The crucifix above the Speaker’s chair in the Quebec National Assembly will stay, says Premier Jean Charest. Responding to a report by a pair of academics on the problems of integrating immigrants into Quebec society, Charest said, “We won’t rewrite history. The church has played a major role in who we are today as a society, the crucifix is more than a religious symbol.”
“There are no one-size-fits-all answers to these situations,” he told reporters at a press conference in Quebec City. The National Assembly unanimously passed a motion affirming Quebecers’ “attachment to our religious and historic heritage represented by the crucifix.”
The 300-page report was commissioned for $5 million after a series of highly publicised clashes between indigenous French culture and the new influx of immigrants allowed into the province in part as a response to the plummeting birth rate. The authors also recommended that public prayers be abolished by local authorities and that judges, crown prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and the speaker and deputy speaker of the assembly refrain from wearing religious symbols.
“The crucifix is about 350 years of history in Quebec that none of us are ever going to erase and of a very strong presence, in particular, of the Catholic Church, and that’s our reality,” Charest said.
“As you look around this place you will find many, many symbols that speak to that period,” he added.
The Bouchard-Taylor commission’s report on the debate over “reasonable accommodations” of immigrants to Quebec’s officially secular but traditionally Catholic society held that there was no real crisis in Quebec society, merely one of perception. That perception could be improved by removing the last public attachments to Quebec’s historic Catholic character.
Referring to other decorations in the Assembly building, including the British coat of arms, the letter “V” for Queen Victoria and the letter “C” for Canada, Charest added, “Are we going to go around the building covering up, destroying, erasing these symbols? Obviously we’re not going to do that.”
Charest affirmed, however that it is not the traditional Catholic culture of French Canada that forms the basis of modern Quebec, but only the French language. He said that as premier, his “first role is the supreme responsibility” to preserve the French language.
“As citizens we must also respect the personal convictions of everyone. For its part, the state, which is at the service of everyone, should affirm that our institutions are secular.”
The commission examined 21 incidents, including the YWCA’s decision to frost its windows in an exercise room to avoid offending a traditional Jewish school and women-only pre-natal courses to accommodate Muslim women. In one case that made international headlines, the small town of Herouxville issued a code of public conduct that said it is “completely outside norms to… kill women by stoning them in public, burning them alive, burning them with acid, circumcising them etc.”
Action démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont said Quebec should adopt its own “founding document” that spells out “Quebec’s cultural heritage.”
“Interculturalism is not a synonym for getting down on our knees,” he said.
Without mentioning the loss of Quebec’s traditional Catholic culture, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois said the report had missed the central problem: “There exists a malaise over Quebec’s identity that we have to deal with.”