QUEBEC – A topless protest against Parti Quebecois identity politics erupted inside the Quebec legislature in a screaming, semi-nude act of defiance that derailed the daily question period Tuesday.
Women began removing their clothes while Premier Pauline Marois was answering a question.
The premier had been asked about a payroll tax and had just uttered the words, “(We’re) taking action now,” when shouts erupted in the gallery and everyone’s eyes, including the premier’s, drifted upward.
As the protesters disrobed, they chanted a slogan against the presence of the crucifix in the chamber: “Crucifix, decalisse,” they repeated in a crude, sacrilegious Quebecois expression loosely translatable as, “Crucifix, get the hell out of here.”
The demonstration was quelled, as numerous security guards pulled a trio of still-half-naked protesters away from the chamber and struggled to dress them.
The whole affair was in reaction to the Parti Quebecois’ uneven approach to state secularism, which has been called hypocritical by its detractors.
The PQ’s proposal would leave the Christian symbol looming above the chamber where Quebec’s laws are passed; Christmas trees would remain in public offices; and the giant cross would stay on the public land above Montreal’s Mount Royal.
That’s because those Christian symbols are part of Quebec’s heritage, the PQ says.
However, lower-level employees of the state would be forced to remove their hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes, and larger-than-average Christian necklaces.
The plan is unlikely to pass the legislature in its current form. That means it could either be watered down, or preserved for use in the PQ’s next election platform.
The group “Femen Quebec” claimed reponsibility for the bare-breasted brouhaha.
“(We’re) an organization of artists-activists fighting for democracy, for the affirmation of a Quebec identity influenced by cultural diversity, for the liberation of women from contemporary aesthetic dogma and for better communication between men and women,” said a Facebook page.
It also dismissed the idea that the national assembly cross was integral to the Quebecois identity.
It noted that the crucifix was only placed there under the Duplessis regime after 1936, as a symbol of the pact between his now-defunct Union Nationale party and the church.
“(This) crucifix stems from the Great Darkness,” the group said, employing a term commonly used to describe Maurice Duplessis’ pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec.
“(It’s) a painful memory, especially for women. That renewal of the pact between the church and the state is not at all a heritage worth honouring. No to a government that accepts the presence of religion at its bosom. Yes to state secularism!”
A member of the group said in an interview that the three women were swiftly removed from the building, and were warned that they could be charged with disturbing the peace.
The woman, Xenia Chernyshova, said the group doesn’t have a position on the PQ’s values charter but opposes the plan to favour Christian iconography.
-With files by Alexander Panetta and Sidhartha Banerjee