Muslim groups call on Quebec government to rebuild bridges after divisive charter debate

MONTREAL — Religious groups that felt targeted during the divisive debate over the Parti Québécois’s proposed charter of values have called on premier-elect Philippe Couillard to help mend fences between Quebecers and restore the province’s reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants.

“They need to continue to communicate the message that Quebec is a welcoming and open society and that people who come to Quebec will not have to choose between their religious identity and their potential employment,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Advocacy groups representing the Muslim, Jewish and the Sikh communities welcomed the Liberal victory Monday night saying they were pleased that Couillard declared that he would be “the premier of all Quebecers.” In his victory speech, Couillard also said “the time of division is behind us,” and told immigrants who came to Quebec from around the world that “you are at home here.”

Over the past eight months, the controversial charter bill polarized public opinion, fanned Islamophobia and was blamed for fostering a sense of exclusion among religious minorities.

A debate on how to better integrate newcomers to Canada is an important discussion to have, but the charter was the wrong way to go about it, Gardee said.

The proposed charter, which would have barred public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols like the Muslim head scarf, Jewish kippah and Sikh turban, has been criticized for dividing Quebecers and fanning the flames of intolerance.

Luciano Del Negro, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said religious communities bore the brunt of the toxic charter debate and said he was pleased that Quebecers rejected the PQ’s proposal.

“It was no to the charter and yes to the economy,” Del Negro said on Tuesday, adding that the PQ was cynical to use the charter as a tool to divide Quebecers in the hope of obtaining a majority government.

The Muslim Council of Montreal said the magnitude of the PQ’s defeat sends a clear message that Quebecers are fed up with fear mongering, discrimination and social division caused by the PQ’s politics.

“We hope (the Liberals) commit themselves to protecting the true values and identity of Quebec, by upholding the constitution and safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all citizens and putting an end once and for all to the charter nonsense,” said Salam Elmenyawi, president of MCM.

Prior to the election campaign Elmenyawi said he was alarmed by the increase in the number of attacks against Muslims, especially the verbal and physical assaults against Muslim women wearing hijabs.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada said the Quebec election results show that “the people of Quebec are fair minded and share their vision of an inclusive society which respects people of all faiths and backgrounds.”

“The result is a rejection of the politics of division,” said Mukhbir Singh, the WSO Quebec vice-president. “Quebecers want to focus on the real issues such as the economy and building a stronger Quebec. The strategy of trying to divert attention from these real issues by targeting minorities has resoundingly been thwarted.”