more than 13,000 people, egged on by the former politician behind the PQ’s failed Charter of Values. When the hospital returned the crucifix, it drew praise from Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, who declared the cross “heritage.”

For Lefebvre, religious symbols like the crucifix have taken on a disproportionate importance. “But we have no choice. It’s loaded with symbolic meaning, in connection with identity. So it is very risky now for political parties, for public personalities, to take a stand against these symbols,” she says. Spencer Boudreau, a retired McGill University education professor and a practicing Catholic, has trouble understanding how the crucifix, hung in the National Assembly in 1936, has survived more than 80 years of tumultuous history. But he sees ample evidence that Quebecers’ attachment to Catholicism persists — from the atheist politician and writer Pierre Bourgault requesting a funeral in Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica in 2003 to the Journal de Montréal’s publication last week of a calendar of cultural events to mark Advent. “It’s like your family,” Boudreau says. “There might be things you don’t like in the past, maybe you’ve got this crazy uncle, but that doesn’t mean you reject everything.”

Quebec efforts to grapple with secularism in the past decade have included the 2007-’08 Bouchard-Taylor commission, the 2013 Charter of Values seeking to ban conspicuous religious symbols from the public service and Bill 62, which is already the subject of a constitutional challenge. And still confusion reigns. Municipalities use zoning to restrict new places of worship while largely empty Catholic churches occupy prime estate. Residents of a small town outside Quebec City last summer blocked the opening of a Muslim cemetery on the grounds that a graveyard should be open to all, even though Catholic cemeteries can be just as restrictive.

With no sovereignty referendum on the horizon, secularism is likely to be a key “Quebec identity” issue as the province moves toward an election next October. CAQ leader François Legault, who is currently leading in the polls, has promised a “values test” for immigrants and he has identified the full-body burkini swimsuit as something that runs counter to Quebec values. His party also wants to prohibit people in positions of authority, including judges, police officers and schoolteachers, from wearing religious symbols.

The legislature in Quebec City on Nov. 16, 2017. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Félix Mathieu, a PhD student in Political Science at the Université du Québec à Montréal who co-authored a paper on the PQ Charter of Values, says the push to preserve symbols of Quebec’s Catholic past is led by conservative thinkers who argue that secularization went too far and the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. “They have a really flexible tolerance for religious symbols,” he says. “Those of the majority are accepted because they speak to our past; those of minorities — in particular Muslims and Sikhs — are identified as elements that sow division.”

Since the Liberals defeated the PQ in 2014 and the proposed Charter of Values died, the conservatives have been in retreat. But Mathieu says the next election could reverse that.

Quebecers are not alone in resisting minority religious symbols, but polls suggest they are the most opposed. An October poll by the Angus Reid Institute after Jagmeet Singh won the NDP leadership found that 47 per cent of Quebecers would not consider voting for a turban-wearing Sikh, compared with 32 per cent in Alberta, 23 per cent in British Columbia and 24 per cent in Ontario.

A nun outside Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Another Angus Reid poll later that month showed 68 per cent of Quebecers thought niqab-wearing women should be prohibited from visiting government offices, well above the national average of 49 per cent. The same poll found 55 per cent of Quebecers consider Islam to be damaging to Canada and 22 per cent said Judaism is damaging (compared with 11 per cent who said it is benefiting.) Catholicism, on the other hand, was seen as damaging to society by 10 per cent of Quebecers and benefiting by 36 per cent.

Angus Reid, founder of the institute, says the results show that Quebecers’ suspicion of minority religions cannot be explained simply by an embrace of secularism. “When you look at Quebec society, you find a level of intolerance for diversity which is significantly higher than the rest of the country,” he says. “It is seen in spades in the current Islamic debate that’s going on. It’s also seen in the fundamental question of the perception of Judaism.”

It is worth nothing that in 2011 just three percent of Quebecers identified as Muslim, one per cent as Jewish and a fraction of a per cent as Sikh. Lefebvre is optimistic that the more contact Quebecers have with adherents of minority religions, the more open they will become. “It’s familiarity that allows people to get over prejudices,” she says. And she questions whether other Canadians really view minority religions all that differently.

“Canada remains a country that is very inspired by Christianity from a certain point of view,” she says. “To me, the big difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada is that we are very vocal. We say what we are thinking loud and clear.”

via Ban the niqab, keep the cross? | National Post

Quebec: Ministère de l’Immigration: la VG dénonce de graves lacunes de gestion

Some of these issues not unique to Quebec:

Le Québec a accueilli plus de 500 Syriens l’an dernier, et près de 8000 demandeurs d’asile ont frappé à la porte à la frontière depuis six mois. Au même moment, le ministère de l’Immigration présente de graves lacunes de gestion. La francisation des nouveaux arrivants et leur intégration ne sont pas soumises à des contrôles rigoureux.

