Embrace Canada’s mosaic of cultures

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Darlene Pashak
Éditorialiste Invitée
Guest Editorialist

On June 16, 2019, the National Assembly of Québec passed Bill 21: “An Act respecting the laicity of the State.” Laicity refers to secularism; the principle of separating church/religion from the state/political arena.

Darlene Pashak
Éditorialiste Invitée
Guest Editorialist

On June 16, 2019, the National Assembly of Québec passed Bill 21: “An Act respecting the laicity of the State.” Laicity refers to secularism; the principle of separating church/religion from the state/political arena.
Political decisions and processes should operate independent of religious beliefs. It’s when the law is practically applied that Québec is treading on constitutional rights, which the document acknowledges: “The bill has effect despite certain provisions of the Charter of human rights and freedoms and the Constitution Act, 1982,” referring to the Canadian right to freedom of religion.
The explanatory notes of Bill 21 state explicitly that it “prohibit[s] certain persons from wearing religious symbols while exercising their functions” and indicates services provided and received shall be with faces uncovered, except in situations deemed necessary for health, a handicap or related to performing functions or tasks.
If Canadian citizens have a right to freedom of religion, how can one province restrict that expression? Some Québecers will have to choose between their jobs and their religion; many will simply choose another province.
A pamphlet for immigrants informs newcomers of Québec values: speaking French – the official language of the province; a political system based on freedom of speech, democracy and equality of men and women; secularism; pluralism; and a society based on the rule of law. Starting in January, a test to ensure newcomers understand these values will be part of the immigration process.
Toronto and Calgary have officially voiced their disagreement with Québec’s bill, along with other interest groups. What do Québec citizens have to say? Many are silent and are not fighting for everyone’s right to freedom of expression. What’s next?
In Alberta, consideration is underway to allow medical personnel to refuse medical
treatment if it contravenes the professional’s religious beliefs. This means a person seeking an abortion could lawfully be refused treatment by their doctor, regardless that it is legal in Canada and guaranteed accessible.
This is the other side of Québec’s coin: no face coverings for public service employees in the name of secularism, and in Alberta, denying medical treatment because of religious beliefs. It all seems to add up to the state interfering with the guaranteed rights of individuals, with the hidden agenda of discouraging non-Christian religious practices.
I remember learning about Canada’s cultural ‘mosaic’, which honours the rich cultural diversity immigrants bring to this country, including religious practices, food and celebrations. Compare this to the U.S. ‘melting pot’ approach, where citizens are first and foremost American, with their ethnic cultural practices secondary.
What are your values? Do you value a country that is inclusive, believes in diversity and wants to continue to build its population as it started…beginning with indigenous peoples and growing with immigrants, who come with different belief systems, talents, skills, culture, food, music and a willingness to become part of Canada’s brilliant mosaic. 
All that we enjoy today in Canada is thanks to our indigenous and immigrant ancestors, values and freedoms included. That is what it means to be Canadian.