- BC Games
'Here we go again': locals react to Quebec charter of values
The Quebec government's proposed charter of values that would prohibit public service employees from wearing any religious symbols, from large crosses and hijabs to turbans, is "outrageous," said Burnaby school trustee Harman Pandher.
"I was kind of like, 'here we go again,'" Pandher said, referring to the Quebec Soccer Federation's banning of turbans and other religious headgear from soccer fields last spring. That move was eventually overruled by the Canadian Soccer Association.
"This is upping the ante," he said of the minority Parti Quebecois government's newest proposal.
Pandher is a practising Sikh who wears a turban. He's also a schoolteacher in Surrey, just the sort of person who would be targeted by the proposal if he happened to live in Quebec.
"I feel for people who must be on pins and needles in Quebec wondering how far this will go," he said, calling the proposal "legislating discrimination based on appearance."
For practising Sikhs, it's "not even an option" to remove a turban or other head covering. "It's part and parcel of who a Sikh is."
And even if he was in Quebec and arrived at his classroom without his turban, he'd still have other symbols of his religion—long, unshorn hair and a beard.
"Would that be a more professional image?"
Pandher believes it's "quite possible" if Quebec moves forward with the proposal the province will see an exodus of citizens to other provinces. "They'll go somewhere where you're wanted for who you are."
He noted that in his youth when the Quebec sovereignty issue was raised, he strongly identified with the federalist slogan, "My Canada includes Quebec."
"But the PQ's version of Quebec clearly doesn't include people like me."
Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal, who is South Asian, called the Quebec proposal "a step backward for our country."
The move would create a tier of second-class citizens who don't qualify for government jobs and the same opportunities as everyone else, Dhaliwal said.
"I felt this must be something coming from a very small faction in Quebec," he said of his initial reaction. That turned to surprise when he learned it was actually coming from a provincial government.
Daud Ismail, chair of the Burnaby branch of the B.C. Muslim Association, echoed Pandher's comments.
"My first reaction was here we go again," Ismail said. "As a Muslim, like anything negative coming against Muslims, here we go again."
While the majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens who share the same values as other Canadians, he believes Muslims have been singled out in Quebec's proposal because it would affect women who wear the hijab, a veil that covers the head and chest.
Whether it's a hijab or a cross, "it's something very passionate, something very personal and they're wearing it, why should the state come in between? … What has a cross or a turban to do with a person's ability to perform [a job]?"
Ismail called the proposal "racist" as well as "immoral, irresponsible on the part of a government" which is charged with taking care of its citizens.
When asked if this could cause people to leave Quebec, Ismail said he believes more people should move there to make a difference by helping vote out politicians who would come up with such proposals.
"To me, Quebec is a distinct society, there is no doubt about it. I think they should not be imposing their distinctness on other communities … I would question their culture. I mean, what kind of a society, a distinct society, you have where you do not grant freedom for the people [that] they deserve?"