Sunday, January 21, 2007

Mario Dumont's past flexibility

Yesterday, an article of La Presse written by Tommy Chouinard went back into History. Despite being very interesting, the article doesn't seem to know how to say that the leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) Mario Dumont used to be in favour of religious accommodations in 1999. To understand why Dumont changed his mind, one has to visit the annals of History.

Actually, the problem of religious accommodations gradually started in the beginning of the 1990s. At that time, an officer (who was of Sikh heritage) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) wanted to wear his turban while being on duty and wearing the traditional red uniform. Obviously, Prime minister Brian Mulroney authorized this man of Sikh heritage to wear his turban in order to not to bend Canada's pathetic policy of multiculturalism.

Brian Mulroney. Prime minister of Canada from 1984 to 1993.

Brian Mulroney. Prime minister of Canada from 1984 to 1993.

As a matter of fact, despite the criticism that the Multiculturalism Act has drawn, many people - particularly members of the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) - talked about multiculturalism with a huge enthusiasm. In this political context, Canadians were actually not facing all the current problems caused by so much accommodations granted to ethnic minorities back then. In fact, while describing multiculturalism, former Prime minister Jean Chrétien once said in June 2000:

We have established a distinct Canadian Way, a distinct Canadian model: Accommodation of cultures. Recognition of diversity. A partnership between citizens and state. A balance that promotes individual freedom and economic prosperity while at the same time sharing risks and benefits.
Back in 1999, the Quebec's provincial government has also attempted to please religious minorities. At that time, Mario Dumont proposed a bill that will reform Quebec's educational program. In Quebec, students can have the choice to either attend a Catholic religious class or a "moral" class (i.e. "ethics" class for non-Catholics people).

Mario Dumont, the leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ)

Mario Dumont, the leader of the ADQ

The bill that was advocated by Mario Dumont and his party suggested that students can now have the choice to be offered a class that corresponds to their religious beliefs (Islam, Buddhism, etc.), besides having the regular classes (French, English, Math, etc.). Of course, according to that bill, a Muslim student from a public school can study Islam if there are enough Muslim students in that given school, for instance.

At that time, in 1999, the leader of the ADQ was firmly convinced that such a reform of Quebec elementary schools and High School establishments was a very nice way to respect people's "freedom of choice" through "reasonnable accommodations". However, these "reasonnable accommodations", added Mario Dumont, must respect "Quebec's common values".

Moreover, by going back into that political context, we can also learn that the ADQ didn't want the "full secularization" of Quebec's schools. Now, what made Mario Dumont be the first politician in Quebec to rationally denounce religious accommodations in 2006? The answer: three shocking events.

Before that, the Supreme Court declared so many times that the refusal to accommodate religious minorities was a disrespect to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms about two years ago.

While he used to advocate religious accommodations to minorities, Dumont turned his back to this liberal (and idiotic) vision. The first shocking event in question implied a group of Hasidic Jews who asked the director of a YMCA to install frosted windows in an exercice room. According to these Hasidic Jews from Montreal, that room was facing a religious school of their community and a Hasidic synagogue. Moreover, they said that "their teenaged boys were being distracted by the exposed flesh of women doing their Pilates, aerobics and other activities".

Secondly, another event shocked so many Quebeckers. In a CLSC, a kind of public health centre, it has been said that many men were told that they can't attend to their prenatal lessons. In fact, the nurses, who didn't bother to consult the Supreme Court, told these men that their very presence could shock Muslim, Sikh and Hindu women.

Thirdly, in Montreal (again!), female police officers who work in the sector of Outremont were told by their boss that while interpellating a Hasidic Jewish man, they must let their male colleague do the job. As strange as it might look, the Hasidic community didn't even ask for it.

To answer to the question, let it be said that the reason why Mario Dumont changed his mind is simple. Religious accommodations has become such a hot potato that many people (public servants in particular) didn't know how to fairly treat religious minorities, because the Supreme Court's judges didn't clearly define a "reasonable [religious] accommodation" (i.e. what can be done and what can't be done). These people were affraid to be wrongly branded as "racists".

In addition to that, some "reasonable [religious] accommodations" - that I previously described by using as examples the three events - were actually bending one cherished principle of Western democracies: the equality between men and women. Mario Dumont and the ADQ saw that by tolerating the claims of religious minorities, Quebec (and by extension Canada) was importing intolerance and incompatible political values that is not part of the Canadian political culture.

Even though his viewpoints were quickly altered, Mario Dumont saw that the state must not tolerate the fact that some people from religious minorities are disregarding our political values (such as the equality between men and women) in the name of "freedom of conscience and beliefs".

Finally, Jean Charest, the Premier of Quebec, can try to ridicule Mario Dumont as much as he wants. However, in 1999, Mario Dumont didn't anticipate the infringements (coming from certain people of religious minorities) to our political values because of the religious accommodations.

Unfortunately, Mario Dumont was unfairly compared to French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. Mario Dumont doesn't hate immigrants. Besides he said many times that immigrants are "welcomed in Quebec" and that their duty is to accept the common values that unite people as citizens.

I really don't support any political parties in Canada. Nonetheless, if Lise Thériault, Quebec's Immigration minister, intends to draw a comparison between Mario Dumont and Jean-Marie Le Pen, what word should be used to describe Thériault. "Fool"? Well, Lise Thériault, Jean Charest and André Boisclair are certainly enjoying staying in their own ivory tower. As opposed to these politicians, Mario Dumont hopefully took the time to think about how to start this interesting debate on religious accommodations by brilliantly avoiding demagoguery and racism.

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