Près de 8000 demandeurs d’asile ont frappé à la porte à la frontière depuis six mois.

Dur verdict de la vérificatrice générale, Guylaine Leclerc, qui dépose son rapport de l’automne aujourd’hui à l’Assemblée nationale. Ses observations sur la vente de trois immeubles de la Société immobilière du Québec, en 2007, mobiliseront l’attention des médias. La mission est délicate pour Mme Leclerc qui, comme juricomptable, avait déjà audité le même dossier, avec un mandat de la Société québécoise des infrastructures. Au surplus, l’Unité permanente anticorruption fait déjà enquête dans ce dossier qui touche des responsables du financement du Parti libéral du Québec, William Bartlett et Franco Fava. Mais l’appréciation de la vérificatrice à l’égard des pratiques du ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion (MIDI) nécessitera des correctifs de la part du gouvernement.

Selon les sources de La Presse, la vérificatrice mettra en lumière l’absence de reddition de comptes dans deux volets importants des activités du Ministère, soit l’intégration et la francisation. Le MIDI accorde 16 millions pour l’intégration des nouveaux arrivants, sommes qui transitent par des organismes communautaires.

La reddition de comptes est défaillante en matière d’intégration. Le Ministère négocie avec un organisme parapluie et n’a aucune idée de ce qui se passe sur le terrain.

D’autre part, le Ministère paie la note auprès des établissements d’enseignement pour la francisation des immigrés. Or, dans ces deux volets, le Ministère n’a pas de moyen d’apprécier l’efficacité de ses efforts, il ne peut évaluer la qualité des services rendus ni l’amélioration des compétences en français. Chez Emploi Québec, on relance les prestataires au téléphone trois mois après l’intervention du Ministère pour évaluer son succès. Rien de tel pour les interventions du MIDI, explique-t-on. Il y a déjà eu des visites des fonctionnaires de l’Immigration pour vérifier les activités d’intégration, mais cette pratique est disparue depuis belle lurette.

Sans contact avec leur clientèle, les fonctionnaires du MIDI atteignent des sommets de démotivation, indique-t-on en coulisse – les demandes de mutation des fonctionnaires du MIDI sont nombreuses, situation surprenante puisqu’il s’agit de l’un des rares ministères concentrés à Montréal.

Le gouvernement Couillard, à l’approche des élections, a retrouvé plus d’argent et s’apprête à infirmer deux décisions qui avaient été prises sous Kathleen Weil, à la fin de l’époque Charest. On envisage de rouvrir les bureaux régionaux, fermés en 2013 et 2014, au grand dam des syndicats de fonctionnaires. En outre, on redéploiera des effectifs à l’étranger – on parle d’une trentaine de personnes pour revamper une représentation réduite à sa plus simple expression au cours des dernières années.

via Ministère de l’Immigration: la VG dénonce de graves lacunes de gestion | Denis Lessard | Politique québécoise

Québec ne craint pas une nouvelle vague de ressortissants haïtiens

We shall see:

Le gouvernement Couillard ne craint pas une nouvelle vague de ressortissants haïtiens massés aux frontières pour revendiquer le statut de demandeur d’asile au Canada. La décision annoncée lundi par l’administration Trump de mettre fin à un programme d’assistance qui existait depuis 2010 n’est que la confirmation d’un geste déjà annoncé, a fait valoir David Heurtel, le ministre québécois de l’Immigration.

«Le gouvernement américain travaille avec le gouvernement fédéral là-dessus. On va tout faire pour limiter la surprise le plus possible», a-t-il souligné à l’entrée de la réunion du caucus des députés libéraux mardi midi. S’il y a une nouvelle vague à attendre, elle viendra des ressortissants d’Amérique centrale. «Il n’y a pas de décision de prise, mais on appréhende une décision américaine», a-t-il indiqué. Les échanges avec l’administration américaine permettent d’espérer que le Québec et le Canada seront mieux préparés que l’été dernier quand il a été débordé par les demandes des Haïtiens. Mais, «on ne s’attend pas à une nouvelle vague tout de suite», ajoute-t-il.

La décision américaine vise les Haïtiens qui avaient été acceptés aux États-Unis après le séisme de 2010. Leur statut est maintenu jusqu’à juillet 2019. Il reste du temps et le gouvernement américain est en contact avec celui d’Haïti pour qu’ils puissent retourner dans leur pays d’origine.

Le Québec travaille étroitement avec Ottawa dans ce dossier. Le ministre Heurtel se rendra à une réunion fédérale provinciale à Ottawa jeudi.

