Quebec Premier François Legault is in Montreal today. Speaking alongside Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Quebec’s National Director for Public Health Horacio Arruda, Public Health Regional Director Mylène Drouin and Transport Minister François Bonnardel, he announced that Montreal-area schools won’t re-open until the fall.

Primary schools across Quebec, excluding the Greater Montreal Area, re-opened on Monday, with Montreal expected to follow on May 25th provided COVID-19 numbers were dropping on par with World Health Organization criteria for deconfinement. With over 20 000 people infected, they aren’t and Montreal has become Canada’s epicenter for the virus, so it will be late August and September before any schools re-open here.

Pushing re-opening back a few weeks only to close them when the school year ends mid-June would have made no sense according to Legault. Daycares that don’t run on the same school year may re-open June 1, provided Coronavirus containment conditions are met.

Non-essential retail businesses not located in malls or in malls with a separate street entrance in Montreal could possibly re-open on May 25th as planned. That date may, of course, be pushed back.

When they do re-open, though, there will inevitably be more people using public transit. Legault announced that Quebec will assist Montreal in providing masks for commuters, which Plante welcomed.

The Premier and his colleagues have been recommending people wear face coverings whenever they leave their home for a few days now, and in particular when they ride public transit. While they won’t rule out making masks mandatory on transit at some point in the future, we’re not there yet.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic due to the Corona virus aka COVID-19. Montreal is not only the epicenter of the outbreak in Quebec, but in all of Canada.

In a move that Montrealers have been begging for since Quebec Premier François Legault announced his harebrained idea of reopening the province on May 11, he has agreed to delay reopening schools and businesses in Montreal until May 25, 2020, and only if the situation here has improved. The decision was made in consultation with Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s National Director of Public Health.

Parents in Montreal can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as reopening too early would only lead to a resurgence of the disease that would overwhelm hospitals already overworked and rapidly reaching capacity. David McLeod told this reporter that if elementary schools did reopen in Montreal on May 19 as planned he and his wife would not be sending their son:

“If we did it would be a prison we would be sending him to, not a school. It is a place for people to park their kids.”

Wendy, a mother with diabetes, had also decided to keep her son at home, declaring that he is not a guinea pig for the government. She worries that her son would pass the virus on to her with fatal results.

Parents were not the only ones worried. Educators in Montreal, who agreed to speak to me on condition of anonymity, were deeply concerned about the health, sanitation, and logistical nightmare of reopening the schools and daycares.

“It takes the whole summer for administration to organize class kits and teacher schedules. It’s not as simple as putting a teacher in a room with 8-15 kids,” said an elementary school teacher. “The school buses usually have 60-80 kids and now they’ll be only 12 kids on one bus…will there be enough busses for everyone?”

She expressed concern that keeping a two meter distance from students would make it harder for teachers to help them, adding that the problem would be worse for kids with ADHD.

A Montreal high school teacher expressed concern that Legault’s plan lacked clarity. She countered the Premier’s claim of reopening the schools for students’ mental health by pointing out that kids have more freedom of movement if they stay home. She also says it’s still not clear whether teaching high school has to be face-to-face or if content can just be posted for students to look at at their own speed.

“Lucy” a daycare educator, told me her loved ones were terrified of her going back to work. The stress of staying clean and safe scares her too, comparing a return to work to “going to war with no gun”.

“Mary”, another daycare educator thinks even reopening Montreal on May 25th is ridiculous.

“You know there’s been an outbreak in a daycare, right?” she said, referring to the recent COVID-19 outbreak at a daycare in Montreal North. “We will be wearing visors at my daycare. Can you imagine a child coming in after months and meeting a monster with a blue face and visors? I don’t see how this will not be damaging to the child,” she said.

As a member of the immune-compromised in one of the hardest hit boroughs in Montreal I have my own worries about what reopening schools will mean for my personal safety. I live within walking distance of two elementary schools, one high school, and one school for students with special needs.

My chronic medical conditions put me on the “Most Likely to Die from COVID-19” list, thus making leaving my home incredibly unsafe until the virus is contained. Reopening the schools would make it more likely that I could fall victim to the pandemic, and with hospitals overcrowded, there’s no guarantee I’d get the help I need.

Even former Montreal Canadien Georges Laraque sees the absurdity of the Quebec government’s initial decision, and though he himself has COVID-19, he was live streaming about his experience in our health care system from his hospital room.

Some parents are calling the change of heart a lot more sensible. Others think Legault’s initial plan of reopening Montreal was a business-oriented decision that showed the lack common sense people have come to expect from his government.

Whatever the reason, Montreal can at least be thankful that common sense has prevailed and that active resistance works. We just have to be loud enough.

Schools and non-essential retail businesses across Quebec are re-opening today, except those in the Greater Montreal Area. While schools in the 514, 438 and 450 area codes are on track to re-open in two weeks, Montreal-area businesses will not re-open on May 11th as planned, but May 18th.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced during the government’s regular COVID-19 briefing today that he was pushing back re-opening Montreal because Montreal-area hospitals were getting crowded. He noted that there are still beds available in Quebec’s largest city and coronavirus epicenter, but not enough to re-open in a week.

This decision comes amid a rise in virus transmission in Montreal Nord. Legault said that there is not enough leeway in Montreal to deconfine as planned as there is in other regions of Quebec.

He also updated his original two world view. Now, Legault says there are three Quebecs: inside seniors’ residences, Montreal and everywhere else.

Re-opening the manufacturing and construction sectors are happening as planned, even in the Greater Montreal Area.

