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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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West-end mayors vow to defy values charter

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Cote St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather addresses the Rally for Religious Freedom in front of CSL City Hall.

MONTREAL — West-end mayors vowed at a Dec. 2 rally in mostly Jewish Cote St. Luc (CSL) that their municipalities would invoke civil disobedience by defying Bill 60 – the Quebec charter of values – and fight it in court if it became law.

In so doing, they joined the Jewish General Hospital, the English Montreal School Board and other groups in pledging to defy the bill.

They also promised to participate in public hearings on the secular charter, slated to start mid-January in Quebec City.

“This is an odious, loathsome law,” CSL Mayor Anthony Housefather said to the enthusiastic applause of several hundred gathered on the plaza in front of the city’s city hall.

“Pierre Elliott Trudeau said the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Well, Quebec has no business in the wardrobes of the nation,” Housefather said, alluding to Bill 60’s plan to ban public employees from wearing kippot, turbans and indiscreet crucifixes.

The supper-hour Rally for Religious Freedom took place between the illumination of a Christmas tree by Father Pierre Laviolette of CSL’s St. Richard’s church – who also criticized the secular charter – and the lighting of the sixth Chanukah candle by Rabbi Mendel Raskin of CSL Chabad.

Housefather noted to the crowd that the tree and menorah were on public property as if that was also a gesture of defiance – even though nothing in the charter refers to this.

 Despite the relatively mild weather and festive spirit, speakers, who included Hampstead Mayor Bill Steinberg, Montreal West Mayor Beny Masella and rabbis Chaim Steinmetz and Reuben Poupko, were angry and indignant as they denounced the proposed law as a breach of basic individual religious rights and “racist,” “intolerant” and “divisive” in pitting Quebecer against Quebecer.

Like Housefather, Steinberg called the law “odious” and, although both are secular Jews, they donned kippot to show solidarity with more observant confreres. Steinberg called Bill 60 a “charter of shame.”

Rabbi Steinmetz, of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, described it as a “charter of darkness” that’s undermining democracy, a “solution for a problem that does not exist” and a “ploy for better poll numbers” for the governing Parti Québécois through the use of “cheap demagoguery.”

Rabbi Steinmetz said that since the controversy over the charter erupted and apparently triggered acts of intolerance against some Muslim women, he has become, for the first time, self-conscious about wearing his kippah outside the friendly confines of Cote St. Luc and the west end.

“I’d be nervous about it now,” he said.

Rabbi Poupko, of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation, termed the charter a “repudiation of Canadian and Quebec history” that seeks to “divert attention” away from the real issues facing the province.

The Quebec government “is trying to exploit the worst instincts of its citizens,” he said, “for xenophobia, nativism against minority religions,” using “coded words” for the legislation’s true apparent targets, Muslims.

“We’re told in whispers by our wonderful friends in the French community that the Jewish community is only ‘collateral damage.’ You’ve heard that a hundred times.

“Well, let’s be honest,” Rabbi Poupko said. “If you’re worried about religious fundamentalism, it’s not going to be solved by altering people’s fashion choices. Religious fundamentalism is solved through education, not by excluding people from the workplace. It’s undermined by it.

“Be honest about what you want, about what you think the problem is, but come up with a solution that doesn’t infringe on personal freedom and personal religious choice.”

Those at the rally included virtually all CSL officials as well as representatives from the other municipalities involved.

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