Lundi, l’administration Trump a tiré un trait sur un programme temporaire de résidence qui a fait entrer et travailler aux États unis environ 60 000 Haïtiens. C’était une mesure humanitaire au lendemain du puissant séisme de 2010.

via Québec ne craint pas une nouvelle vague de ressortissants haïtiens | Denis Lessard | Politique québécoise

Ottawa unlikely to send Quebec’s face-covering law to top court

Sensible approach:

Ottawa is unlikely to pre-emptively refer Quebec’s controversial face-covering law to the Supreme Court, where little evidence could be presented on Bill 62’s actual impact on individual Muslim women, federal officials said.

Senior government sources said all options are still on the table, but that Ottawa is likelier to intervene in a coming court challenge than refer the matter to the Supreme Court for an immediate ruling on the law’s constitutionality.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised both of these options over the weekend as he continued to denounce the law that calls on Quebeckers to show their face when giving or receiving services in places such as libraries, university classrooms, daycares and on buses. Critics of the legislation have denounced the fact it affects Muslim women who cover their faces, with Mr. Trudeau stating governments shouldn’t tell women what to wear.

The quickest way to have a formal ruling on the constitutionality of the law would be to refer the matter directly to the Supreme Court. Still, federal officials and experts said a Supreme Court reference would feature more of a theoretical debate among lawyers on the constitutionality of Bill 62 than an actual exploration of the law’s effect on citizens.

“It’s difficult to get to the bottom of a question by looking at it in theory. It’s much better to look at the case in practical terms,” said a senior federal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the government’s current thinking on the file.

Experts said it would be easier to gauge the impact of the law on individuals through the court challenge that is set to be heard by the Quebec Superior Court, where Muslim women will be appearing as witnesses.

“In a reference [to the Supreme Court], you don’t have testimony or evidence on the actual impact on people and any limits to their rights and freedoms,” retired Supreme Court justice Louis LeBel, who is now in private practice, said in an interview. “What you get to look at are legal and intellectual issues and the law’s overall impact on society.”

Supreme Court references have sporadically been used by the federal government over the years to gain clarity on issues such as a province’s right to unilateral secession. The Harper government also relied on the process in 2013 to determine the constitutionality of possible reforms to the Senate.

Daniel Proulx, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Sherbrooke, said sending Quebec’s face-covering law to the Supreme Court would be seen as an affront to the provincial government.

“A reference would be a frontal attack,” he said. “In my view, the federal government will intervene in the court challenge. … It would be less confrontational.”

There has been heated debate across Canada in recent weeks on the federal government’s proper response to Bill 62, which aims to promote “religious neutrality” in Quebec. The NDP and a number of Liberal MPs have said Ottawa should let the debate play out at the provincial level, while others have argued for a strong federal intervention.

Earlier this month, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched a court challenge in Quebec Superior Court, seeking to suspend the application of the section dealing with uncovering one’s face until a full constitutional challenge is heard.

There will be a first hearing on the application for a stay on Friday. A federal observer will be in the room to monitor the process, but federal lawyers will not get involved in the groups’ request to suspend the application of the law, sources said.

A federal official said Ottawa has yet to decide whether to intervene in the challenge, and if it does, at which stage of the process federal lawyers would make their case.

“If you decide to intervene, when do you intervene? Right now? At the appeal stage? Or do you wait until you are at the Supreme Court?” the official said. “There is no rule, no magic recipe.”

On Saturday, Mr. Trudeau said his government is closely monitoring the application of the law adopted by the Quebec National Assembly last month.

“We’re listening to the questions being asked about it and, internally, we’re in the process of studying the different processes we could initiate or that we could join,” he said.

via Ottawa unlikely to send Quebec’s face-covering law to top court – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI – Demandeurs d’asile: Québec a consacré 21 millions en aide de dernier recours

The impact on Quebec of increased numbers of asylum seekers:

Le budget consacré à l’aide gouvernementale pour les demandeurs d’asile va faire un bond important cette année par rapport aux années précédentes, selon les données recueillies par La Presse canadienne.

Déjà, Québec a dépensé près de 21 millions de dollars en huit mois pour l’aide financière de dernier recours destinée aux demandeurs d’asile. À ce montant s’ajouteront d’ici la fin de l’année les dépenses effectuées par le gouvernement en santé, en éducation et pour l’hébergement des personnes.

Entre janvier et août 2017, la province a versé 20 930 584 de dollars en aide sociale aux ménages qui comptent un demandeur d’asile. À titre comparatif, Québec avait débloqué 18,6 millions pour ces prestataires en 2016, et 18,9 millions en 2015.

Une compilation des dépenses est actuellement en cours au gouvernement. Elle sera transmise au ministère de l’Immigration prochainement dans le cadre d’un processus de reddition de comptes, a appris La Presse canadienne.

Au cours des derniers mois, selon le ministre de l’Immigration, David Heurtel, plus de 10 000 personnes, dont la vaste majorité sont d’origine haïtienne, ont franchi la frontière depuis les États-Unis pour demander asile au Québec après que le président Donald Trump eut menacé de les renvoyer dans leur pays.

