FORMER federal minister in Jean Chretien’s government, Herb Dhaliwal, this week slammed the leaders of the three main parties – Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh – for very cravenly tiptoeing around the issue of Quebec’s racist Bill 21 that bans the display of religious symbols in the workplace by public-sector employees.
That bill, which denies Canadians the wearing of symbols manifesting their faith such as crosses, hijabs, kirpans, turbans and stars of David, is just plain wrong, said Dhaliwal in a statement.
Dhaliwal was speaking out following the political uproar prompted by the exchange between last week’s Leaders’ Debate moderator Shachi Kurl and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet regarding the discrimination inherent in Quebec’s Bills 21 and 96.
Dhaliwal said: “I firmly believe those Quebec provincial statutes are not only discriminatory, but a reflection of systemic racism that needs to be eradicated throughout Canada. Mahatma Gandhi summed it up effectively when he declared that people are not discriminatory, but laws can be, and some definitely are.”
He pointed out that many Canadians have become second-class citizens in Quebec because of Bill 21 and that should be unacceptable to all Canadians.
DHALIWAL said in his statement: “When the Bloc Quebecois Leader sparred on air with debate moderator Shachi Kurl over a question approved by the Debate Broadcast Group about Bills 21 and 96 marginalizing religious minorities (where she rightfully described Quebec’s controversial legislation as discriminatory), it revealed to me the chasm of difference on this subject between some Quebecers and many of us in the rest of Canada today. Notably, a Quebec Superior Court judge has ruled this legislation violates fundamental rights of expression and freedom of religion. Only because the ‘notwithstanding clause’ was evoked by the Quebec Government has this odious manifestation of discrimination been allowed to stand.
“Blanchet’s acerbic response to Kurl’s question on the legislated ban on the wearing of visible religious symbols by public servants in positions of authority, including, most controversially, schoolteachers, has triggered exploitation by the Bloc scrambling to retain its 32-seat momentum captured in 2019 among Quebec voters. Meanwhile, it is noticeable how disingenuous the Conservative, Liberal and NDP Leaders have been in carefully avoiding, and even disavowing, any perception that they support the laudable position articulated by Ms. Kurl, undeniably a politically volatile one.
“Shachi Kurl doesn’t need me to defend her and the completely legitimate and appropriate question she posed to Monsieur Blanchet about discriminatory Quebec laws. How can anyone in that Province, or anywhere in Canada – particularly any Party Leader seeking to become Prime Minister of this country after the September 20 general election – seriously explain, or convincingly avoid condemning, the enactment of the Quebec National Assembly which restricts minorities’ job opportunities because of their religious convictions? Denying them the wearing of symbols manifesting their faith such as crosses, hijabs, kirpans, turbans and stars of David is just plain wrong. Yes, and discriminatory!
“It is more than disappointing to witness how O’Toole, Trudeau and Singh have carefully avoided risking Quebecers’ votes by choosing to dodge the truth with lame platitudes and diversionary comments instead of underscoring the validity of Ms. Kurl’s probe – like ‘unfair and offensive (Trudeau)’; ‘we need to work together; respect one another’ (O’Toole). Say, what?
Observing the lack of political courage – indeed, the absence of real leadership – so apparent on the part of the Party Leaders who shared the debate stage with M. Blanchet (and who, in response to his exploitation of the question which Shachi Kurl asked on behalf of the Debate Broadcast Group, have chosen to dodge, weave and ‘diss’, in effect allowing vote-getting to Trump truth-telling), is discouraging. Furthermore, given the welcome ethnic and religious diversity of candidates representing all parties in the current election campaign, many Canadians who – like me – are demoralized at this situation regarding Quebec’s discriminatory laws, no doubt are asking what I am: where do those many would-be MP-candidates from ethnic/religious minorities stand on this topic? Are we hearing anything from them about rejecting this core proposition in relation to Charter rights protection from religious discrimination for Canadians in Quebec?
“It is timely now, and so critically important, especially for those of us across Canada who have fought all our lives for greater tolerance and against discrimination in this country, to expose the unacceptable, discriminatory Quebec legislation for what it is. If we permit freedom of religious expression to be sidelined from our conscious truth the way it has been in Quebec, we risk the potentially volatile and socially disturbing results of discrimination to gain a dangerous foothold, a threatening reality which cannot, and must not, be tolerated in multicultural, 21st Century Canada.”
(Herb Dhaliwal was the first South Asian to become a federal minister and held the portfolios of Natural Resources; Fisheries and Oceans; and National Revenue. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 from Vancouver South, and was appointed to Cabinet in 1997.)