MONTREAL — Provocative National Post columnist Barbara Kay criticized elements of the proposed Quebec charter of values as “horrible” during a recent evening at the Jewish Public Library (JPL) devoted to her most recent book, Acknowledgements, and featuring an interview by son Jonathan, the Post’s Comments page editor.
But the Sept. 16 event’s most pointed moments came during a question-and-answer session, when CJAD talk show host Tommy Schnurmacher – a fan of Kay’s who gave her a glowing introduction – accused her of going “further than” Premier Pauline Marois by supporting a ban on all “religious accessories” in public schools, as France did in 2003.
“I wasn’t going to ask a question but I’m so stunned at what you just said that I can’t get over it,” Schnurmacher said at the microphone. “You’re telling me that you don’t think children should wear a religious symbol because it is not something they would do on their own?”
He continued: “Don’t you think the kid might wear a kippah because [his father] wears a kippah and he also wants to wear one? You would legislate head gear in school?”
Kay’s response was that schools are 200-year-old “artificial constructs” whose main goals should be to “socialize” kids, expose them to appropriate “modelling,” and help them become proper members of a “civic society.”
“I mean religion is something that is mainly one’s private business,” Kay said. “I don’t think kids should walk to school with signs on them saying: ‘My dad votes Conservative.’”
The friendly verbal sparring continued.
“Should [a public school student] be able to walk to school in a yarmulke?” Schnurmacher asked directly.
Kay, a former JPL president, answered that for her, “it’s not a big thing one way or the other, but I don’t think any religion should be teaching that their children are sinning if they don’t wear a religious accessory at all times.”
Schnurmacher didn’t like that answer.
“With all due respect,” he retorted, “I don’t think it’s up to you or the government or anyone else to tell us or anybody how to practise their religion.”
In reply to an earlier question, Kay said that while the proposed charter had not made her “explode” as it did others, it was still, “on the whole, horrible.”
She said the charter has “brought out into the open and made transparent what everyone’s been saying for a long time” in terms of how [non-francophones] are regarded.
One of the only aspects that would make sense to Kay is the outright banning of the niqab – a veil for Muslim women that completely obscures the face except for eye slits – in public life.
“I supported Bill 94, which would have banned the niqab,” Kay said.
“It’s not about being a Muslim, it’s about covering your face… you don’t cover your face in a society where we depend on reciprocal trust in order to make society work,” she added.
“[T]here are many Islamic countries where it is not allowed, so obviously it can’t be a religious ‘need.’ It is a custom.”
During a question-and-answer session, Kay also took aim at Marois’ vow to keep the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly for “cultural” reasons.
“You know what informs a culture in the first place? she asked. “It’s usually religion. Quebec would not be what Quebec is were it not for the Catholic Church.
“[Marois] is saying: ‘You know, we don’t believe in any of that crap, but we keep it there because it’s part of our culture.’
“But it isn’t their culture if they reject it. Their culture was Catholicism and the French language. Now all they’ve got is the French language, and the only reason they don’t take [the crucifix] down is because that for a lot of people, it’s kind of an uneasy thing that they’ve given away their religion…
“There’s a lot of yearning for religion in this province. It’s unspoken, but when you try to take the crucifix away, you see tremendous reaction.
“That’s the only reason they keep it there, because they’re afraid of the people.”