Seulement qu’en août, 5530 personnes ont traversé la frontière canado-américaine, près du poste frontalier Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.

En attente

Dans son Plan d’immigration déposé à l’Assemblée nationale à la fin octobre, le ministre soulignait que la plupart de ces personnes ne font pas partie des cibles d’admission du Québec pour 2018, puisqu’elles sont en attente d’un statut du gouvernement fédéral. Québec prévoit admettre entre 2500 et 2800 réfugiés l’an prochain.

via Demandeurs d’asile: Québec a consacré 21 millions en aide de dernier recours | Caroline Plante | National

Quebec’s Bill 62 splits federal Liberals amid calls to ignore court challenge

Not surprising:

Quebec’s face-covering law is exposing divisions among federal Liberals, with staunch defenders of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on one side and a large number of Quebec MPs who fear becoming political casualties of the contentious debate on the other.

Several Liberal MPs are calling on the government to stay out of the coming court challenge to the law, including some of the most vocal opponents of Bill 62 in caucus.

The Trudeau government has responded with a carefully calibrated response: stating that women have the right to dress as they want, while refusing to be drawn into an open confrontation with the provincial government.

The Liberal government’s decision to stay on the sidelines has created anger among opponents of the legislation who feel it is a full-on assault of Charter rights targeted at Muslim women. Passed last month, the provincial law requires people to show their face when giving or receiving services in places such as libraries, university classrooms, daycares and buses.

Federal officials said the government has yet to decide whether it will participate in the coming court challenge, which was launched this week by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Association. If Ottawa participates in the judicial showdown, federal lawyers will have to publicly state their views on the Charter issues raised by the law, which could contribute to its defeat.

Liberal Party officials said that Quebec MPs and ministers have been urging their colleagues from other parts of the country to cool their rhetoric on the issue in recent weeks.

“The Quebec caucus was very clear … in telling our colleagues, our ministers, that this is a file that belongs to the Quebec government,” said Liberal MP Rémi Massé, who is the chair of the party’s Quebec caucus. “This is [the Quebec government’s] responsibility and we are giving them the necessary leeway to do what they feel they have to do. With the court challenges that are starting, it’s up to them to react accordingly.”

Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès has been one of the most vocal critics of the law, but she said Ottawa should continue to stay out of the matter at least until it reaches the Supreme Court of Canada.

“I think right now, the government should just let it play out in Quebec and see how the courts in Quebec look at this,” said Ms. Mendès, who represents a riding on Montreal’s south shore. “The fact that I have a very strong opinion doesn’t mean that the government should necessarily intervene right away.”

Another opponent of Bill 62, Liberal MP Raj Grewal, said the law goes against his vision of the country, but added the government needs to respect “the National Assembly’s ability to pass their own laws.”

“I’m fundamentally happy that it is going to be challenged because in my humble opinion, it goes against everything that Canada stands for,” said Mr. Grewal, the MP for Brampton East.

Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, a lawyer who represents a Montreal riding, said Ottawa cannot take the lead when it comes time to challenging the constitutionality of provincial laws.

“The federal government’s role is not to act as law enforcement for the legislatures,” he said. “There are organized groups that are sufficiently resourced to be able to raise these issues, and the federal government should not be at the forefront of such a topic.”

While the law has exposed political fault lines across the country, it has garnered support in all regions of Canada. According to a Nanos survey conducted for The Globe and Mail, 63 per cent of Canadians support or somewhat support Bill 62.

Support for the law is highest in Quebec (69.4 per cent), the Prairies (63.5 per cent) and the Atlantic provinces (62 per cent), but Ontario (59.4 per cent) and British Columbia (58.4 per cent) are not far off behind. The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between Nov. 4 and 7 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20

Pollster Nik Nanos said the results show how “this is a no-win situation” for the Liberals. “The message to the government is that this is a political minefield,” he said.

To this point, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has walked a fine line on the law, always stopping short of vowing to fight it in court.

“As I’ve said several times, I don’t think a government should be telling a woman what to wear or not wear,” he has said. “We are looking very carefully at what tools we have and what steps we have to make sure we make this situation better for everyone.”

Liberal MPs from Quebec said they don’t want the debate to turn into a federal-provincial battle, or a symbol of Ottawa’s interference in Quebec’s affairs. One of the worst scenarios would be for Quebec to use the notwithstanding clause to keep the law on the books even if it is defeated in court, a Liberal MP from Quebec said.

The groups who filed a court challenge in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday said the law is unconstitutional and discriminates against Muslim women.

“I live in fear,” co-plaintiff Warda Naili said at a news conference in Montreal. “I don’t know what will happen when I go out. I don’t know how people will react because of this law.”

via Quebec’s Bill 62 splits federal Liberals amid calls to ignore court challenge – The Globe and Mail