With his fuchsia skullcap and sash, Catholic Bishop Thomas Dowd stood out in the crowd at Shaare Zedek Congregation on Sunday. Speaking to nearly 500 people at the synagogue in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Dowd said he purposely wore his most ostentatious outfit to the multi-faith rally against the Parti Québécois government’s proposed secular charter.
Bill 60, which would bar all public sector workers from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols like the Muslim head scarf, Jewish skullcap or Sikh turban, died on the order paper last week when Premier Pauline Marois dissolved the National Assembly to call an election. But speakers, who included local politicians and representatives of six faiths, said that was no reason to stop protesting, since the PQ has vowed to adopt the charter if it wins a majority on April 7.
The rally was “a chance to show to the world that religion does not need to be seen as a source of division,” but can also be a source of unity, said Dowd, who added he had come “to build bridges with all of you.”
Organized by Norman Simon, a retired teacher who founded a Facebook group called Canadians for Coexistence, the event also included members of the Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities. Liberal MNAs Lawrence Bergman and Kathleen Weil, N.D.G. Mayor Russell Copeman and Pierrefonds-Roxboro Mayor Jim Beis attended, along with representatives of the English Montreal School Board.
Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth-Sholom said the silver lining of the divisive charter debate is the way it has brought people of different faiths together and highlighted Quebec’s rich cultural diversity.
Grushcow quoted former Quebec cabinet minister and physician Victor Goldbloom, 90, who, at hearings on the proposed charter, responded to the suggestion by Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville that children need to be protected from the sight of people wearing religious garb. Goldbloom replied: “I believe that every child has a right to learn to live in a world in which there is difference,” Grushcow said. “We are here to protect that right,” she added.
Grushcow pointed playfully to the kippah on her head as an example of the fact that religious garb is not always a sign of female oppression. “I don’t think they were imagining me,” she said as the audience erupted in laughter and applause.
Côte-St-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather accused the government of using the charter to divide Quebecers and slammed the “draconian and loathsome” proposal to amend the Quebec Charter of Rights in accordance with the secularism charter. He vowed to challenge the measure in court if it ever becomes law. “We will not enforce this law because we believe it to be unconstitutional,” he told the cheering audience.