On September 14, an estimated several thousand people took to the streets of downtown Montreal to protest the Charter of Values proposed by Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois (PQ). The Charter of Values would restrict the wearing of “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols by public sector employees.
The Charter was officially unveiled by the PQ government last week, and will be brought forward to the National Assembly this fall. Although some opinion polls suggest support from the rural regions of Quebec, it was met with prompt outrage from groups within and outside of Quebec.
The protest began at Place Émilie-Gamelin, where speeches and music energized the crowd, made up predominantly of families. The protesters then slowly made their way west on Maisonneuve all the way to Guy before ending at Place du Canada in the late afternoon.
Most of the protesters wore some of the “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols that would be banned by the Charter, such as hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes, and large crucifixes. As they wended through the Montreal streets, they chanted, “Quebec is not France,” “Marois, wake up, Quebec is not yours,” and “Solidarity to wear veils,” in French.
Not everyone opposed to the Charter participated in Saturday’s protest. Many in the Jewish community did not attend, as Saturday was Yom Kippur, a Jewish holy day.
Many of the protesters in attendance believe that the Charter and Marois impede upon their rights and freedoms.
Fatima, a PhD student at McGill in Economics, stressed the importance of choice in society claiming, “I think in an open-minded society we should let people choose what they want, and we shouldn’t tell them ‘you should not be inspired by something specific, like religion.’”
Yasmin, another protester, told The Daily in French that she was there for “the freedom to do what I want, because I am as much a Quebec citizen as others are.”
The Quebec flag was on prominent display throughout the protest, with many of the protesters draping it over their shoulders or fashioning it into head-scarves. One woman who wore a Quebec flag head-scarf told The Daily in French that she was protesting because “we are Quebec citizens,” and “we’re building Quebec for us, and for our children, today and tomorrow.”
Sourad Khattabi, another protester, echoed the sentiment that Quebec was her home, and that she felt betrayed by Marois and the Charter. “We don’t know why [Marois is trying] to implement so many laws that exclude us – we, who chose this country, who chose Quebec, who have made so many sacrifices to come to Quebec and to integrate [into society].”
Many of the protesters expressed not only frustration at the Charter but also at Marois and the PQ in general. Kamal, a protester, complained that Marois had been “in power for one year, and she hasn’t done anything good for Quebec.”
Nawel Abdaoui, a student at Université de Montréal, told The Daily in French that she believes Marois should “concentrate her time and energy on the real problems in society,” such as unemployment.
Sarah, another protester, was adamant that Marois should focus on “real problems” – things such as Plan Nord or poverty in Quebec. “We have [… so much] debt, and now we’ve wasted two million promoting the Charter. It’s wasted money – it’s our money’s that’s wasted.”