Quebec will be re-opening some parts of its economy during the month of May. The province, at this point, will not be relaxing social distancing rules imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic overall and will impose new regulations on businesses when the re-open.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced the plan in general at the government’s daily press briefing before passing it over to Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade with the details. So far there are three sectors re-opening:

  • Retail Stores: Retail businesses that are not located inside a shopping mall or businesses inside a mall but with a separate entrance will be allowed to open on May 4th across Quebec with the exception of the Greater Montreal Area and on May 11th in Montreal and its surroundings. Stores will remain closed on Sundays until May 31st.
  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing businesses across Quebec can open May 11th. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees working per day can re-open with full staff. Those with over 50 daily employees can open with 50 employees plus half the remaining staff. On May 25th, manufacturing businesses can open with full staff regardless of the size of the staff.
  • Construction: Construction businesses across Quebec can re-open May 11th.

Legault repeated remarks he made yesterday when talking about re-opening some schools as a justification for re-opening parts of the economy with COVID deaths and hospitalizations still on the rise. While situation is still dire in seniors’ residences, the population overall, excluding that sector, has been flattening the curve.

No word yet on when sit-down restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses where social distancing could prove difficult may re-open. The government did say that they will be making other announcements at later dates.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced that Quebec will be re-opening primary schools and childcare services across the province but excluding the Greater Montreal Area on May 11th and then in Montreal and the 450 area codes on May 19th. High schools and post-secondary education institutions will only re-open for in-person classes in the fall as most currently offer online courses.

In his daily press briefing on Quebec’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Legault stressed that attendance will be optional and urged children with health issues or children of parents with health issues to stay home. He also noted that this plan will only go into effect if Quebec’s Coronavirus numbers continue on their current trajectory.

In the past 24 hours, Quebec reported 23 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, 84 new deaths and five fewer people in intensive care. Legault noted that most of the increase is happening in seniors’ residences, which is the focus of the province’s fight against the pandemic.

Legault said that it’s like we’re living in “two fifferent worlds” when comparing long-term care facilities to the rest of Quebec society. This is how the government is justifying opening up parts of society a bit.

Legault said that re-opening schools is for societal reasons as well as to prevent kids with learning disabilities from being away from their teachers for too long. The premier stressed that “heard immunity” wasn’t a principal reason behind the move.

Tomorrow Quebec will announce its timetable for re-opening businesses.

Quebec has extended its partial lockdown until May 4th. Premier François Legault had originally ordered all non-essential businesses closed until April 13th, but with COVID-19 cases still on the rise (up 947 since yesterday to 7944), Quebec will remain “on pause” as Legault put it, three weeks longer.

At the same press conference, Legault did have some good news. According to a Google Mobility Report, Quebec is the jurisdiction in Quebec that is respecting social distancing restrictions the most.

It didn’t really look like that yesterday in Montreal parks, though. In response, Mayor Valérie Plante’s administration closed Île Notre-Dame, the parking lots that serve Mount-Royal and the Atwater footbridge over the Lachine Canal.

These measures are to stop people from driving or otherwise communting to parks that aren’t in their area (some people who don’t live on the island of Montreal visited the mountain yesterday) or visiting parks in groups. The city also increased police presence in parks.

Plante also urged Montrealers to only visit parks near where they live and reminded the public that non-essential travel between parts of the city was strongly discouraged. Montreal remains under a State of Emergency.

Yesterday, in a continued response to COVID-19 (aka the Coronavirus) Quebec Premier François Legault ordered all shopping malls, hair salons, sit-down restaurants and spas closed until May 1st and extended school closings to that date as well. He also announced that police would now be enforcing a ban on groups of more than two people either gathered outside or indoors (where not everyone lives in the residence).

Yesterday there were 219 cases, today there are 628. While the new number is a little less than triple the previous one, it is also the first time the government is including presumed cases along with confirmed ones.

This jump was also anticipated, given the time it takes for the virus to show up. It’s still too early to tell how well the social distancing measures, which began here when Legault ordered all bars and gyms closed last Sunday, are working.

With the larger number, though, Legault ordered all in-person businesses not deemed essential to close by midnight tonight until April 13th. Or, as the Premier put it: “Quebec will be on hold for three weeks.”

What Is Considered Essential

Quebec just released the list of what is considered essential (post updated from a previous version without the list). You can read the complete list, currently in French only, on quebec.ca

In addition to healthcare (including veterinary), government (including garbage collection, postal service and snow removal) and infrastructure services and some construction services, the following can remain open:

  • Grocery stores and other food businesses
  • Pharmacies
  • Depanneurs
  • Big box stores in commercial centres with separate entrances offering hardware, grocery or pharmacy products
  • Agricultural product stores
  • SAQ and SQDC
  • Funeral homes, crematoriums and cemetaries
  • Takeout and delivery restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Cleaners and laundromats
  • Medical and orthopedic supply businesses
  • Pet food and supply businesses
  • Movers
  • Workplace security equipment businesses
  • Telecommunications (equipment and service)
  • Cable
  • Local and national media (not just indie media like us that already work remotely)
  • Newspaper printing presses
  • Banking (at the bank and support centres)
  • Payroll services
  • Accounting services
  • Financial market services
  • Electricians, plumbers and similar services supporting emergency services
  • Construction equipment rental
  • Building maintenance and related services (alarms, ventilation, etc.)
  • Public transit
  • Taxis and adaptive transport
  • Ports and aeroports
  • Vehicle repair and service stations
  • Package delivery
  • Businesses in the supply chain of essential businesses

We will update you on any changes as this promises to be a developing story for weeks to come.

