Quebec’s proposed religious symbol ban prompts concerns from EMSB community – Montreal

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Montreal parents and teachers are voicing a growing chorus of concerns as the Coalition Avenir Québec government prepares to move forward with its contentious proposal on religious neutrality.

READ MORE: Quebec’s Education Ministry says school surveys on religious symbols began months ago

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) opened its doors to the public on Wednesday for an emergency meeting on the province’s plan to bar civil servants in positions of authority  —including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.

“Our teachers are wearing religious symbols — it has had no effect on students’ success,” said EMSB chairperson Angela Mancini, adding the school board wants to teach its students about diversity.

The proposed legislation was a key election promise made by Quebec Premier François Legault, who maintains it has widespread support from across the province. It has also sparked protests in Montreal and accusations from teachers that the CAQ is trying to create a problem where none exists.

READ MORE: Quebec’s proposed religious symbol ban for public workers fuelled by specific symbols: study

The meeting drew parents, retired educators, teacher’s associations and residents, who showed up to offer their opinions over the proposed ban. The EMSB, which has strongly opposed similar plans from other governments, will use the feedback to formulate its own decision and develop an eventual action plan.

For Saba Ansari, a mother of Muslim faith whose children used to attend an EMSB school, the province’s plan is disappointing.

“Why are we focusing on these kinds of issues?” she said. “This is personal freedom, actually, and it should be given to us.”

If the Legault government’s plan becomes law, Ansari said she fears her children will face hardships due to their religious beliefs.

“How will they feel? They will feel like second-class citizens.”

WATCH: Religious symbols debate turns another corner






The Montreal Teachers’ Association called the government’s decision “regrettable,” adding it would vigorously defend the rights of educators if they are barred from exercising religious freedom.

“Targeting individuals based on what they wear and their personal religious beliefs feeds intolerance,” said MTA president Peter Sutherland, “and is in complete opposition to the very values of tolerance and inclusion that teachers promote in their classrooms every day.”

Last week, the provincial government approached Quebec school boards to ask if they know how many teachers and staff wear religious symbols at work.

READ MORE: Quebec status of women minister calls Muslim head scarf a symbol of oppression

The education ministry then admitted Tuesday it began those surveys in 2018, when the Liberals were in office. Education Minister Jean-François Roberge then denounced the criticism the CAQ government faced from school boards and the opposition over the issue.

Legault, for his part, said earlier this week it doesn’t matter how few teachers in Quebec wear religious symbols at work. He said governments need to have a “vision” and recognize that the practice will become more prevalent.

“We know there will be more and more in our society, and in other societies, and we should have legislated on this issue years ago,” he said on Monday.

READ MORE: Quebec asking school boards how many employees wear religious symbols

The bill on religious neutrality is expected to be tabled sometime in the spring.

— With files from Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Quebec’s proposed religious symbol ban for public workers fuelled by specific symbols: study – Montreal

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The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)’s proposed ban on religious symbols for public servants seems to be widely supported by Quebecers — but only when it comes to certain symbols.

According to findings by the Angus Reid Institute, about 65 per cent of Quebecers and 41 per cent of Canadians in the rest of the country say they support the Quebec government’s overall proposal.

READ MORE: EMSB commissioners unite to fight pending legislation on religious neutrality

If passed, the ban would affect public employees in positions of authority, including police, judges and teachers.

Respondents answered whether or not they support a ban on religious symbols for public servants.

Angus Reid Institute

“The issue has been particularly salient in Quebec, some argue, because the province has long functioned as a distinct society, itself a minority within Canada,” the study states.

READ MORE: François Legault stands firm on religious symbol ban, eliminating school boards in inaugural address

It points out that Quebec governments have grappled for over a decade with questions of reasonable accommodation for religious minorities.

“[Premier François] Legault is the fourth Quebec premier — and the CAQ the third different governing party — to attempt to address these issues through legislation.”

“Like the proposals of his immediate predecessors, Legault’s plan has been met with harsh criticism, even as a majority of Quebecers voice support for it.”

READ MORE: François Legault doubles down on religious symbol ban after meeting with Justin Trudeau

According to the poll, 79 per cent of people surveyed in Quebec and across Canada, say wearing a crucifix is acceptable.

