MONTREAL — A Notre-Dame-de-Grâce synagogue will host representatives of six faiths on March 9 in a show of solidarity across religious lines against Bill 60, Quebec’s proposed values charter.
The 3 p.m. event at Shaare Zedek Congregation is being organized by Canadians for Coexistence, a grassroots group founded by Norman Simon after the bill was tabled in the National Assembly in November.
Simon, 66, a retired teacher who lived in Israel from 1977 to 1999, said the goal of Canadians for Coexistence is to have the bill withdrawn.
He hopes the government will be persuaded to do so after leaders from six religions are seen “speaking out with one voice for freedom of religious expression, for love, harmony, and generosity of spirit.”
He said he’s invited American and other international, as well as local, news media to cover the event, reckoning that will annoy the Parti Québécois government.
“Premier Pauline Marois, God bless her because nobody else will, doesn’t give a damn about minorities in Quebec,” Simon said. “She wants us to leave to set up a winning demographic for her next referendum.
“Bill 60 is not just against religion. Sections 40 and 41 were added to give primacy to French, so it’s also about the suppression of other languages.
“She does care about Quebec’s international image. We want to shame her in front of the international media.”
The scheduled speakers are Shaare Zedek’s Rabbi Alan Bright; Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom; Granthi Balkar Singh, a spiritual leader, and Jaiseema Kaur, a member of the Sikh community; Rev. Darryl Grey, senior pastor of the Imani Family and Full Gospel Church; Bishop Thomas Dowd, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal; Catholic Father John Walsh; Rev. Wipulasiri Dodampahala, leader of the Buddhist monastery in St. Laurent; Muslim imams Azeddine Hmimssa of the Al-Ihsane Centre and Zijad Delic of the South Nepean Muslim Community in suburban Ottawa; and Ramnaraine Tiwari Balbahadur, spiritual leader of the Hindu Devotional Society-Mandir.
The Imani Family Choir and the Keertan Hymns Choir will perform.
Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather will act as MC of what is billed as an interfaith celebration.
Simon started the coalition on Facebook as a forum for discussion on the charter. Today, it has close to 700 members, he said, from numerous religious, cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
The coalition has had one previous public event: a march against the bill on Nov. 17 from Place du Canada to Berri Street. It drew about 270 people, which was a good turnout, he thinks, because it was pouring rain.
Simon is hoping a much larger crowd attends the event at Shaare Zedek, a venue he chose because it’s where he and his family have been members, and because Rabbi Bright welcomed the idea.
According to its stated aims, the coalition believes “the freedom to practise one’s religion is the hallmark of a free, inclusive and accepting society… To exhibit religious tolerance and recognize racial equality can only enhance the real beliefs of a Canadian society…
“We support everyone’s right to non-violent self-expression whether we agree with it personally or not.”
In its brief to the parliamentary committee currently holding public hearings, the coalition charges that the bill “espouses the politics of division, exclusion and, unintentionally, fosters hate. The authors of Bill 60 are, we believe, both misguided and misleading.”
Rabbi Bright said he agreed to have the event at his synagogue because he believes “we need to put aside our personal and religious differences, and realize there is a far greater threat from outside.”
He said a few in the Conservative congregation were initially wary of having Muslim representatives speak, but he persuaded them of the necessity of an ecumenical response to the proposed legislation.
His personal opinion of the bill is that, “I think I understand what the government is trying to do, but they went about it the wrong way. The same goal [secularism] could have been achieved in a much more harmonious way, without whipping up discontent, by working with the religious communities… It’s really been about divide and conquer.”
Within Shaare Zedek, a 60-year-old Conservative congregation, Rabbi Bright said the charter has “shaken up” members, especially older ones.
“They see ominous signs of past history, as if history is repeating itself,” he said. “People who grew up here in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s say it was awful to be Jewish, there was a lot of bias against Jews.”
Acknowledging the event is being held rather late in the day and an election could be underway by that time, Rabbi Bright said, “If nothing else, I believe we will have achieved something if we can show that we can stand together.”
To register to attend, visit http://interfaithcelebration.ca. There are 786 seats available.