December 12th, 2019 was a sad day for visible minorities in Quebec. The Quebec Court of Appeal denied the application to suspend certain sections of the Laicity Act aka Bill 21 until the Superior Court decides on their constitutionality.

A lot of eyes were on the Quebec Court of Appeal in anticipation of this ruling. Some in favor of Bill 21 even tried to undermine the court by questioning the impartiality of the chief justice, Nicole Duval Hesler. Among them were historian and Dawson College professor Frédéric Bastien, who publicly argued ten days before the ruling that Hesler could not be impartial because she has spoken in favor of multiculturalism and religious accommodation.

While most people would consider Hesler an enlightened judge, her critics cried bias, going insofar to file a complaint against her with the Canadian Judicial Council, the body responsible for ensuring the quality of judicial services in Canada.

The authors of the law knew that Bill 21 could not withstand a legal challenge by an objective court. It’s why they wrote the Notwithstanding Clause into the law, and why in anticipation of the Court of Appeal’s decision, they attempted to undermine its chief justice.

Turns out the bigots were wasting their time questioning Hesler’s impartiality, for while Hesler voted to grant the appeal, she was overruled by her fellow judges. In the 2-1 decision, the court decided that the Notwithstanding Clause written into the law made suspension of articles within it impossible until the Superior Court gave their own ruling on its constitutionality.

Now let’s talk about the Court of Appeal decision.

The ruling was the outcome of an appeal of a Superior Court decision rendered on July 18, 2019. The plaintiff in this case is Ichak Nourel Hak, a student scheduled to complete her Bachelor of Education this winter. She hoped to teach high school French in Quebec, but the passing of Bill 21 last June made that impossible.

The law bans many public service employees – including teachers – from wearing religious symbols while working. Hak wears a hijab, and the law as it stands only allows existing employees who wear such symbols to keep their jobs.

New hires and people seeking a promotion would have to remove the signs of their faith in order to work. As it stands, and in spite of the teacher shortage in Quebec, many people have found their job offers rescinded or their applications denied since the enactment of Bill 21.

Hak and three other groups, among them the English Montreal School Board and the Canadian Council of Muslims, are all working to challenge the law in court, but until those challenges are heard and decided, the law remains in effect.

Hak went to the Superior Court seeking an injunction to suspend articles 6 and 8 of the Laicity law until the constitutional challenges were decided.

Article 6 prohibits certain public employees from wearing religious symbols. It also defines religious symbols as all objects, especially clothing, symbols, jewelry, accessories and headgear worn with religious conviction or belief, as well as anything that could be considered religious clothing. Article 8 requires that members or employees of public institutions carry out their duties with their faces uncovered, and that anyone wishing to receive government services must uncover their faces in order to receive them – a clear reference to the Niqab worn by some Muslim women. Though the Laicity Law is supposed to apply to everyone equally, experts agree its effects will be felt mostly by Muslim women in Quebec.

The Superior Court refused to suspend these parts of the law because of the Notwithstanding Clause written into it. The Quebec Court of Appeal maintained that decision.

So what is the Notwithstanding Clause and why can it affect a provincial court decision?

All laws in Canada, be they provincial or federal, are subject to the Constitution, which takes precedence over all other laws. Included in the Constitution is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Laws that violate the Constitution can be challenged in court, and in the case of a successful challenge, struck down. In order to avoid such challenges, governments can use the Notwithstanding Clause.

The Notwithstanding Clause is section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is written into our constitution to allow governments, provincial and federal, to enact laws that violate sections seven to fifteen of the Canadian Charter – sections referring to equality, freedom from discrimination, and the rights of the accused in criminal cases – provided they indicate within the law that it applies notwithstanding the Charter.

The Clause is not, however, the great block to legal challenges Premier François Legault makes it out to be, as it’s only valid for five years. At the end of the five year period, the National Assembly can let it expire thus opening it to new legal challenges, or they can renew it by another act of parliament.

The five-year limit allows for governments to change and in cases where a law has been struck down by the courts, it can buy governments time to keep the law in effect while they rewrite the law so that it conforms to the Charter.

Any legal challenges to the Laicity law will either have to wait for the five years to expire, or find ways around the Notwithstanding Clause to successfully challenge the law. Current challenges include, but are not limited to:

  • That the law violates section 28 of the Canadian Charter guaranteeing equal treatment before the law of males and females given that the law disproportionally affects women. In the past, section 28 has only been used to interpret laws, not challenge them.
  • That the law criminalizes the wearing of religious symbols in certain professions and therefore is unconstitutional on jurisdictional grounds as it was enacted by a provincial government when only the Federal government can enact criminal legislation
  • The law is too vague

The Court of Appeal was not there to render a decision on the Laicity law’s merits. It was there to decide whether or not the law allowed them to suspend certain parts of the law until its merits are decided by another court.

The Court of Appeal recognized that the Laicity Law causes harm to the people it affects, especially women. It recognized that the grounds for the legal challenges – set to be heard by the Superior Court in October 2020 – have merit. It refused to suspend the law until those challenges are heard and decided, stating that the use of the Notwithstanding Clause tied their hands at this stage.

Until the actual challenges to the Laicity law are heard and decided, do not lose hope. Be an open and vocal critic of François Legault and his government and step between those using the law as an excuse to harass and assault innocent people.

Support movements like “Non à la Loi 21” and wear one of their buttons with pride. Show solidarity with Quebec’s religious minorities and laugh openly and loudly at people who defend the law as anything but the legalized bigotry it is.

The fight is not over until we say it is. So keep fighting.