Seventy-eight per cent of Canadians say they also approve of the Star of David.

This is a striking difference to the 17 per cent and 15 per cent who say they are comfortable with the niqab and the burka, respectively.

Should public employees be allowed to wear religious symbols?

Angus Reid Institute

“Out of nine religious symbols asked about in this survey, only three (the aforementioned crucifix, star of David and nun’s habit) are acceptable to more than half of Quebecers,” the study states.

“Elsewhere in Canada, majorities see six of the nine symbols as acceptable.”

Critics of the CAQ government argue the planned legislation discriminates against non-Christians and, in particular, Muslim women.

WATCH BELOW: Quebec Premier François Legault speaks directly to English-speaking Quebecers in his inaugural speech.






“Symbols from Sikhism and Islam are less favourably viewed, particularly if they cover the face (such as a niqab or burka) or, as some argue, could be considered a weapon (as in the case of the kirpan),” the institute found.

READ MORE: Quebec group says cuts to Ontario francophones touch all linguistic minorities

Turbans and hijabs are acceptable to about 60 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec. Within the province, the majority of respondents are opposed to public employees wearing head coverings.

Percentage by province of people who think public servants should not be allowed to wear religious symbols at work.

Angus Reid Institute

Across the country, the institute found young people under the age of 35 to be less supportive of a potential ban on public employees wearing religious symbols.

READ MORE: National Assembly crucifix representing Quebec ‘heritage’ only 36 years old

This was not the case for older demographics.

WATCH BELOW: François Legault stands firm on proposed religious symbol ban






“Political partisanship is also a key driver of views, with past Conservative voters mostly supporting a religious symbols ban in their province,” the study states.

“While [the] majority of past Liberal and New Democratic Party voters are opposed.”

Percentage of Quebecers who think public employees should not be allowed to wear religious symbols.

Angus Reid Institute

rachel.lau@globalnews.ca

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Oblate religious order covered up decades of sexual abuse of First Nations children, victims allege

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This story is based on a report by Anne Panasuk of the investigative program, Enquête. Watch Enquête’s full report here, in French.


« He’d let us drive. He knew how to do everything. We were impressed to see a priest act that way, » recalls Jason Petiquay.

Petiquay was 11 when he was sexually abused by Raynald Couture, an Oblate missionary who worked in Wemotaci, Que., from 1981 to 1991.

The Atikamekw community 285 kilometres north of Trois-Rivières was one of many remote First Nations communities in Quebec where priests belonging to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) were spiritual leaders and authority figures for generations.

Petiquay described how Couture would lure young boys to his cabin by inviting them for a ride on his all-terrain vehicle or in his pick-up truck.

Jason Petiquay says he’s had to respond to more suicides than fires in his role as chief of the Wemotaci fire department. Many of those who took their own lives, he said, were abused by Father Raynald Couture, an Oblate missionary posted in Wemotaci from 1981 to 1991. (Jean-Pierre Gandin/Radio-Canada)

His story of abuse is one of dozens Atikamekw and Innu people in Quebec told Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête in a report set to air Thursday evening.

It paints of bleak portrait of widespread sexual abuse at the hands of at least 10 Oblate priests in eight different communities served by the missionary order, which began its evangelization work among Inuit and First Nations in Canada in 1841.

MMIWG shines light on decades-old secret

It has been almost a year since women from the isolated Innu communities of Unamen Shipu and Pakua Shipu, on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, described how they were sexually assaulted by an Oblate priest who worked in their territory for four decades, until his death in 1992.

One after another, alleged victims of the Belgian native, Father Alexis Joveneau, told the federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIWG) how the charismatic and much-admired priest had abused them as children.

« I could not talk about it, » Thérèse Lalo told commissioners. « He was like a god. »

In the wake of the testimony from Lalo and others, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate issued an apology, setting up a hotline and offering psychological support to Joveneau’s alleged victims.

