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Thursday, December 25, 2014

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Holocaust centre denounces charter as ‘stigmatizing’

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Claude Godon

MONTREAL — With its appearance before parliamentary hearings on Bill 60 cancelled due to the election, the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (MHMC) issued a public condemnation of the proposed Quebec values charter and asked that the new government not reintroduce it.

The MHMC fears that, if implemented, the charter will engender stereotypes and prejudices about religious minorities.

The MHMC said it feels has a responsibility to oppose the bill because of its mission to promote human rights and prevent all forms of discrimination.

It stressed that it’s not comparing the bill with the anti-Jewish measures of the Nazi regime of the 1930s, but it does believe the bill would have a negative effect on religious minorities, and Quebec society as a whole.

The MHMC says it’s not opposed to the objectives of the bill, but says the way it proposes to achieve them is an attack on fundamental rights.

The restrictions it would impose are not justified to meet those objectives, the MHMC says.

“Fundamental rights are a precious heritage of postwar international law,” it states in a 10-page brief. “In no case should the government limit them without serious and documented justification.”

The debate over the charter has already had the effect of “stigmatizing” certain religious minorities and aroused misconceptions about their practices, the MHMC says.

Meanwhile, Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal (CJDM), which made a presentation at the hearings on Feb. 20, has released two new videos on YouTube aimed a francophone Quebecers.

These “Cher Québec” open letters, narrated by four anonymous “real people,” not actors, conclude: “Let’s refuse a charter that causes discrimination and division.”

The first speaks of how much Quebecers have given the world and reminds them that, “above all, we are a warm and welcoming people.”

The narrators say wanting to protect and strengthen Quebec’s culture and identity does not require forbidding other expressions of faith or culture.

“We are strong and confident enough to engage in public dialogue with those who are from different cultural and religious backgrounds,” the narration says.

The video urges Quebecers to “rise up and say to the world that it’s not afraid of diversity.”

In a second video, Claude Godon, one of the four narrators, talks about what he learned from his now 22-year-old daughter’s experience in a daycare that had many immigrant children.

He said he was “fascinated” with how naturally she interacted with kids who are different. “It was an everyday thing for her,” he says.

Godon concludes that “there is nothing more beautiful than the cultural collectivity rather than cultural division.”

By March 11, the videos had more than 1,500 views.

The videos follow on two earlier ones released in January by the CJDM to persuade Quebecers not to support the charter by appealing to their sense of open-mindedness and generosity.

In one, 90-year-old Victor Goldbloom pleads with Quebecers not to return to the restrictive society he grew up in. A former Liberal Quebec cabinet minister and Canadian Jewish Congress leader, Goldbloom is a founder of the CJDM, a 43-year-old interfaith group of clergy and lay leaders.

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom and a member of the committee responsible for the videos, recounted an incident during the CJDM’s appearance before the National Assembly public hearings on Bill 60.

Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville, who was overseeing the bill, commented that children need to be protected from overt religious expression.

Committee member Kathleen Weil, the Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce MNA, then asked Goldbloom for his opinion, as a pediatrician – his original profession – whether children needed such protection.

“Dr. Goldbloom responded, ‘I believe every child has the right to learn to live in a world where there is difference,’” Rabbi Grushcow said.

In its brief, the CJDM emphasized that the state should not be “silencing religions and making them invisible.”

Their religious beliefs inspire many Quebecers to work toward social justice and to be open to others, and they should be free to express their religion both in the private and public spheres, the group says.

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