Featured Image of the Quebec Court of Appeals building in Montreal by Jeangagnon via WikiMedia Commons

On October 30th, 2019 the Quebec government under François Legault and the CAQ announced that they would be making an addition to the requirements for people seeking to immigrate to Quebec. It’s a test of allegedly ‘democratic values and Quebec values’. The announcement resulted in praise by some, harsh criticism by others.

It should be said right off the bat that this article is not going to discuss how blatantly xenophobic this announcement is. It is not going to address the fact that, like Bill 21, this values test is clearly pandering to the most disgustingly xenophobic racist people in Quebec and that the path the government has taken may unfortunately culminate in a slew of hate crimes in Legault’s name. My colleague, Jason C. McLean did an excellent job of addressing this last week.

This article is going to look at the practical aspects of such a test and what impact it would really have on would-be immigrants to Quebec.

For those unfamiliar with the immigration process, federal and provincial governments have concurring jurisdiction on issues of immigration. However it must be noted that while Quebec can choose its immigrants through Quebec Selection Certificate (CSQ) program, it is Ottawa that ultimately gets the final say as to who gets to live in Canada permanently as permanent residents and eventually citizens.

The Quebec government announced that all adult immigration applicants and their adult family members will be required to take the test and get at least 75% to pass. If they fail, they will have an opportunity to take the test a second and third time. Minors and people with a medical condition preventing them from obtaining a selection certificate would be exempt.

The same day, the Quebec government released a series of sample questions that might appear on the test. The questions include those about the equal rights of men and women, LGBTQI rights, and regarding Quebec’s controversial religious symbols ban. If the samples are any indication, it is highly possible that some Canadian Conservative and People’s Party voters would not themselves pass it.

In order to fully grasp the actual impact this test would have, I reached out to the people with the Non à La Loi 21 group, who have been leading the fight against the religious symbols ban François Legault forced through the National Assembly last March. As they have been actively fighting prejudice in Quebec, I asked if they had any thoughts on this test. They put me in touch with Me William Korbatly, a lawyer operating out of Ville Saint Laurent.

He says that the Quebec government is within its rights to impose any condition in order to get a CSQ. Korbatly feels that such a test would be easier to pass than the mandatory French test required in order to get a CSQ, and would therefore not have a significant impact on the immigration process.

He points out that the test is useless because many people would have no problem giving the correct answers on the test even if they themselves don’t believe in what they’re answering. Once applicants have their CSQ or permanent residency, the government won’t be able to hurt them even if they openly declare their disagreement with so-called “Quebec values”.

“The problem lies not in the technicality but rather in its raison d’etre. We all know the hardline nationalist identity political agenda that the CAQ is pursuing. This test is merely another publicity populist coup to show to their audience that they stand up for their values and the ‘valeurs québécoises’.”

Me Korbatly feels that this values test is just another distraction from what is really going on in Quebec and the failures of our current government.

“Presenting the ‘laicité’ as defined by the CAQ and which was passed and integrated within the Quebec Charter of Rights by a closure motion, as a Quebec value is dishonest and doesn’t represent the real open and tolerant nature of Quebec and Quebeckers. What the CAQ is doing since the passing of Bill 21, is hijacking the opinions of all Quebecers and reducing them to their populist identity agenda and wedge politics so they can hide their failures in the execution of most of their promises such as the deal with specialist physicians, Hydro Quebec, the maternelle 4 ans, the maisons pour les ainés, and the list is long.”

Given that the test will be ultimately meaningless, here’s hoping new arrivals to Quebec say what is needed to pass so they can come here. After all, diversity is strength, and the more diverse Quebec is, the more our leaders will have to abandon their hate.

Featured image by abdallahh via Flickr Creative Commons

The Quebec Government just passed a “Quebec Values Test” requirement for prospective immigrants. It was one of Premier François Legault’s easy-to-keep campaign promises aimed squarely at the most bigoted elements of his base.

My colleague Samantha Gold will have a detailed look at the specifics and talk to some of those it actually affects in a few days. For now, just know that it’s exactly as bad as you think it is, only it’s worse.

Though passed after Bill 21, the infamous religious symbols ban, it effectively acts as a first step towards forced assimilation into white mainstream European settler culture. It also attempts to normalize the xenophobia inherent in Bill 21.

Insulting Questions That Distract

While the government hasn’t released actual questions that will be on the test, they did offer media five sample questions covering the general areas. Most of them are basic and, frankly, insulting.

There’s the one about what the official language of Quebec is. Gee, could it be the one the test is written in and also the one prospective immigrants have to take a whole other test on?

While that one may be insulting to the test taker’s intelligence, some of the others are potentially worse. Those are the ones also designed, most likely, to mollify progressive-minded people who already live here.

They ask about whether or not men and women are equal in Quebec and also if men can marry men and women marry women here. The questions ignore the reality that gender equality and LGBTQ rights might very well be the reasons behind the applicant’s desire to immigrate here in the first place.

Then there’s one about whether or not a police officer can wear a religious symbol on the job. Of course, Bill 21 goes much further than the police, but why not cherry-pick scenarios?

Coupled with the two questions I just mentioned, the intent is clear. The CAQ want to imply that a woman who chooses to wear the hijab, for example, cannot possibly be for gender equality.

At the same time, they want people to think of Bill 21 as something that actually has to do with secularism, gender equality and LGBTQ rights, when, in reality, it’s just about turning racist fears of the so-called “other” into votes. Nice try, assholes.

