Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Harper takes aim

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It took a little longer than some critics wanted, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done the right thing in vowing to protect minority rights in Quebec, where the Parti Qu©b©cois is planning to restrict freedoms guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It's not clear how far PQ leader Pauline Marois will go in eliminating certain religious rights, but her plan to create a secular society could involve banning religious symbols and clothing in the civil service, including schools, hospitals and daycares.

Mr. Harper at first refused to wade into the controversy, fearing the separatist government would frame the issue as a battle with Ottawa over provincial rights.

Premier Marois adopted the same propaganda during debate over whether Quebec soccer players should be allowed to wear turbans, but it didn't work and the Quebec soccer association was forced to back down.

The prime minister also didn't see a need to get involved before the PQ actually tabled legislation, but Canadians needed to know the federal government would stand up for minority rights.

"Our job is social inclusion," Mr. Harper said. "Our job is making all groups who come to this country, whatever their background, whatever their race, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their religion, feel at home in the country."

Minority groups, particularly Jews and Muslims who seem to be the main targets of the drive to a uniform identity in Quebec, would likely launch court action to defend their rights, but they need to know the federal government is behind them. Indeed, all Canadians need to stand up for the legal and human rights of their fellow citizens.

Marois' plan is overwhelmingly supported by francophone Quebecers, but opposed by linguistic minorities, according to a recent poll.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was an early opponent of the proposed legislation, even though it could weaken his chances for a comeback in Quebec. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has also taken a strong stance in defence of minority rights, even though a majority of his MPs are from Quebec.

The francophone majority in Quebec has never embraced the concepts of multiculturalism and pluralism, preferring pure laine notions of nationalism instead, but it would be beneath them and all of Canada to permit a separatist government to nullify the legal and human rights of minorities.

If Quebec succeeds in this endeavour, it truly will be a distinct society, but one characterized by intolerance and narrow-mindedness.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2013 A8

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