Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Fair Comment

Legault’s War on Human Rights by Jonathan Sommer

Recently, in apparent attempts to terrorize the Montreal Jewish community, people threw Molotov cocktails at a synagogue and Jewish community centre, and shot at two Jewish schools. At the same time, Montreal police report a significant increase in Islamophobic incidents, in what a recent poll indicates is already the most Islamophobic province in Canada. These are disturbing escalations in the amount of bigoted hostility being seen in Quebec.
In response, Premier François Legault told the CBC that “The Quebec nation is a peaceful nation. Let’s not import the hatred and violence we see elsewhere in the world.” The problem with his statement, however, is that it implies a false reality.
Mr. Legault and his party, the CAQ, have built their power on a foundation of identity politics, bigotry, division and discrimination. With bills 21, 40 and 96, he has done what he can to attack those who are not like him: rich, white, powerful, francophone and Catholic. He attacks anglophones and allophones by prohibiting them from communicating and learning in their chosen languages. He attacks religious minorities by outlawing their religious garb in the workplace. He creates cruel and pointless barriers to non-francophones trying to access health, legal and government services. He attacks businesses by outlawing common-sense, practical approaches to bilingualism. He imposes impossible and destructive linguistic and other barriers to immigrants in their quest for a place in Quebec society. He takes away the opportunities and choices of francophones to live, learn, communicate and function in the wider world. And using the Canadian Charter’s notwithstanding clause as a shield against evidence and logic, he attacks the freedom of everyone in the province by suspending core human rights, including: freedom of religion, freedom of expression, the right not to be subjected to unreasonable search and seizure, the right to an interpreter in court, the right to equal protection under the law, the right not to be discriminated against based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, etc. Yes, that’s correct – Legault’s new laws suspend all of those rights.
Legault, the CAQ, and their official opposition, the PQ, have declared war on human rights in Quebec. We are in the greatest constitutional crisis in decades, one in which those in power in Quebec are clearly trying to see just how far they can go in making life unpleasant and, ultimately, unlivable, for minorities. Growing up in the Quebec of the 70s and 80s, as a fifth-generation Irish-Quebecer, I was many times told to go back to Ontario or England. It seems that now those taunts have been codified in legislation.
In the last few years, Legault’s only real stand against racism in Quebec has been to deny that it exists except in isolated incidents. He has also repeatedly denied the existence of systemic racism, while at the same time appearing to either not know, or pretend not to know, what systemic racism is. It seems that it’s probably not difficult for him to maintain his view on this point, given that his party’s MPPs are almost all white francophones – a level of racial and linguistic diversity that is entirely inconsistent with the actual makeup of Quebec society.
If Legault doesn’t, as he claims, wish to import hatred and violence into Quebec, then maybe he should stop creating an atmosphere in which that is bound to occur. Perhaps he could start by recognizing that Quebec is not the homogenous, unilingual nation he imagines it to be in the dishonest preamble to the anti-minority Bill 96 (“…the only official language of Québec is French […] French is the common language of the Québec nation”). He might also recognize that racism and other forms of discrimination are a problem in Quebec, and that – oh, gosh - he’s at the heart of the problem. The reality, of course, is that Quebec is diverse – linguistically, racially, religiously – and this is a good thing. We are multicultural, and it works. Legault has often expressed his dislike of multiculturalism, but by doing so he is expressing his dislike of what Quebec is, and of its actual people.
Until Legault changes his ways, should it be any surprise that hate crimes and discrimination continue, against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous people and non-francophones?

Jonathan Sommer lives in the Dunham, Quebec area. He is an Ontario lawyer whose practice focuses on art and business law. Mr. Sommer is Special Advisor to the Canadian Party of Quebec’s board of directors.

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