Why I support the call for an Office of Anglophone Affairs

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The need for an Office of Anglophone Affairs to represent the interests of 800,000 English-speaking Quebecers is reasonable and quite evident.

First, having three cabinet members of the Quebec Liberal Party who come from the English-speaking community does not absolve the government from its ongoing obligation to its English-speaking population. Cabinet members come and go, so do governments, and cabinet members have many more responsibilities than uniquely watching out for linguistic issues of their constituents.

The last four decades have shown us that English-speakers promoted to cabinet are no guarantee that the rights afforded to the English-speaking community will be respected in each ministry and throughout the government.

No disrespect or lack of appreciation to our Anglo MNAs, past or present. Their competencies are far from limited to their mother tongue. In D’Arcy McGee riding, for example, David Birnbaum is off to a great start, is very interested in his constituency and his assistance is quite sincere, I have no doubt. Lawrence Bergman was a model MNA, of the highest calibre. Robert Libman (Equality Party) was elected specifically because of his position on language and Bill 101 and had wide community support because he was a thorn in the side of the government – a voice specifically for the English-speaking community.

An Office  of Anglophone Affairs would be such a representative body that is sorely lacking in Quebec City.

Editorial: An Office of Anglophone Affairs is needed now more than ever | Montreal Gazette.

Second, in an era when a judge of the Quebec Court rules that it is legitimate for the government to deny the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Canadians and Quebecers, such as this week’s ruling to uphold Bill 101 with respect to marked predominance of French on signs, it is clear that the Quebec English-speaking community needs greater presence within government. An office, as suggested by Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, would be a good start.

Smaller English wording on signs will convince more people to speak French? Nonsense. This is nothing more than the government, through its OQLF, bullying small business owners, who have enough trouble making a living in this province without being restricted from communicating with their non French-speaking customers.

It is harassment of Anglo seniors who have difficulty reading much too small English wording in the few cases where English is even provided.

It is an insult to English-speaking Quebecers that their language is diminished by such mean spirited laws that do absolutely nothing to promote the French language

It is pure politic and it is contrary to what Philippe Couillard told us in last year’s election campaign (‘English is not the enemy’).

Finally, Quebecers were screaming their support for freedom of expression, alongside people of good will all across the planet just two weeks ago. Where are they today? Where are our business leaders demanding their freedom of expression to run their businesses as they see fit in order to create wealth in our province? Where are those politicians who waved their signs upholding freedom of expression? Where are all those marchers?

We’re quick to cry for freedom for everyone all over the world. I fully support that. But what about right here in Quebec, in Canada, where we have something called a ‘Notwithstanding Clause’ that allows our own government to deny our rights? What about our own freedom of expression?

All other provinces have an office for their French-speaking communities. Anglo Quebecers need a voice too.

 

Read more:

Court quashes challenge to Quebec’s sign law (The Gazette)

Judge shoots down sign law challenge (CTV News)

Suburban | Feb. 4, 2015 | Click to enlarge

Suburban | Feb. 4, 2015 | Click to enlarge

Hampstead stands with CSL against Bill 60

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Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg at his desk ...

Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Bill Steinberg and the members of Hampstead Town Council have taken a principled and bold stand against the odious proposed “Charter of shame” (as coined by MP Irwin Cotler), the PQ government’s Bill 60.

Mayor Steinberg announced at Monday night’s rally outside Cote Saint-Luc City Hall that his town was poised to adopt a resolution later that night denouncing the bill as “racist and immoral”. This strong language stands in sharp contrast to that of Cote Saint-Luc’s resolution against the Charter of Quebec Values adopted in October.

The Hampstead resolution says, in part:

  • We believe in the fundamental right of freedom of religion and expression;
  • We believe that in a liberal democracy there is a very real place for the separation of church and state and that the state has no right to impose religious beliefs on its citizens. The separation of church and state should not, however, be confused with the persecution of religion by the state.  It is the basic right of every citizen to be free to believe as he will and practice his religion free of state intervention, so long as the practicing of his religion does not interfere with the basic rights of other citizens to freely enjoy their own civil rights;
  • We believe the wearing of a Kipah, Sikh turban, or Hijab, is not an impediment to carrying out ones’ duties as employees of the State. These symbols do not diminish the wearer, they do not impede the wearer and they are not prejudicial to those with whom the wearer of a religious symbol interacts;
  • We reject the notion that people who believe in a deity are somehow lesser citizens. We reject the notion that wearing an identifiable religious symbol that does not physically impede a person from performing his/her duties, is a basis for discrimination;
  • We believe in a Liberal Democracy the majority does not have the right to pass racist and discriminatory laws against any minority.
  • The strength of a society is not evidenced by its ability to subjugate its minorities but by its ability to protect them.
  • Should this Charter, or any variation which violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. be passed by the National Assembly, the Town of Hampstead will not recognize it as a valid law. We will not comply. We will not be complicit with hatred, racism and intolerance.

