BY JINNY SIMS
MP for Newton-North Delta
& NDP Employment and Social Development Critic
THIS week, the Parti Québécois released in full its proposed Charter of Values, which would prevent provincial government workers in Quebec from wearing religious head coverings of any kind, and religious jewellery that could be deemed “ostentatious.”
As I reviewed the document for the first time, my eyes filled with tears. You see, I was in my early 20s when my husband and I moved to Canada from England, and Quebec was where we made our first home. Our daughter was born there. We were both teachers, and our colleagues welcomed us warmly to la belle province. Quebec is where I learned French, where I made my first Canadian friends and where I fell in love with this country. Though eventually work drew us to British Columbia where we’ve remained, our time in Quebec is a dear and integral part of my family’s story.
Although neither my husband (who was born and raised in England, by one English and one Scottish parent) nor I (born in India and raised in England by two Sikh parents) has ever worn a religious head covering of any kind, I was for many years nostalgic about my relatives so far away; seeing a public servant wearing a turban, although still rare during our earliest years here, was a comforting visual somehow – a familiar reminder, and a symbol of the Canadian mosaic.
Religious symbols to be banned from public sector in Quebec.
To my husband and me, such a visual was especially meaningful because we had just begun our parenting journey, raising multiethnic children an ocean away from either of our birth countries. We relished the idea that they would grow up with peers who had similar stories, and hailed from all over the world. We took comfort in knowing that although we were raising them far from their extended family members, we would have friends and neighbours who looked like and observed cultural traditions reminiscent of my Dad, or my husband’s aunts, or their many young cousins.
Far from offending us, religious and cultural symbols like a headscarf, or kippa, or the aforementioned turban were remarkably uplifting to our young family: they were evidence that all we had heard and hoped of this beautiful, multicultural country was true.
And so last Tuesday, it was with this in mind that I watched the Leader of the Official Opposition – my leader, the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, react publicly to the Parti Québécois’ proposed Charter of Values. Without reservation, he said: “We are profoundly disappointed that the PQ is using such a sensitive issue to try to score political points. Human rights don’t have a ‘best before’ date. They are not temporary and they are not a popularity contest.”
I am so proud of our Leader, Tom, and of the NDP, for taking such an immediate and clear position on this issue. In fact, I don’t think I have ever been prouder to call myself a New Democrat than I am this week.
I, and my New Democrat colleagues in the House, 57 of whom represent ridings in Quebec, wholeheartedly believe that legislators have a duty to find solutions that bring people together, not propose ideas with the intention of dividing them. Our party’s late Leader, Jack Layton, lived that belief every day. He preferred to start with a commonality, often reminding us about the power of the collective. Tom Mulcair leads us today with that same conviction. He is a man of principle, and one I deeply respect.
Using fear and playing politics with human rights is the wrong approach. The NDP will always stand up for minorities and work with all Canadians to find solutions.
I am immensely privileged to represent Newton-North Delta, a riding that is culturally and religiously diverse – this (our riding!) is the visual of Canada I have always known, and the reason that, nearly four decades ago, my husband and I chose to make it our home.