FATIMA HOUDA-PÉPIN IS ONE OF OUR MOST COURAGEOUS LEGISLATORS

By Beryl Wajsman on November 14, 2013

Fatima Houda-Pepin`s letter has caused much debate today. That debate is driven - as happens too often in our public discourse - by a lack of facts and intellectual rigour. Houda-Pepin is one of our most courageous legislators. Let us not forget that it was she who introduced the motion in the National Assembly - unanimously adopted some years ago - against allowing Sharia Law any role in our civil family law system as demanded by certain fundamentalist religious elements in Quebec at the time. She withstood much menace for for that courage. But she spared Quebec the 18-month battle that Ontario went through. People should read past the headlines. Including many reporters. 

Fatima Houda-Pepin is not for the whole Charter. She is against the chador and the burqa. Even anti-Charter advocates like Julius Grey and Barbara Kay condemn face-coverings in a free society. Face-coverings are a component of the burqa. The chador is a first cousin. Full body covering with face covering optional. If the face-covering is condemned by all on gender equality and public security grounds, how could the same logic not be applied to full body coverings that conceal everything. That is all that Fatima House-Pepin wants banned. I have great respect for Marc Tanguay. But when he says that a chador would be acceptable in the National Assembly he is wrong. 

Clearly the PQ's "Values" proposal goes too far for nothing other than political opportunism. The old politics of appeal to division and discord. The spectre of "les autres." There is no justification for it in hospitals, social services and anywhere else where laws are not made, interpreted, enforced, and where impressionable young minds are not affected. But the imposition of laity in legislatures, courts, security authorities and public schools has a long and accepted tradition in liberal democracies. And it is necessary!

From James Madison declaring in the United States that "the civil administration shall take no cognizance of religion" to Jean Jaures' « modele republicaine» in France to President Sarkozy's recent law. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. Multiculturalism is not a national values policy, it is a national vote-pandering policy. And accomodation can be unreasonable. Thomas D'Arcy McGee, one of Canada's Fathers of Confederation, warned of this in 1863 in Quebec City when he said, "There is room in this northern dominion - under one flag and one set of laws - for one great people. There is no possibility for that greatness - under that same flag and those same laws - if we succumb to a hundred squabbling particularities." 

And as for “party solidarity,” it is time for he Canadian parliamentary obsession with the three-line whip to  end. It destroys our democracies. We can't have elected representatives pledging unyielding fidelity to "the leader." Britain doesn't use this weapon because the parliamentary caucuses have equal weight with party delegates in choosing a leader. America never had it and produced great leaders who may have been liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. It is time for our votes to mean something, The OECD has several times called Canada the least democratic of western nations because of this. It is destroying the sovereignty of our suffrage. And if an end to the party system has been called for at the muncipal level, changes in leaders powers at the provincial and federal levels should be considered as well.


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