MONTREAL — A coalition of various community groups is calling on Parti Québécois (PQ) leader Pauline Marois to distance herself from her agriculture critic’s comments on religious ritual slaughter.
Headed by Montreal city councillor Marvin Rotrand, the coalition’s 11 members are mainly from outside the Jewish and Muslim communities.
They include Dan Philip, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec; Noel Alexander, president of the Montreal Jamaican Association; Aurora Osdon, president of the Philippine Association of Montreal, and lawyer Walter Chi-Yan Tom, as well as Salam Elmenyawi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Montreal.
Elected officials besides Rotrand, who is the majority house leader at city council and longtime councillor for Snowdon, are Montreal city councillors Frantz Benjamin; Côte St. Luc councillor Dida Berku; and Ellie Israel, a commissioner of the English Montreal School Board.
Rotrand, who is Jewish, said the endorsement by such a wide spectrum demonstrates “that you don’t have to be Jewish to believe Jews should have kosher meat, or Muslim that Muslims should have halal meat.”
All minorities feel threatened when one is targeted, he said.
The statement deplores André Simard’s comments last month about the humaneness of halal and kosher slaughter and the safety of such meat, and especially his opinion that the practice clashes with “Quebec values.”
Simard, a veterinarian representing Kamouraska-Témiscouata in the lower St. Lawrence region, raised similar questions again March 23, expressing concern that Quebecers may be unwittingly buying such meat because it is not properly labelled.
The coalition believes Simard’s remarks are “evidence of the worst ignorance and of intolerance, two values that do not define Quebecers.”
It believes Marois should rebut and dissociate herself from Simard’s position, which the coalition says “tarnishes Quebec’s image on the international scene.”
Marois has not responded to the coalition, Rotrand said March 28.
The coalition points out that halal and kosher killing meets all of the federal standards for any type of slaughter.
Halal and kosher meat is generally sold in small stores frequented mainly by the Muslim and Jewish communities, it adds, and the meat that is sold in larger outlets is clearly labelled as halal or kosher.
The coalition is inviting the public to consult the abundant information available on the Internet about halal and kosher food. The members are convinced this slaughter is humane and that the meat is healthful. In fact, they claim many people with allergies to other meat can eat meat produced by traditional Muslim and Jewish practices.
Rotrand said he deplores what he sees as an effort to “demonize minorities,” possibly for political gain by playing on Quebecers’ insecurity about their identity.
All minorities, not just Muslims and Jews, feel the sting of any attempt to “drive a wedge between them and the majority, he said.
“I’m shocked because the PQ has always represented itself as progressive. This has generally been the discourse of the far right,” said Rotrand. “We’re disappointed Marois has been silent on the issue so far.”
Simard, who has worked as a provincial inspector in abattoirs, said March 23 that he does not want to fan any anti-religious feeling.
“Religious ritual slaughter, whether it is kosher or halal, is an exception to the law, not the general rule,” he reiterated.
A call to Marois’ office for comment was unreturned by The CJN’s deadline.