Born and raised in Quebec, what’s been happening in my home province has been heartbreakingly sad.

The more I read the news about what’s happening in Quebec, the more I am saddened. To think that my home would hold in such contempt its own diversity and view its own citizens, its people in such low regard wounds me deeply. To think that the ruling party feels that minorities like me are a threat to the secularity of the state alienates me from my own home, from my family. Je pensais que je faussais partie de cette patrie. Que j’appartenais à ce peuple, que moi aussi je faussais partie de cette communauté. J’ai passé presque ma vie entière au Québec, 23 belles années parmi des gens que je considère mes amis. Je me suis intégrée dans cette société, non parce que c’était imposé sur moi, mais parce que cette communauté fait parti de mon âme. But to read the news of late, a lot of things have come into question.

What makes this situation worse is that while reading about the PQ’s proposed plan upsets me deeply, reading comments to these articles is gut wrenching.

“Jesus was love, healing people, healing the blind, feeding the poor. Buddha was love. Mohammed did nothing except what we see today around the world.”

For some reason, I don’t think he’s referring to the hundreds of millions who profess Islam peacefully and see it as a religion of love. Or

“go Pauline Marois !!!, finally someone could see the big picture, Canada is getting out of control with this mess called ” diversity” “multiculturism” [sic.] ” charter of human right” whatever you like to call it. It’s a mess that what it is..unfortunally [sic.].”

Or

“Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong but a kirpan was never a religious thing and was used always to kill a foe or perceived foe, then when they were being forced to abandon their evil ways they began hiding them in their clothing and started this rumour about it being a religious item in order to continue carrying it .Now we are supposed to buy it ?” (emphasis added).

Or

“The state comes before religion and for someone who wears a headscarf that is not the case. God comes before country so, in fairness, people for whom religion comes first should not be in civic positions until such time as they are willing to make their religion secondary to the country they serve.”

(Quotes from CBC article on Charter protests)

The last point is actually one that is most perplexing. While the former comments stem from very insidious racism and xenophobia, the last comment almost seems to be couched in a reasonable critique. Except that this person doesn’t contemplate that a religious person can be an equally patriotic one. I am a person of faith; faith in people around me, faith in a better tomorrow, faith in the face of adversity, and yes, faith in God. But I am also a Canadian, and a very proud one at that. I am also a Quebecois. And my indignation doesn’t stem from being a ‘religious’ person, quite the contrary, it is born from my admiration for democracy and secular institutions. I don’t oppose this charter as a religious person, I oppose it as a human being who sees it as an injustice to my fellow citizens. Yet why is it that people like me are always looked at so suspiciously?

I think the answer is pretty obvious. We’re just ignorant. The ignorance runs both ways. I won’t place blame on one side or the other. The truth is that minority groups might be equally ignorant of the history and the values of Quebec just as much as Quebec (in general) is ignorant about the entrenched values within these minority groups. What most don’t realize is that the peaceful existence of one within the other does not have to occur at the expense of any one group. It is equally important for those who live in (especially those who immigrate to) Quebec to understand its history, to understand the Quiet Revolution, the push for secularization and the separation of state institutions from the Catholic Church, to understand Quebec existentially, the place of French within Quebec and the importance of this distinct culture in the world. Likewise, it is of equal importance that Quebec also respects and understands why these minority groups are hurt and upset, why they hold on to these values, why they place importance on such things as veils or turbans or kippahs. For Marois to say that this charter will “unite” Quebecois is ignorant. She can’t understand the hurt and the pain of those who are upset by its proposal because she doesn’t belong to a group who feels under attack and marginalized. Ignorance is the most debilitating thing in any society. It is not something that we can afford especially in a world that is so interconnected.

What brings me comfort during such a sad moment is that we can overcome ignorance. We can choose to learn from one another. We can commit ourselves to appreciating the diversity that is around us. Our diversity isn’t going anywhere. It is here to stay. Whether we choose to make our diversity a source of strength or a divisive element is up to us. But the choice is ultimately ours to make.

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