Last week, a Quebec government spokesperson revealed that the Canadian
province’s premier, Pauline Marois, received emergency treatment in September at
Montreal’s Sir Mortimer Davis Jewish General Hospital.
referred to by locals simply as “The Jewish,” the hospital was established in
1934, primarily by Jews, at a time when it was difficult for members of the
Jewish community to pursue careers in medicine due to the enforcement of quotas
at various universities limiting their enrollment numbers and opportunities
thereafter. Nevertheless, the hospital has always been open to service all
patients regardless of religion, race or ethnic background.
remains Quebec’s most diverse hospital.
It is therefore strikingly ironic
– and patently hypocritical – that Marois sought treatment at the hospital,
given her status as the leader of the Parti Quebecois, which currently forms the
provincial minority government and which recently announced it would be
advancing legislation – the “Charter of Quebec Values” – which, if passed, would
ban all public sector employees from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious
symbols at work, including kippas, hijabs, turbans, “large” crosses,
As part of the Quebec Medicare system, the Jewish General Hospital
would be required to abide by any such mandate.
Yet it is nearly certain
that at least one of the doctors who treated Marois – perhaps even saved her
life – wore what she and her party apparently deem unacceptable workplace
The Quebec government’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values is part
and parcel of an increasingly rampant, worldwide movement – especially and
tragically so in Europe, where the enactment of legislation restricting Jewish
freedoms preceded the community’s mass extermination on the continent mere
decades ago – to ban male circumcision as well as the ritual slaughter of
animals; both common Jewish and, for that matter, Islamic religious
Canada’s federal government – led by Prime Minister Stephen
Harper – has rightfully vowed to review the constitutionality of any such law
(were it ever to come into effect), with Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney
recently asserting that, “If it’s determined that a prospective law violates the
constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are
entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously.”
Still, the gravity of
the situation calls for the immediate implementation of assertive peremptory
Just as Israel called last week on the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe to annul a resolution against circumcision, the
government should likewise instruct its emissaries to Quebec to openly denounce
the plan, as well as lobby members of the Quebec National Assembly to defeat the
initiative. (As the Parti Quebecois leads a minority government, it would need
the support of parliamentarians from other parties to pass the Charter.) This
sort of campaign should generally be spearheaded by the organized Canadian
Jewish community; however, to date, there has been scant, if any, public
condemnation of the proposal on its part.
For example, The Center for
Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations
system in Canada, responded to the announcement by releasing a tepid statement
merely pointing out the obvious, namely that “The proposed Charter of Quebec
Values... is at odds with the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and
the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The proposed Charter undermines the
very sense of unity within Quebec society that it claims to
Nowhere in CIJA’s three-paragraph statement is there any
explicit denunciation of the proposal, nor is any attention paid to how it will
infringe specifically on the province’s Jewish population (on whose behalf CIJA
is supposed to be advocating).
Nor does the Center address the fact that
the intended legislation also aims to revise Quebec’s human rights act in order
to negate the highlighted contradiction at the provincial level.
Center also made the peculiar choice of issuing a joint statement, in
conjunction with the Civic Education Society – located about 3,500 kilometers
away from Quebec in the province of British Columbia – whose mandate is to
create “A World of Multicultural Harmony.”
To its credit, CIJA
commendably encouraged Quebec Jewry to participate in large numbers in a
recently held demonstration against the proposed Charter, presumably so that the
community’s “voice” could be heard.
Unfortunately, the rally was
organized by the Rassemblement des citoyens et citoyennes engagé(e)s pour un
Québec ouvert (The Assembly of Citizens [both masculine and feminine] for an
Open Quebec), another multicultural entity.
The Jewish community’s
message was thus no doubt largely drowned out amid the sea of
However, it is imperative to emphasize the Judeo-centric
nature of this critical issue given that Quebec society is, in large part,
notoriously anti-Israel, often a mask for flat-out anti-Semitism.
OVERT anti-Israelism of many prominent Quebecois figures is shocking. The most
notable of these Israel-haters is Amir Khadir, a member of the provincial
government best known for spearheading a boycott of a Montreal-based shoe store,
called Le Marcheur, because two percent of the boutique’s inventory comprised
For 18 months, the store’s courageous owner, Mr.
