Ontario Liberal speaks out against Quebec charter to restrict religious symbols

TORONTO – Canada’s most populous province must assure the world that it would never contemplate legislation such as Quebec’s controversial “values charter”, Ontario politicians said Tuesday.

Monte Kwinter, currently one of Ontario’s longest serving MPPs, tabled a symbolic motion that calls on the legislature to oppose any bill to restrict or prohibit freedom of expression and religion in public places.

“We just want to reassure the people living in Ontario that this is not what the province of Ontario is going to do, and to really emphasize that we value their diversity, we value their culture, and we’re supportive of it,” said the Liberal backbencher.

His private member’s motion was tabled the same day Quebec’s Parti Quebecois government released details of the proposed charter.

If passed, it would impose restrictions on religious clothing and symbols on every public servant, including judges, police, public daycare workers, teachers and hospital workers.

Kwinter said he’s heard from people in his own Toronto Jewish community, who are concerned about the proposed charter.

When the PQ were in power 30 years ago, there was a mass movement of Quebec’s Jewish community to Ontario because they were concerned about what was happening in Quebec, said Kwinter.

There was social unrest at the time stemming from talks of separation and the introduction of Quebec’s restrictive language laws.

Since coming to power last year, the PQ has introduced a bill that would toughen those language rules, raising concerns from anglophones who say it infringes on their rights.

Quebec is the “master of its own destiny,” but the charter could have repercussions in Ontario, causing some — including potential immigrants — to question whether the province really values diversity, Kwinter said.

“There’s an old expression that when it comes to slaughter the geese, the chickens start to shake, because they feel that maybe they’re next,” said Kwinter, 82, who has spent 28 years in the legislature.

People from all kinds of religious and cultural backgrounds come to Canada and settled in Ontario because of its freedom of expression and religion, he said.

It’s a fundamental right and Ontario should reassure them that they will be able to show their commitment to their religion in a publicly-funded institution, Kwinter added.

The charter “really creates division, it creates a problem for people who have come to Canada and to Ontario to live with religious freedom,” he said.

Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh, who is Sikh, said Quebec’s proposed legislation taints Canada’s reputation as a tolerant society.

Public places should reflect Canadian values of diversity and inclusion, said the New Democrat, who wears a turban and carries a religious ceremonial dagger called a kirpan in the legislature.

“I think that’s what Canadians expect already and I think most Canadians find it offensive at the idea of creating a barrier and obstacle for people of different faiths to not be able to engage in that public sphere,” said Singh.

“I think that’s what really makes us separate from the rest of the world.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said tolerance can’t be legislated, but her party will support Kwinter’s motion when it’s introduced in the legislature Sept. 19.

“Ontario’s diversity is its strength,” she said. “And we support that diversity, we respect that diversity, we embrace that diversity.”

Kwinter’s motion is a carbon copy of the governing Liberals’ statement Aug. 21 responding to Quebec’s proposed legislation.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday that the inclusive nature of Canadian society is worth preserving, and she would oppose anything that would attack that inclusion.