Father Alexis Joveneau is seen with Innu children in Unamen Shipu, Que. The Oblate missionary lived and worked in Innu communities on Quebec’s Lower North Shore for more than four decades, until his death in 1992. (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec/Fonds Pauline Laurin)

« We are absolutely devastated by these troubling testimonies, » the OMI’s Quebec office said in a March statement.

But the allegations in the Enquête report suggest the religious order’s superiors long knew about allegations against Joveneau.

Francis Mark, an Innu man from Unamen Shipu who said he was assaulted by Joveneau, said many years ago, he turned for help to the late Archbishop Peter Sutton, an Oblate who was made bishop of the Labrador City-Schefferville diocese in 1974.

« He let me down, » said Mark. « He didn’t guide me. Was there justice? No. »

Devout elders kept silence

In some instances which Enquête looked into, when Oblate superiors or church officials were told about the abuse, the priests were simply sent to neighbouring communities, where other Indigenous children were abused in turn.

In other cases, as in that of Father Raynald Couture in Wemotaci, deeply religious elders in the community insisted on silence.

Charles Coocoo of Wemotaci said he confronted Father Raynald Couture about his abuse of children, asking him to leave the community, but Atikamekw elders insisted the Oblate priest stay. (Jean-Pierre Gandin/Radio-Canada)

« The mushums, the kookums [grandmothers and grandfathers], they asked him to stay in the community, » said Charles Coocoo, a Wemotaci man who once demanded that Couture leave.

Mary Coon, a social worker at the time, went straight to the religious order to ask them to intervene, but without an official police complaint, the Oblates refused.

« The boys wouldn’t file a complaint, » said Coon. « We wanted to get him out of here, but how could we? There was no complaint. We had nothing. »

In 1991, Couture was sent to France, where he remained until eight of his victims pressed charges. In 2004, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail, a punishment another victim, Alex Coocoo, called so light as to be « ridiculous. »

‘A sin to talk’

Claude Niquay said he was a seven-year-old altar boy when he alleges he was first molested by Father Clément Couture, another Oblate missionary who was posted in Manawan, an Atikamekw community southwest of Wemotaci, until 1996.

Niquay was forced to see his alleged abuser every day, when he delivered meals cooked by his grandmother to the priest.

When he tried to tell his grandmother about the assaults, he was punished.

« She’d tell me to go sit in a corner, that it was a sin to talk about those things, » he said.

Claude Niquay says he wasn’t allowed to talk about the abuse he says he suffered as a boy, told speaking out against a priest was blasphemy. (Radio-Canada)

Before Couture’s arrival, the community had been served by two other Oblate priests, Édouard Meilleur, and later, Jean-Marc Houle, whose alleged victims — elderly now — still recall their assaults vividly.

Antoine Quitish was just five when Meilleur allegedly stripped off his cloak and forced himself on him, « poking » Quitish’s chest with his penis.

« I’m happy that [the story] is out now, » said Quitish, now 75.

Other Atikamekw elders described Meilleur as an exhibitionist who would slip his hands under girls’ dresses during confession.

Father Edouard Meilleur, OMI, right, worked in Manawan, Que., from 1938 to 1953. Elders recall that he’d slip his hands under girls’ dresses as they confessed to him. (Submitted by the Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw)

Enquête heard how Houle, who was posted in Manawan from 1953 to 1970, was drawn to pregnant women: he’s alleged to have spread holy oil over the stomachs, the breasts and the genitals of his victims, explaining he was warding off the devil in their unborn children.

The stories got out.

« I told the archdiocese, ‘If you don’t get that guy out of there, tomorrow morning it will be on the front page of the newspapers’, » recalls Huron-Wendat leader Max Gros-Louis, then the head of the Association of Indians of Quebec.

Houle was removed, said Gros-Louis — only to be sent to the Innu community of Pessamit, on Quebec’s North Shore.

Community warned of priest’s behaviours

Robert Dominique, then a band councillor in Pessamit, said his Atikamekw friends warned him about Houle, but the culture of the time ensured his silence.

« For elders, their faith is deeply rooted, » Dominique said. « Religion is sacred. »

Saying out loud that a priest was violating women and children was inconceivable, Gros-Louis agreed.

« You wouldn’t be allowed to go out anymore. You’d be banished, excommunicated, » he said.