Yves Archambault, a native francophone with no previous ties to the Jewish
community or to Israel, refused to yield in the face of malicious weekly
demonstrations outside his shop, which decimated his bottom line. All the while,
and despite his disgusting involvement in the hate campaign, opinion polls
consistently found Khadir to be Quebec’s most popular politician.
is also a seemingly endless pool of anti-Israel media personalities in Quebec,
inarguably led by Stephane Gendron, who, when not bashing the Jewish state on
radio or television, doubles as mayor of Huntingdon, a small town located 75
kilometers from Montreal. Among other things, Gendron has described Israel, on
his French-language talk show, as an apartheid regime that does not deserve to
exist, and Israelis as modern-day Nazis.
Over the past year, two other
high-profile French-language radio hosts have come under intense fire for their
anti- Israel/Jewish statements.
First, Benoit Dutrizac breached the
Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s code of ethics when he called on
listeners to honk their horns while passing through a predominantly Jewish
neighborhood in Montreal on Rosh Hashanah to protest a bylaw against noisy
outdoor activity on the High Holy Days. Dutrizac said the spiteful act was
necessary to send a message to the Jews that they would not be permitted to
dictate how Quebecers live in their “own” society.
Two months later,
Jacques Fabi was widely condemned for failing to confront an Arab caller into
his show who compared Israelis to dogs and hailed the Holocaust as the most
beautiful event in history.
Fabi eventually piped up – explaining that he
found the behavior of Montreal’s Jewish community “annoying.”
kind of venom being spewed across Quebec’s airwaves, it is not surprising that
polls show that support for the “Quebec Charter of Values” is growing among the
In a recent survey conducted by SOM, one of the largest polling
firms in Quebec, 66 percent of respondents said they approved of the initiative,
a figure which peaked at 71% among native francophones, who comprise 80% of the
province’s population. (It is worthwhile noting that CIJA’s website wrongly
contends, perhaps inadvertently, that “an increasing number of Quebecers firmly
oppose the unreasonable measures set forth by the [provincial]
It is impossible to contextualize the Quebec government’s
initiative without briefly examining another of the province’s controversial
laws, the “Charter of the French Language,” arguably the most xenophobic,
insular and “provincial” legislation in the Western world.
referred to as Bill 101, the law, among other restrictions, bans the display of
uniquely English-language signs throughout the province, as well as bilingual
signs in which the English (or any language other than French) font is more than
one-third the size of its mandatory French counterpart. (Imagine, for a moment,
the uproar that would ensue if ever Israel were to adopt similar conditions on
the use of Arabic.) TODAY, THE Office québécois de la langue française (The
Quebec Office of the French Language) – also known to the province’s Anglophones
as the “language police” or “tongue troopers” – is tasked with enforcing the
law, with a taxpayer-derived budget of tens of millions of dollars. This entity
is so extremely dedicated to its work that every few years some absurd incident
garners it global media attention.
This past February, Montreal’s
wellknown Buonanotte restaurant made worldwide headlines after the tongue
troopers found it in violation of Bill 101; its menu contained words such as
“pasta,” “pesce,” “antipasti” and “calamari.” The restaurant was even cited for
including Italian words on the menu for which there are no French
Amid this political and social environment, Quebec’s Jewish
population has decreased by 25% – from over 120,000 to roughly 90,000 – since
the Quebec nationalist/separatist movement rose to prominence in the mid-1970s.
And if the “Charter of Quebec Values” is allowed to pass, it is not unreasonable
to expect a second mass exodus of Jews from the province.
government cannot be allowed to add to its anti-democratic and intolerant resume
by banning forms of religious expression as it previously did with linguistic
freedom. It is our duty as Jews to vehemently condemn, and fight tooth and nail
against, the proposed legislation in order to preserve not only the broad rights
of Quebec’s many minority groups, but also our specific heritage and customs as
well.The writer made aliya from Montreal last year.
He works as a
correspondent for i24 News, a recently launched international news network that
broadcasts out of Israel.
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