MONTREAL — Jean Charest has bolstered the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) in its stance against Quebec’s proposed secularism charter.
The former Liberal premier and his wife Michèle Dionne were the honorees at the JGH’s annual fundraising gala, held Nov. 19 at the Arsenal in Griffintown.
“The JGH represents what we love about Montreal, Quebec and Canada. Differences are a part of who we are,” he said. “Contrary to those who think we should erase those differences, they are something to be celebrated.”
They were welcome words at a time when the JGH is not only taking the risk of openly challenging the Parti Québécois government, but is having to justify its Jewish character in some quarters.
The JGH board said earlier this month it will not seek any exemption foreseen in Bill 60 that would allow it a “transition period” to comply with the law, because it believes prohibiting its employees from wearing religious attire is discriminatory.
The JGH was also unnerved by Internet comments made by the PQ candidate in the Dec. 9 byelection in Viau that flippantly endorsed removing the word “Jewish” from its name and banning circumcision there.
Tania Longpré has since explained that it was an off-hand remark that doesn’t represent her views, but never unequivocally retracted them.
Charest said he and his wife did not hesitate when former JGH president Steven Cummings invited them to be the event’s honorees.
Charest said the JGH provides the highest level of care to everyone, and is “a great institution of Quebec that plays an important role in our society.”
He experienced that first-hand when his father-in-law, Philippe Dionne, was a patient at JGH during his final illness, for which the family is very grateful. He died at the JGH after a long illness at age 90 in July 2011.
Michèle Dionne spoke movingly of how well her father, a surgeon who practised for many years in Sherbrooke, was treated by doctors, staff and volunteers, first in the cancer department and then in palliative care.
Another former premier, the PQ’s Lucien Bouchard, was also among the 600 guests. His former wife, Audrey Best, was a cancer patient at the JGH, where she died in January 2011.
The JGH also received support from one of Quebec’s emblematic institutions, the Mouvement Desjardins, the largest association of credit unions in North America.
Desjardins gave a $1-million donation, making it the lead sponsor of the evening. The dinner sponsor was another Quebec business icon, Power Corporation of Canada.
Proceeds from the evening benefit medical research at the JGH’s Lady Davis Institute.
The gala co-chairs were Harold (Sonny) Gordon, Tony Loffreda and Joan Prévost.
Jewish jurists oppose charter as discriminatory
The Lord Reading Society, a 65-year-old association of Jewish lawyers and judges, says the Parti Québécois’ proposed secularism charter compromises fundamental freedoms enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Canadian and Quebec rights charters.
In a Nov. 19 statement, the society says it is “disheartened and dismayed” that the Quebec government with Bill 60 is proposing limits on the freedoms of conscience, expression and religion, “although no harm to society has been shown that would justify any such limitations.”
The separation of religion and state and the equality between women and men are already part of the law, the society points out.
The bill would discriminate against people who are required by their religion to wear certain attire, excluding them from the public service, including the judiciary, the society says.
Judges, who would be among the employees subject to the law, do not “represent” the state, the society maintains.
“A judge represents the ‘rule of law.’ If a judge ‘represented’ the state rather than the law, no judge could adjudicate cases involving the government because of conflict of interest,” it states.
“How does what a judge, a police officer, a health professional or any other public servant wears diminish their impartiality or ability any more than the colour of their skin, their nationality, their language, their sex or any other ground upon which the law prohibits discrimination?”
Furthermore, the society thinks that the present debate “provides, to those who would be so inclined, false reasons and a cover to attack their neighbours.”
The society applauded Quebec Human Rights Commission chair Jacques Fremont and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre for their “acerbic” criticism of the charter.
The society notes that its statement was adopted by its board of directors without the participation of any member of the judiciary or a quasi-judicial tribunal.