There is no evidence Houle’s alleged assaults continued in Pessamit. However, people in that community recall abuse by three Oblate priests who preceded him.

Rachelle Dominique said was assaulted by three different Oblate priests sent to the Innu community of Pessamit on Quebec’s North Shore. (Jean-Pierre Gandin/Radio-Canada)

Dominique’s sister, Rachelle, alleges she was first assaulted by Father Sylvio Lesage in the 1960s, and when Father Roméo Archambault replaced him in the 1970s, for her, things got worse.

He would take her into the church basement, she remembers.

« He was behind me, holding my little breasts, » she alleges, « and after I had to masturbate him in the dark. »

She described feeling « broken, vilified. »

Radio-Canada’s Enquête uncovered allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of 10 Oblate priests in eight different communities served by the missionary order. (Radio-Canada)

Jean-Yves Rousselot also recounted being sexually assaulted by Archambault — alleged assaults that continued when that Oblate missionary was replaced by Father René Lapointe. The young altar boy told his grandfather what had happened and was beaten.

« I had to go to confession, to confess that I had committed blasphemy, » Rousselot said.

Lapointe was his confessor.

The priest would later be relocated to another Innu community, Nutashkuan, where he remained for 30 years, allegedly paying children to masturbate him.

In 2003, provincial police launched an investigation following a complaint, but charges were never laid.

Class action suit awaits Oblates

In the Innu community of Mani-Utenam, Gérard Michel recalls community elders sending him, along with another young man, to Baie-Comeau in 1970 to ask the archbishop to remove Father Omer Provencher, who is alleged to have been sexually assaulting girls in the community.

Nothing was done.

« Nothing, nothing, nothing, » said Michel, now an elder himself.

Provencher, who left the priesthood to live with an Innu woman years ago, told Enquête he will not answer any questions until he is formally charged with a crime.

Father René Lapointe, the priest who spent three decades in Nutashkuan, denies he ever sexually assaulted children.

Now at the Oblates’ retirement home in Richelieu, he told Enquête there is absolutely no truth in any of it.

« Nothing is true in that story. These are all inventions, » he said.

Raynald Couture was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2004. He said he asked the Oblates for psychological support during his time in Wemotaci but was told to deal with his problems on his own. (Radio-Canada)

Raynald Couture, the Oblate priest who was found guilty of sexually assaulting children in Wemotaci, lives in the same retirement home.

He admits his past crimes.

« I drank like a bastard, and that’s when those things happened, » he told Enquête. He called his assaults « a weakness » and then a « game with the children, » and said he sought help from his superiors, asking to see the Oblates’ psychologist.

« They never even came, » he said.

Most of the priests accused of having assaulted so many Innu and Atikamekw people as children are dead now; Father Alexis Joveneau, who died in 1992, is buried in the cemetery in Unamen Shipu, where he spent so many years.

In late March, just days after the Oblates issued their apology and set up a hotline for Joveneau’s alleged victims, a class action suit was launched in Quebec for all victims of sexual assault at the hands of Oblate priests.

Lawyer Alain Arsenault says to date, 48 victims have come forward, alleging they were assaulted by 14 different Oblate missionaries.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate are still very present in several of Quebec’s Innu communities. (Radio-Canada)

With the court case pending, the head of the Oblates’ Quebec office, Father Superior Luc Tardif, turned down a request to be interviewed for this story.

Regardless of the results of that lawsuit, people in Unamen Shipu are asking that Joveneau’s remains, buried next to their Innu loved ones, be exhumed and taken away.

– Based on a report by Anne Panasuk of Radio-Canada’s Enquête

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Quebec’s François Legault speaks to Trudeau, Macron about immigration and religious symbols – Montreal

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Premier-designate François Legault will be sworn in as premier next week, but he’s already made his first international trip, accompanying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the Summit of the Francophonie in Armenia.

READ MORE: Michaelle Jean loses top spot at La Francophonie

Legault said Quebec should be strengthening its economic relationship with France.

The premier-designate called it “an enormous potential” and an opportunity to decrease our dependence on the U.S.  While 70 per cent of Quebec exports go to the United States, only 14 per cent go to all of Europe, he said.