The final question they released, though, is really the white frosting on this cake of intolerance. It’s multiple choice:

Identify which situations involve discrimination. A job is refused:

  • To a woman who is pregnant
  • To a person lacking the required diploma
  • To a person because of their ethnic background

While the correct answer should be that refusing a job to someone for being pregnant and/or for their ethnic background constitutes discrimination, Bill 21 really muddies the waters. It has made it not just okay, but also law, to discriminate against someone proudly displaying their ethnic and cultural background when applying for a job.

Five Better Questions

Okay, so here are five more accurate questions that the CAQ should ask:

  1. Are you aware that the current government of this province is actively scapegoating immigrants to appeal to their xenophobic base?
  2. You know French is the official language, women and men are equal and the LGBTQ community have rights, but did you know the government is using all of that to justify their bigotry?
  3. Did you know that this is actually Native land and the Quebec Government really should have no say in who comes here or not?
  4. If you do come, hockey is really a thing here and so is poutine (fries, cheese curds and gravy). So, get ready for that.
  5. Just fill out the “test” the way they want and then come here and help us get them removed from office.

Seriously, though, this “test” is the sort of racist BS we’ve come to expect from the CAQ. It’s sad, but it’s also what we’ve got to deal with for the next few years.

Pride has become many things over the years. For some it’s a great party – a chance for peoa ple of all genders and sexual orientations and identities to bust out the rainbows and costumes and dance in the street. For others, Pride celebrations are political acts – assertions that people of all genders and identities have a right to live their best lives.

For many others, mainstream Pride celebrations have become too corporate and too much of an opportunity for cis straight white people, particularly politicians and major corporations, to solicit LGBTQI votes and business while doing nothing to help them. Some people have fought this by organizing resistance movements within Pride, while others have opted to stage their own separate protests.

I had the privilege of speaking with those who attended the parade and those who organized counter protests within and without.

Before I go into that, we need to discuss the history of Montreal Pride as there are still some (idiots) who wonder why the LGBTQI community needs a celebration at all.

The gay pride movement as we know it began with the 1969 Stonewall riots. True to the assertion that Pride started as a protest against police brutality, the riots were in direct response to police raids of establishments catering to the gay community.

The Stonewall Inn was a mob-owned bar that primarily served gay men in Greenwich village in New York. In June of that year police conducted a raid and in response to it and years of persecution, a riot erupted. It was this riot, led by black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson and others that sparked Pride marches and the mobilization of LGBTQI rights around the world.

The first Pride parade in Montreal happened in 1979 on the tenth anniversary of Stonewall. What started as a fifty-two-person march has now become an eleven-day festival with over two million participants.

Our local gay rights movement really got off the ground following the Sex Garage raid of 1990, which you could call our Stonewall. This led to the formation of Divers/Cité, the group that ran Pride until 2006.

This year the festival was marked by scandal. This is partly due to the announcement that Quebec Premier and critic of minority rights Francois Legault would be marching in the parade, as well as a recent CBC news story about how Sophia Sahrane, a black woman, was fired from Montreal Pride within an hour of submitting a report to them saying that they had not done enough to include visible minorities.

Many people objected to Francois Legault’s participation in Pride. At the head of this movement was Sam Kaizer, an activist behind the “Let go of Legault” petition calling on Montreal Pride to rescind its invitation to allow the Premier to march in the parade.

“When I started the petition, I was mostly concerned about the rights of our religious minorities, especially Muslim women,” he said. “But I was informed that the CAQ has done nothing towards the recognition of trans identities (and) the CAQ has not contributed anything to the advancement of LGBT+ rights.”

Unfortunately, though Kaizer’s petition got over three hundred signatures, Legault marched in the parade anyway. For Kaizer, this was not a total loss because Legault was booed almost the entire time and Kaizer’s petition helped spark important discussions about Pride. His hope was to raise standards for participants in the parade.

“I think only members of the community and allies should be permitted to march, not people who just want to look good in the media,” he said.

One person who marched in the parade was Jodi Kazenel. She was invited to march with her mentor, Dr. Laurie Betito, a phycologist with a specialty in sexuality and radio personality for CJAD. For Kazenel, the parade is about being part of a celebration of love and diversity and bringing awareness to how much more must be done for 2SLGBTQIA+ rights around the world and across Canada.

As for the criticisms of Pride Montreal as being increasingly corporate, racist and transphobic, she feels that if Pride helps raise awareness of these issues, then it’s a good thing. That said, she does have reservations about corporate participation in the parade:

“Corporations must ensure that their outward portrayals of inclusion and acceptance are reflected inside their workplaces, policies, medical allowances, and the like. Transphobia and racism have no place in Pride. Pride Montreal, all organisations, all corporations, all individuals must do their part to be inclusive of the entire 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which includes trans folks and POC.”

Sadly, there are many in Montreal who feel that Pride Montreal does not represent them. Among them are Adrienne Moohk, co-founder of GRIND’HER – a group that seeks to create pro trans, pro sex, pro sex worker lesbian cruising spaces, and Naomi Champagne. They are the organizers of the Pride is a Protest March which took place on the same day as and followed the Montreal Pride parade.

For them a major problem with Montreal Pride is the lack of black transgender women, ironic given that one of the leaders of Stonewall was a black trans woman. For them the firing of Sophia Sahrane was proof of the organization’s refusal to include or represent people of colour.

“Now, pride is centred around mostly white drag queens… Pride does not include black transwomen, nevermind does not centre them – and in fact, doesn’t seem to have much room for black people at all. or trans people!” Adrienne said, adding that many black and transgender people have walked away from Montreal Pride feeling traumatized.

