MONTREAL – A clutch of people gathered in Dorchester Square in damp weather on Sunday, in what had been billed as a “celebration of religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity.”
Although organizers denied it, the event appeared to be a celebration of the defeat of the proposed charter of values, now that the Parti Quebecois government that proposed it lost the recent provincial election.
“I’ve never had a negative experience as a visible minority in Montreal, but the truth is that what we went through the past year and a half put our security into question,” said Yaffa Tegegne, the director of Canadian Rights in Quebec.
Protesters took to the streets to voice their discontent with the charter, which would prohibit ostentatious religious symbols in the civil service. Those protests, in turn, were joined by demonstrators in favour of the charter.
The atmosphere created by the charter and the campaign that followed opened up deep fissures among visible minorities in the province, that organizers were trying to heal Sunday.
“It was a very, very divisive period in Quebec,” said Celine Cooper, a columnist for the Montreal Gazette.
“It was very injurious. And what we see now from the Liberal government coming in is that they’ve made a clean break from that.”
One of the symbols of that new strategy is Liberal MNA Kathleen Weil (Notre-Dame-de-Grace), who was recently named Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion.
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Organizers of the celebration said that the current government represents a 180-degree shift from that of Pauline Marois.
“We were afraid that she was dividing the people even more and targeting the minorities,” said Norm Simon, of Canadians for Coexistence.
But ironically, one of the clergy members who attended the celebration at Dorchester Square said the charter of values had one major positive side effect: it brought a lot of diverse stakeholders in closer contact in an effort to oppose it.
“That’s really a positive thing that’s come out of this charter,” said Rev. Diane Rollert, of the Unitarian Church of Montreal.
“It’s definitely a silver lining.”