Legault is hopeful that discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron at this year’s summit of French-speaking nations will foster more partnerships. The two leaders will talk more when Legault makes a state visit in early 2019.

READ MORE: François Legault doubles down on religious symbol ban after meeting with Justin Trudeau

Legault said the two men definitely hit it off — that is, after he clarified some things.

First, Legault said he told Macron that he rejects any association with the anti-immigration French presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, who congratulated Legault on his victory via Twitter.

He said he put his proposal to reduce immigrants to Quebec in perspective.

“I repeated to him that if we compare immigration, taking into consideration the size of our state, at 40,000, we’ll accept more immigrants than France,” Legault explained.

Of course, this plan hinges on cooperation with the federal government.

“We are very open,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “(But) it’s a little early to explain plans that aren’t concrete yet.”

READ MORE: Legault stands firm on immigration, secularism in outline of CAQ priorities

However, Trudeau said he is completely against banning employees in authority positions — and teachers — from wearing religious signs.

“I don’t think it’s the role of the state to ban the wearing of anything in a free society,” he said.

“We disagree on this,” Legault said in response. “But we won a strong majority and we had strong support in the election.”

Legault added that the plan doesn’t go as far as to outlaw religious signs in public places, so he thinks it will pass the test of the courts.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Crucifix represents Christian values but isn’t a religious symbol, Quebec’s incoming premier says

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The crucifix hanging in Quebec’s National Assembly is a historical symbol, not a religious one, even though it represents the Christian values of the province’s two colonial ancestors, premier-designate François Legault said Thursday.

Legault made the comments as he defended his decision to keep the crucifix in the legislature while moving forward with plans to ban certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols.

« We have to understand our past, » Legault told reporters in Yerevan, Armenia, where he is attending the summit of the Francophonie.

The crucifix, he said, invokes the role of French Catholics and British Protestants in Quebec’s history. He made no mention of Indigenous people.

The crucifix has hung above the Speaker’s chair in the National Assembly since it was installed there in 1936. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)  

« In our past we had Protestants and Catholics. They built the values we have in Quebec. We have to recognize that and not mix that with religious signs. » 

The crucifix was installed above the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly in 1936. A government-commissioned report into secularism and identity issues recommended in 2008 that it be removed, but no government has done so.  

A delicate issue

Since his Coalition Avenir Québec won a majority in last week’s provincial election, Legault has said one of his priorities will be preventing civil servants in « positions of authority » from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs and kippas.

Among those to be affected are police officers, provincial judges, prison guards and teachers. The move is necessary, according to Legault, in order to protect Quebec’s secular society. 

He raised his plans in a meeting earlier Thursday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is also in Yerevan attending the Francophonie summit and who has publicly opposed Legault’s proposal. 

« This is a … delicate issue with Mr. Trudeau, » Legault said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

« I told him I want to do this quickly. It’s an issue that has lingered for 10 years, and now there is a consensus in Quebec. »

Asked whether he feared a confrontation with Ottawa over the issue, Legault added: « Quebec is a nation. It is a distinct society. We have support. We just received a clear mandate in the election. I think all that has to be taken into account. »

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Quebec’s incoming premier, François Legault, in Armenia on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Quebec’s new immigration model

Along with religious symbols, Legault also raised his immigration polices with Trudeau.  

The incoming premier informed the prime minister that Quebec intends to accept 20 per cent fewer immigrants next year.

Legault also told Trudeau that Quebec will add language and value requirements for immigrants seeking to settle in the province.

Though immigration falls under federal jurisdiction, Quebec has an agreement with Ottawa that allows it to select its own economic immigrants.

According to Legault’s account of the meeting, Trudeau raised the possibility that Quebec would be able alter how it selects immigrants without reopening that agreement.

« He wasn’t certain that we would need to modify the agreement between Quebec and Ottawa, » Legault said in the Radio-Canada interview.

He added that representatives from the province would meet federal officials in the coming weeks to detail the « new immigration model that my government will put in place. »  

Legault is scheduled to appoint a cabinet next week.

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