Thursday, 12 September 2013

Pride, Prejudice and Propaganda: The Quebec Charter of "Values"

This week, I am a very sad Mama. Sad, angry, disgusted, fearful, and embittered. Oh yeah, and there's the thread of complete disbelief running through it all.

I've been wanting to write this post since Tuesday's "reveal", but I knew I needed some time to stop and think and get my thoughts together. I'm not entirely sure that I have managed to do that yet, but I do know that I can't keep this frustration locked up anymore. My husband beat me to it yesterday (see his blog post here)- and, well, now I feel obliged...

As an overview: The PQ government is proposing a "Charter of Values" under which they will enforce a ban on religious "symbols" among public employees.

They even provided a helpful infographic to ensure that we could make no mistake about what (and WHO) would and would not be deemed acceptable. 

Here's the thing, public employees include those employed by:
-crown corporations and government ministries and offices
-public and private subsidized daycares
-schoolboards and public schools
-CEGEPs and universities
-municipalities, including services such as public transportation

The most infuriating thing is that the ban will not apply to elected officials ostensibly because they have been chosen by the voters despite any religious garb they might don. Basically: the law will not apply to those who are creating it, pushing it and passing it. They are the immune elite.

CEGEPS, universities, hospitals and municipalities will be able to opt for a 5-year renewable exception if they so choose. Talk about a loophole.

Here's the kicker- notice which groups are not included in the above mentioned exceptions? Schoolboards, public schools and daycare workers. Why? Well, we don't want our children being exposed to the religious radicalism of wearing a hijab or a turban or a kippah, do we? No, they might turn to someone else's god and get converted. Does this smack of Putin's Russia and "gay propaganda" to anyone else out there?

When we began our search for the perfect home daycare setting for our daughter, we knew all we wanted was a place where she would be safe, well-cared for, and a place where she could learn and play and grow in a sanitary environment. When we found our dayhome, the fact that the woman who ran it was Persian and wore a hijab made no difference. Actually- that's not true. It did make a difference. We saw it as an added value. Our daughter would be exposed to different faces and languages and cultures at the earliest stage possible. After all, one cannot function in the world today without some basic understanding of diversity. Unless you live in Quebec, that is...

What kills me, as a mother, is that the love and care my daughter received in the 12 months she spent in that home daycare was more than either my husband or I could have ever imagined possible from a childcare provider. After spending long days chasing after, entertaining, and taking care of numerous children who were not her own, Farah dedicated her evenings preparing fresh meals for the following day, along with hand-made juice because she would not buy store-bought sugar drinks. Every morning we were greeted with hugs and kisses and smiles (happily reciprocated by my daughter). And when the time came to move to a school-like environment and leave the dayhome, the goodbyes were more heart-wrenching than a made-for-tv Hallmark movie.

Now Farah and her family are at risk of losing their daycare. Despite the love and care she provides, despite her impressive qualifications as an educator and community worker, despite her (sometime too) strict adherence to protocol and rules, Farah could lose her job. She will be faced with having to choose between her babies (as she calls them) and her religion and tradition.

According to the PQ's proposal, a woman wearing a hijab is less qualified to take care of my child than some daycare workers I have seen wearing daisy dukes and ripped t-shirts.

Also, apparently, come December, when my daughter- I KNOW- will be exposed to Christmas trees and Christmas themes at school, that's less of a threat to her keeping her Jewish identity than if her teacher wears a scarf to cover her hair. Right. Because it's easier to have THAT conversation with a kid about why some of her friends get to have pretty trees with presents under them in their homes and a big fat happy guy who comes for milk and cookies at their house but she doesn't. Good luck to us!

None of this is to say anything of the ridiculous hypocrisy and inconsistencies surrounding what will and will not be deemed acceptable under the PQ's ideal secular state. The GIANT crucifix on the top of Mount Royal is secular. So is the cross hanging in the National Assembly. A small cross on a chain around your neck is okay, but a large one is not. Get out your measuring tapes, ladies and gentlemen! A headscarf worn wrapped as a hijab is illegal, but what about a wig (sheitl) traditionally worn by religious Jewish women? Is a wig okay?

Meanwhile, there are public city council meetings in this province which still open with group prayers, our streets and cities are named for the Saints, we have a mandated public holiday for Saint John the Baptist every June, and almost everything is closed early or doesn't open at all on Sundays.

The real laugh-out-loud kicker- when Bernard Drainville, the minister presenting the plan, was asked about whether public officials and courtroom witnesses would still be expected to swear oaths on THE BIBLE in this staunchly secular state, his response was, "Oh my God, we'll get back to you." That's right- GOD!

And if this all wasn't enough to make me want to tear out my hair already- the marketing budget for this piece of hate-filled xenophobia is $1.9 million!!! My money is paying for this inhumane, disgusting waste of time. Because this province doesn't have anything more pressing to invest in...

As I said at the beginning of my tirade- I am sad and afraid.

I am sad and afraid because despite the odds, I have fought to make Montreal my HOME- a home for my family.

I was born in Montreal, my mother and father were born here, my mother's father moved here at 6-months old,  and the rest of my grandparents made this city their home after being displaced from Eastern Europe following WWII. When my parents divorced, I moved to Florida with my mother to be near her family. [Aside: This was after my father moved to Toronto to pursue more lucrative business opportunities because, despite being perfectly bilingual, he was told in a job interview that he would not be hired for the position because he didn't have "the right last name".] I spent summers at camp outside of Montreal, and when I graduated from high school, I accepted my entry to McGill University because I wanted to know this city more. I love Montreal- its culture, its beauty, its personality. After returning to Florida for law school and a short stint in Toronto, I, with my husband, decided to return to Montreal and put down roots here. This was despite protests from both sides of my family (aside from the personal distance) that Quebec was no place to live and work and raise a family anymore.

Since returning to Montreal, I have faced many obstacles because I am not a Francophone or because I don't speak "functional" French. I have given up the practice of law for many reasons, but partially because I knew when I still had the opportunity, that I would not be able to sit and write a bar exam in French or practice with French cases and legal documents. I have struggled finding work that I "qualify" for. That's right- even as a lawyer who graduated cum laude, no one wanted to hire me because I am not bilingual. It's no wonder there is such a "brain drain" from this province to Ontario and elsewhere.

I have since found steady, fulfilling employment (despite close to 3 years of struggling), and I am grateful.

I am sad and afraid because I am a Jew.

Nearly all of my father's family perished at the hands of the Nazis. My mother's family were scattered around the globe because of the persecution they faced. My grandfather awoke in the night screaming from nightmares of the horrors he experienced until the day he died. My grandmother was the subject of unspeakable "scientific" and "medical" experiments during her time in a concentration camp.

Those experiences came from the hate, lack of understanding, and unwillingness to accept "the other" of another xenophobic, elitist, regime focused on "values" and the "ideal society". I swear, I can hear the distant march of brownshirts sometimes when I lay in bed at night.

I am sad and afraid because I was an American teenager on 9/11.

I found it all too ironic that this plan was revealed on Tuesday, September 10th, so that the bulk of media reaction would occur on September 11th. The attacks of September 11, 2001 were the result of the refusal to accept one another, to live together with understanding and appreciation of diversity, to learn about each other. Following that horrifying day, the subsequent failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, how have we not learned our lessons?

I am sad and afraid because I am a mother, and I don't know how to protect my child from a world that is so much scarier than I ever really understood. 

So Monsieur Drainville, Madame Marois- do not speak for ME or MY values.

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