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Manitoba minorities alarmed, 'devastated' by proposed Quebec ban

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Sikh students (from left) Baljot Singh, Sehaj Singh and Bharjaheen Singh have some fun Thursday outside their school  at the Punjab Cultural Centre on King Edward Street.

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Sikh students (from left) Baljot Singh, Sehaj Singh and Bharjaheen Singh have some fun Thursday outside their school at the Punjab Cultural Centre on King Edward Street.

QUEBEC'S plan to ban provincial employees from wearing conspicuous religious symbols has raised alarm bells among people who practise minority faiths in Manitoba.

"We are all devastated by what is happening in Quebec," said Amarjeet Warraich, co-chairman of Winnipeg's Punjab Cultural Centre. The community just opened the Punjab Cultural Centre in Winnipeg with a seniors centre and Manitoba's first Sikh school that teaches the Manitoba curriculum and courses in Punjabi, Hindi and Sikh studies.

"I hope at some point the present Quebec government comes to their senses and realizes we live in a country which is built on multiculturalism," said the businessman. "They should be learning more about different cultures rather than telling people, 'If you don't like it, leave,' " he said.

"Who wants to be insulted in that manner? It's a very sad day when you hear those kinds of things."

Warraich, who doesn't wear a turban, can't imagine the Manitoba government ever telling Sikh employees they'd have to remove theirs if they want to keep their job. He wishes every Canadian would tell Quebec to stop tarnishing Canada's global reputation.

"I sincerely hope that the federal government gets involved and makes them understand in Canada you just can't do that," he said. "This is going backwards when we are trying to build a country."

Premier Greg Selinger said the issue has galvanized Canada's political leaders, some of whom have condemned Quebec's proposed legislation. Selinger stopped short of that, but said the measures are not ones his government would ever embrace.

"It's certainly not a place where we're going," Selinger said.

Nearly 30,000 immigrants came to Manitoba in the last two years alone, and that's had "significant positive results for our economy," Manitoba Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Christine Melnick said in an email.

"Banning a headscarf or a yarmulke does nothing more than infringe on religious freedom. One of the many things that makes Manitoba great is our respect for and promotion of diversity. We plan to keep it that way."

Winnipegger Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association of Winnipeg, worries that rumblings in Quebec will have a domino effect across Canada.

When France banning Muslim head scarves in schools was in the news a decade ago, she warned people at a public meeting here Canada could be next to limit religious freedom. Human rights advocates in the crowd told Siddiqui not to worry. "They all came and said, 'It's not going to happen here', and I said, 'Wait and see.' "

The anti-immigrant and Islamaphobic "chatter" heard in France before the hijab was banned is happening now in Quebec, said Siddiqui, who wears a head scarf. Canada shouldn't turn a deaf ear to it, she said.

Winnipeg defence lawyer Martin Glazer wears a kippa, or yarmulke, and can't see Quebec's proposed ban surviving a legal challenge.

"I'm sure it wouldn't survive. The federal government would challenge it... If I was living in Quebec and working for the government, I would take them to court and challenge them," Glazer said.

-- with file from Mary Agnes Welch

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Montreal businesses oppose 'values' plan

MONTREAL -- Montreal's business community has urged the Quebec government to modify its proposed charter of values because it fears the legislation would harm the city's reputation and economic performance.

The Montreal Board of Trade warns the city has more to lose with the charter than with the status quo.

"The government's proposal is generating a great deal of concern in the Montreal business community," Michel Leblanc, president of the organization, said in a statement Thursday. "It could harm the city's reputation and its economic performance."

Leblanc said the availability of qualified workers in sufficient numbers is the most important economic challenge businesses will face in the coming decades.

"This is why the business community is intent on doing everything possible to help integrate immigrants to the workplace and attract foreign talent. But the government's proposal stigmatizes workers who wear religious symbols, who are often immigrants. It is in direct opposition to what the city's business community wants."

Speaking to reporters near Montreal, Premier Pauline Marois categorically dismissed the board of trade's request.

"They can express their point of view, but I don't share it," she said.

On Wednesday, the mayors of all 15 demerged cities on the Island of Montreal adopted a resolution rejecting the charter and said they would opt out of its provisions.

The three leading Montreal mayoral candidates have already indicated they would do likewise.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2013 A4

History

Updated on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 7:48 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds images of religious symbols

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