In their eyes, Pride owes black, brown, and transgender communities representation and the fact that the event has become so corporate is also a problem.

“Pride started as a protest, but now is a corporate institution, that is actually quite dangerous to the lives of the most marginalized and while they def 100 should figure out better representation, all they do is appropriate people and their movements, instead of bring about real positive change which is quite dangerous,” Adrienne added.

For artist and transgender woman Candi Krol, attending the march over the parade was about feeling represented:

“(Montreal) Pride doesn’t speak for me or many others from marginalized communities under the LGBTQ+ banner, queer, trans, POC… pride has become an overly corporate white cis gay male thing that actively excludes us. Banks, politicians, corporations etc. pretend to care, but they are clueless. The gay rights movement was started by mostly drag queens, trans and queer POCs who lived on the fringes of the gay culture. They not only seem to forget this, but actively try to erase our history. I haven’t felt like pride supported or represented me in years.”

As to what Montreal Pride can do to better include people of colour and transgender people, Adrienne and Naomi feel that financially supporting marginalized groups would help. Pride in their eyes has so much money they could be handing out to community organizations to better support transgender people and people of colour.

They also feel that Montreal Pride doesn’t hire enough black, brown, and transgender people when Pride should be made up of a majority of them. Despite demands for inclusion, the organization doesn’t listen.

“There is an organization in Montreal called Taking What We Need, who fundraise for broke ass trans women who need it. They should have given them serious money, maybe room on the program.”

That said, the rights of LGBTQI people have a long way to go before equality is achieved. This is not just about homophobia or transphobia, but about racism, sexism, trans misogyny, police brutality, and corporate greed.

We owe it to ourselves as a society to actively scrutinize people who claim to support human rights, but actively undermine them when in a position to help. In the meantime, Montreal Pride will continue and so will all the other protests and rightful demands for change.

Images courtesy of Candi Krol

Hosts Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney talk about Bill 21, Quebec’s proposed Religious Symbol Ban, with special guest Samantha Gold

Also: News Roundup, Survey Says, Dear FTB, Things You Did Not Know (Maybe) and Predictions!

Recorded April 13, 2019 in Montreal

Producer: Hannah Besseau

Hosts: Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney

Special Guest: Samantha Gold, Forget the Box Legal Columnist and Montreal-based artist

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

Lately, talk in Quebec political circles has focused on the CAQ Government’s proposed law 21. Currently a bill before the National Assembly, it is better known as the Religious Symbol Ban.

In a nutshell, it bars people considered to be public servants, such as teachers, bus drivers, nurses and police officers, from wearing religious symbols while on the job. This includes hijabs, kippahs, turbans and, what some may erroneously think is the only item banned, the Niqab.

For a comprehensive breakdown of what Bill 21 entails, please read Samantha Gold’s report.

Despite mounting vocal opposition, Premier François Legault points to polls to argue that the public is with him. So, we’ve decided to make our own poll, or rather a survey.

Why a survey? Because just one question doesn’t really show how much people understand, are personally affected by or care about the issue.

We will announce the results on our podcast this coming Saturday, so you have about a week and it only takes a minute or two.

Here it is:

If the survey is not displaying properly, please visit this link to open it.

Featured Image: Quebecois, a painting by Samantha Gold

Canada is a secular society, but we are a society that has recognized that secular laws and practices can coexist with many people’s religious beliefs and expressions. It is why in Montreal, for example, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and seculars live together in relative harmony. If Quebec Premier François Legault gets his way, this might all change.

Legault and his Coalition Avenir du Quebec party ran on a platform of promising to bar people who wear religious symbols from positions of authority in the province. They are attempting to do this with Bill 21.

This article is not going to discuss how the CAQ is so clearly pandering to the most disgustingly racist, xenophobic members of Quebec society. It is not going to talk about how the Bill represents the longstanding dispute between welcoming, diverse, multicultural Montreal and the rest of Quebec.

This article is going to talk about what Bill 21 actually contains and the very real fallout for the Quebecois affected if the bill passes. For the purposes of this article, “Quebecois” means anyone living in Quebec (and not just people descended from the original French settlers).

Bill 21 contains important changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, a quasi-constitutional law enacted in the 70s that contains some of Quebec’s strongest protections against discrimination. As the Quebec Charter is only quasi-constitutional, it can be changed by a simple act by the National Assembly.

Bill 21 changes section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter from:

“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.

Section 9.1 Quebec Charter of Human Rights, current text

to:

“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.”

Proposed version of Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights

The change thus creates an obligation among citizens to have respect for democratic values, state secularism, public order etc. in the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Quebec Charter. It does not, however, abolish section 10 of the Quebec Charter which states that:

“Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”

Section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights

The Charter also forbids discrimination in “the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” based on the aforementioned grounds. As these sections of the Quebec Charter remain on the books, any institutions that enforce Bill 21 could find themselves open to legal action under said Charter which also states victims’ rights in such cases:

“Any unlawful interference with any right or freedom recognized by this Charter entitles the victim to obtain the cessation of such interference and compensation for the moral or material prejudice resulting therefrom. In case of unlawful and intentional interference, the tribunal may, in addition, condemn the person guilty of it to punitive damages.”

Quebec Charter of Human Rights

Matt Aronson, a lawyer in Montreal says that “if a state funded institution practices discrimination as an employer, causing damages to a citizen, it’s possible that not only could a citizen sue to have the discrimination stopped, they may even be able to sue for punitive damages. Now, there is a section of the Quebec Charter that allows for rights and freedoms to be limited in scope by laws, but that would be a fairly difficult retort to state sanctioned discrimination.”

