Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Quebec charter promotes wrong values: forum

Bill's ban on religious symbols slammed

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DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  Amerdeep Parwana, Shahina Siddiqui, Lori Wilkinson and Leslie Spillett (from left) speak at the Winnipeg Free Press News Caf�� Saturday against Quebec�s proposed charter of values.

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DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Amerdeep Parwana, Shahina Siddiqui, Lori Wilkinson and Leslie Spillett (from left) speak at the Winnipeg Free Press News Caf�� Saturday against Quebec�s proposed charter of values.

With Quebecers considering a bill banning religious symbols for provincial employees, Canadians better start talking about their values and racism before it's too late, a panel of experts in Winnipeg said Saturday.

Members of the Sikh, Aboriginal, Jewish and Muslim communities and a professor who studies multiculturalism at the University of Manitoba held a "teach-in" on the Quebec charter of values (Bill 60) at the Free Press News Café Saturday afternoon. The charter would prohibit Quebec public-sector workers or those seeking public services from wearing religiously mandated clothing.

"The fact that this bill is on the table in multicultural Canada is a huge problem," said U of M sociology Prof. Lori Wilkinson.

"Why should we be thinking about this? Because Quebec is part of our society, and those kinds of feelings towards non-white, non-Christian groups are really strong. We can't deny there is racism here," said told a diverse crowd of about 40 at the café event organized by grassroots groups.

Leslie Spillett, executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk and an outspoken social-rights activist, said Winnipeggers haven't liked talking about racism for a long time.

'I get calls from friends in Montreal. They go in shopping malls and grocery stores where people with carts are ramming into them. They wear a hijab'

"When I first came to Winnipeg in the early 1970s during the anti-apartheid struggle, we were demonized," the aboriginal woman said. "We were called communists... We were the only ones who would stand up, and we did it because it was right."

Canadians should be standing up for human rights in Quebec and denouncing Bill 60, she said. "We are in this together," Spillett said. "I truly believe the honour of one is the honour of all, and the struggle of one is the struggle of all."

Too many Canadians are in denial about racism, Wilkinson said. The fact there isn't more outrage outside Quebec over Bill 60 and more people standing up for the rights of Quebec minorities is troublesome, she said.

"If we don't discuss these things publicly, it may be not be too long before we face similar discussions here."

She said Canadians need to be talking with the people who don't know racism exists here or don't want to believe it does.

Wilkinson said she's concerned that Canadians have been lulled into a sense of apathy by the mistaken belief the Quebec charter is nothing to worry about because it won't withstand a court challenge.

"The notwithstanding clause will allow Quebec to pass the law," she said. "They don't have to abide by the (Canadian) Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

The bill has done damage before it has even been passed, said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association.

"I get calls from friends in Montreal. They go in shopping malls and grocery stores where people with carts are ramming into them. They wear a hijab."

The proposed charter is fuelling Islamophobia by portraying the growing Muslim newcomer population in Quebec as a threat to the French language and culture, Siddiqui said.

"It's exploded against women," she said. She can't see how head coverings worn by Muslims, Sikhs or Jews are a threat to secularism or Quebec culture.

"These are not symbols," Siddiqui said. "What is on our head is a submission to our Creator. It is required as an expression of faith... This is who I am."

Amerdeep Parwana, a Sikh who grew up in Winnipeg, wears a turban and coaches and plays soccer. He got involved in the discussion about Quebec over soccer. The Quebec soccer federation banned turbans on the field.

"My initial reaction was anger," said Parwana. He started a Facebook group in protest.

"As Canadians, we deserve better for ourselves," said Parwana, who works for Manitoba Justice and teaches cultural-awareness classes to corrections workers.

"We need to treat ourselves better. It's not about them coming after me, it's about them coming after us," Parwana said. "What can we do? Talk to one another, reach out to one another."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2013 A4

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