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The Country That Used to be Mine: Quebec Charter of Values

Mustafa Farooq (2L)


“On juge une société par la façon dont elle traite ses minorities (A nation is judged by how it treats its minorities)”- Rene Levesque

When asked about their life goals, one of the most popular answers that people give is to “travel the world” (this is certainly the most common goal of law students in exam week). I happen to take exception to that. Though born and raised here in Edmonton, I love nothing more than to take in the Alberta sky and to feel the prairie wind as I go biking in the afternoon.

Yet, because life is like that, I quite often find myself on a plane. And wherever I go, whether to the protests in Turkey or on the Afghanistan border, I cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief when I come back to Canada, for I know that this is a place that will always be my home; A place where I can truly live and pursue my dreams.

I wonder if it is over-dramatic to say that the Quebec “Charter of Values” significantly erodes that relationship. I certainly know that I will never be able to live in Quebec; my wife, who wears the hijab, would never be able to work in the public service there. My favorite Jewish professor from my undergrad would not be allowed to wear a yarmulka if he worked as a public official.

It is critical to note, of course, that people who practice religion do not really meaningfully have a “choice” when it comes to donning their religious garb. Their choice is between practicing a code of ethics that makes life meaningful or working at a government job. For many, as Charles Taylor would argue, our religious ontologies are part of ourselves, a system of core values that is impossible to alienate from ourselves in the so-called “secular age”. And for people like my Jewish professor, my Sikh doctor, or my wife, the choice is clear; we will not be able to work in a public sector job. I mean, I suppose we could all give up our religions, but I seem to remember a country where religious expression and freedom was something of value.

It seems incredibly disturbing to me, for example, that even respected jurists, like former Supreme Court judge L’Heureux Dube, express blatant xenophobia in their agreement with the Quebec Charter. She stated, for example, that she saw more veiled women in Quebec than in Morocco or Pakistan; the exact connection between this and the Quebec “Charter” remains lost on me, other than the obvious connection of fear and hatred that have gripped our discussion of minorities in Canada. Indeed, as there is every indication that the Quebec “Charter” would be struck down as unconstitutional, there is little doubt that this debate has a lot more to do with pandering to xenophobia within Quebec than it does about so-called state neutrality.

I wonder, then, what Levesque would think about where his party has gone, even as I wonder if the country that used to be mine has gone.