As a result, the government can and will find itself open to costly lawsuits if Bill 21 passes as increasing numbers of people have publicly committed to fighting back.. The English Montreal School Board, for example, has publicly stated that they will not enforce the Bill, and a public protest in scheduled on Sunday, April 7th, in Montreal.

True to Legault’s election promise, Bill 21 bars government employees from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions. This is the list of employees who will be affected – I am including the full list so people fully understand how many will be hurt if this law passes:

  • Judges, clerks, deputy clerks, and sheriffs
  • Members of the Comité de déontologie policiere – the group responsible for holding police to account for misconduct
  • Members of the Commission de la fonction publique
  • Members of the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole
  • Members of the Commission des transports du Quebec
  • Members of the Commission Municipale
  • Members of the Commission quebecoise des liberations conditionelles
  • Employees of the Regie de l’energie
  • Employees of the Regie d’alcools, courses, et jeux
  • Employees of the Regie des marche agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec
  • Employees of the Regie du batiment du Quebec
  • Employees of the Regie du Logement
  • Members of the Financial Markets Administrative Labour Tribunal
  • Members of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec
  • Chairs of the Disciplinary Council
  • Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions and lawyers and notaries working for said commissioners
  • Arbitrators appointed by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
  • The Quebec Justice Minister and Attorney General
  • The Director of penal prosecutions
  • Lawyers, notaries, and penal prosecuting attorneys
  • Peace officers who exercise their functions mainly in Quebec
  • Principals, vice principals, and teachers of educational institutions under the jurisdiction of the school boards

It must be noted that the law does contain a grandfather clause allowing all current employees wearing religious symbols to keep their current jobs. That said, anyone hoping for advancement would have to choose between their faith and a promotion to even be considered a candidate for one.

In addition to barring people wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 also demands that some government employees keep their faces uncovered in the exercise of their functions, a provision clearly meant to exclude women who choose to wear the niqab. Those affected include:

  • Members of the National Assembly (MNAs)
  • Elected Municipal officers except in certain Indigenous communities
  • Personnel of elected officers
  • Personnel of MNAs
  • Personnel of the Lieutenant Governor
  • Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions
  • Persons appointed by the government to exercise a function within the administrative branch including arbitrators whose name appears on a list drawn up by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
  • Peace officers who work mainly in Quebec
  • Physicians, dentists, and midwives
  • Persons recognized as home childcare providers
  • Anyone else designated by the National Assembly
  • Employees of government departments
  • Any bodies receiving government funds
  • People and bodies appointed in accordance with the Public Service Act
  • Employees of municipalities, metropolitan communities, and intermunicipal boards, and municipal and regional housing bureaus with the exception of some in Indigenous communities
  • Employees of Public Transit Authorities
  • Employees of school boards established under the Education Act
  • Employees of public institutions governed by the Act respecting health services and social services
  • Employees of bodies in which most of the members are appointed by the National Assembly
  • Institutions accredited under the act respecting the Ministere des Relations Internationales
  • Private family-type resources governed by the Act Respecting Health Services

In addition to barring certain government employees from having their face covered in the exercise of their functions, the law also requires certain people to show their faces in order to receive government services “where doing so is necessary to allow their identity for security reasons.”

The law does make an exception where the face is covered for health reasons, a handicap, or requirements tied to their job. The law also says that there will be “no accommodation or derogation or adaptation,” which means there are no exceptions anywhere.

Bill 21 not only alters the Quebec Charter of Human Rights to exonerate the government from open acts of discrimination, it also applies the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to bypass articles 2 and articles 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply by including in a discriminatory law an article stating that said law applies notwithstanding the Charter.

Articles 2 of the Canadian Charter deal with fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion, and articles 7 to 15 deal with legal rights including the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, equal treatment before the law, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Article 30 of Bill 21 states that it applies notwithstanding these articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the Notwithstanding clause has a failsafe in it requiring the government to renew the law in five years or open itself to legal challenges when that time expires.

That said, all hope is not lost. The law is currently tabled, meaning that the National Assembly has begun to consider it. It has not, as of the publication of this article, passed.

That means there is still time to resist. If you value our province’s protections against discrimination, contact your members of the National Assembly and pressure them as you never have before.

Point out that Quebec has a labour shortage and alienating and barring people won’t work to solve it. Tell them that the scores lawsuits they’ll face will be more expensive than any benefit they hope to gain if the Bill passes.

Tell them that if they want a truly secular state, all towns and streets and institutions bearing the names of Catholic saints should be changed immediately. Let them know how ridiculous their position is.

The fight is only over if we the people give up, so keep fighting.

Featured Image: Screengrab of François Legault defending Bill 21 in a Facebook video

Today, the Plante Administration announced that after City Hall renovations are complete, they won’t put the crucifix back in the City Council chambers. Yes, this move is about secularism of the state, as the Mayor made clear:

“The crucifix is an important part of Montreal’s heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference on March 20, 2019

Plante also reiterated that she still opposes Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols like kippahs and hijabs. The state, for her, and for me, and for anyone who really thinks it through, is the democratic institutions, like the City Council. chambers and not the wardrobe of teachers and bus drivers who work for the government.

Or, to put it in other words, a council member wearing a crucifix and, say, a security guard wearing a turban in the council chamber are just two people expressing their personal beliefs through what they wear. A religious symbol on the wall, though, is the state aligning with the particular religion the symbol comes from.

Not everyone sees it this way. I’ve already seen quite a few internet comments decrying the move as an attack on our traditions and I’m sure there will be talking heads on TV tonight and columnists in Quebec’s dailies tomorrow pissed off about what Plante did as well.

I’m sure that a good chunk, if not most, of the people coming out in opposition to removing the crucifix today will turn out to be the same people who were screaming religious neutrality of the state when the topic was Legault’s plan. I’ve already seen some commenters try and spin it that Plante is just anti-Christian and pro-Muslim.

While few will be that openly bigoted, those that previously supported the religious symbol ban and now oppose the move to remove the crucifix should admit that it isn’t about secularism at all, but about assimilation. They just lost any progressive secularist cover they may have enjoyed until now.

Those that support Plante’s move, want to get rid of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly as well and support Legault’s ban, well, at least you’re consistent. Those that oppose both the symbol ban and removing the cross, you’re consistent as well.

Those like me, and now Montreal’s mayor, who don’t want the state to dictate what teachers can wear and think a government chamber is no place for a religious symbol, our logic makes perfect sense.

Those who think we should ban all religious symbols but the Christian ones, you’re not secularists, you’re cultural fundamentalists. And you just lost your political cover.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh just put a new face on the opposition to Quebec’s religious symbol ban: his own.

In an interview with CBC Radio Montreal’s Daybreak, host Mike Finnerty asked him about the new CAQ government’s promise vigorously enforce a religious symbol ban and fire civil servants (police, teachers, etc.) who wear religious symbols on the job. While most of the public focus has been on Muslim women who wear the hijab, Singh, a Sikh, who wears a turban and kirpan (Ceremonial dagger), would also be affected by this ban if he was a Quebec civil servant:

Singh responded to this the best way possible, Sure, he couldn’t very well have said that wearing a turban is fine for Prime Minister but not a schoolteacher, but it’s still good that he’s taking a solid stand. It’s also quite politically savvy of him to refer to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms when asked about the Canadian one.

This is way better than the “I don’t like it personally, but you’ve got to respect the courts” message former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair put out during the last federal election. Sure, the Bloc Québécois was attacking the NDP over their opposition to the Harper Government’s challenge to a court ruling that allowed women to wear a niqab at citizenship ceremonies, but they were doing it viscerally and Mulcair responded with an appeal to respect judicial rulings and an attempt at partial appeasement.

Not sure what he was thinking, really. The staunch bigots were going to return to the Bloc regardless, unless the NDP changed its stance, which wasn’t going to happen. Progressives, on the other hand, were looking for stronger anti-Harper messaging.

Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister who won a Majority Government with more than a handful of seats in Quebec, including some former Bloc strongholds that had flipped to the NDP in the 2011 Orange Wave, had this to say on the subject at the time:

“You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.”

That was bold. That was principled. That’s what someone not politically timid and completely controlled by advisers who favour the safe choice says.

Too bad he turned out to also be a total shill for Big Oil, which, incidentally, was the other part of the Bloc’s attack on the NDP in 2015 (Muclair was kinda wishy washy on pipelines). The Bloc actually released an ad with an oil pipleline dripping crude that turned into a niqab.

Eco-left and hard right in the same ad. Only in Quebec, I guess.

This is a strange place politically. We embrace leftist ideals and inclusiveness on many issues, but then go and elect a reactionary provincial government that promises a form of exclusion that even Trump hasn’t tried.

I think Singh gets this. That’s why he made a point of mentioning his support of LGBTQ and women’s rights and that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wants to head in the other direction along with his opposition to the religious symbol ban.

Singh, and everyone else, knows that the Bloc is imploding, this time with no outside help. He wants to make it clear to Bloc supporters jumping ship that voting Conservative means supporting a bunch of things that they may not be ready to get behind. They can’t greenwash or pinkwash their bigotry this time.

What’s most interesting, though, is how Singh is attempting to redefine the ban on religious symbols as anti-secular. During the interview (not during the clip above), he said:

There’s no way to say that you’re not supporting one identity or other, because there are certain identities that don’t require a kippa. But there are other identities that have headgear. I think it’s a hard argument to make, that one is more neutral than the other, because there’s always a certain tradition that may not have headgear and one that may or may not have a certain way of dress. I think that the point should be that we we have a society that is secular through the values that we promote — that sets freedom and access to justice for all. That there’s no barriers based on who you are. Those are the ways that we ensure that it is a secular society.

He’s right. Secularism means no state religion, not the state banning individuals, including those working for the state, from wearing the garments of their religion on the job while at the same time keeping a symbol of one religion on display in the National Assembly.

Singh is also reminding Quebecers that Muslim women who wear hijabs aren’t the only ones targeted by this ban. Sikhs who wear turbans like him and Jews who wear kippahs are also in the crosshairs, if not in the spotlight.

Will this bold strategy work? Honestly, who knows. Quebec politics are always a gamble.

Sure, a recent poll showed that nearly two thirds of Quebecers are in favour of a religious symbol ban, but that poll doesn’t show how many of them consider it an important enough issue to base their vote on. Maybe the CAQ won in spite of their bigotry, not because of it.

One thing is clear, though: trying to play it safe by appeasing the hard right while running as a left alternative is a recipe for disaster, especially in Quebec. When Mulcair tried it, he effectively turned Trudeau into the principled, inclusive opposition to the Bloc and, in the eyes of the rest of Canada, Harper. At least Singh won’t make that mistake.

Whether this stance translates into a better Quebec performance for the NDP has yet to be seen. Regardless, Jagmeet Singh speaking out against the religious symbol ban and redefining what it means is what the federal NDP needs.

* Featured image Creative Commons via OFL Communications Department