Mayor Steinberg and the council have shown solid leadership in taking this position and standing up against the Quebec government and their horrendous, discriminatory law.

Indeed, every municipality on the Island of Montreal, including the City of Montreal, has spoken out, either individually or through the Association of Suburban Municipalities against the so-called Charter of Quebec Values.

Town of Hampstead won’t apply ‘racist’ Quebec charter CBC.ca

Hampstead passes resolution denouncing Quebec’s proposed charter Globalnews.ca

Taking a stand against Bill 60: Hampstead, CSL, universities throw down gauntlet CTV News

Large crowd rallies against ‘Charter of shame’

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“We’re not going anywhere. We’re staying!”

These ominous words uttered by Mayor Anthony Housefather echoed off the walls of Cote Saint-Luc city hall in an impassioned speech that delighted the crowd.

Major personalities to take the microphone included Rabbis Chaim Steinmetz and Reuben Poupko, Father Peter Laviolette and Mayors Bill Steinberg of Hampstead and Beny Masella of Montreal West.

Housefather gave an electrically charged plea to about 700 enthusiastic residents who cheered him on in great support before he even uttered his first word.

Cote Saint-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather addresses the large crowd

Cote Saint-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather addresses the large crowd

“This is an odious bill that sends a message that some Quebecers are more equal than others,” Housefather said. “This is not the charter of most Canadians, most Quebecers or most Cote Saint-Lucers,” the mayor added saying that the government can remain secular. with equality between men and women without needing such legislation.

“We can light the Christmas tree and the menorah in front of city hall, we can employ staff wearing hijabs, kippas, turbans or crosses, and none of this interferes with offering excellent services at fair rates to our taxpayers,” said Housefather. The mayor added that the city will never fire anyone for displaying their religious convictions and that we will go to court to fight this bill should it ever become law.

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“Some people have asked why as a city we are speaking out against the Charter,” said Mayor Anthony Housefather. “City government has an absolute right to speak out against the charter. Our council is unanimous in opposing it and, in fact, each and every city on the Montreal island has adopted positions against the charter. We are against the charter because it is a violation of both the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and international treaties Canada has signed. It would reduce religious and linguistic freedoms in Quebec as the primacy of French is also bundled into the charter. In the same way CSL led the fight in opposing Bill 14 which would have reduced our residents linguistic rights we will also lead the fight against this charter. Indeed the charter is a municipal issue as it impacts our employees and how the municipality operates including forcing elected officials to adopt policies against their conscience.”

Photo Pascal Dumont

Photo Pascal Dumont

Housefather ended with a poignant reminder citing former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s famous quote that the ‘State has no business in the bedrooms of Canadians’. “Well, I say that the state has no business in the wardrobe of Canadians,” the mayor emphasized, to wild applaud.

Mayor Bill Steinberg announced his council was set to adopt a resolution after the rally vowing to ignore and to fight Bill 60 if it were ever to be adopted into law.

Photo Pascal Dumont

Photo Pascal Dumont

Rabbi Steinmetz, the spiritual leader of Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Congregation, worried aloud that a year ago he would never have thought twice about wearing his kippah elsewhere in Quebec. Today, he would be worried for his children’s safety to wear a kippah outside of Montreal.  He referred to Bill 60 as the “Charter of darkness”. “It is destructive and divisive,” he said. “This is cheap demagoguery. A ploy to get better results at the ballot box.”

Citing the civil disobedience movement of Martin Luther King, the rabbi added, “We are here not just to oppose it Bill 60, but to deny its legitimacy. We will never respect this law. If it is ever passed, we will deny it and undermine it. We will act with civil disobedience and follow the lead of the Jewish General Hospital.”

2013-12-01-Chanukah-in-CSL-2013-006.JPG

After Father Laviolette’s remarks and illumination of the Christmas tree, the St. Richard’s choir sang Christmas songs in English and Italian and ended off on a unique and hugely appreciated rendition of: “We wish you a happy Chanukah.”

Rabbi Poupko of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron added in, “I am glad they did not sing Silent Night. History has taught us that when rights are being trampled we must never remain silent.”

Mount Royal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler was unable to attend the rally, but he sent a message calling Bill 60 ‘the Charter of shame’.

Mayor Masella acknowledged that while our communities have not elected PQ MNAs, “we need to tell the CAQ and the Liberals that there is no common ground here.”

After the rally, the large crowd moved over to the giant menorah where Chabad Rabbi Mendel Raskin, just back from his native Casablanca, Morocco, and Rabbi David Cohen led them in song and celebration.

The view from up above. The crowd spills into Cavendish Blvd. as lomos wait to begin the parade.

My view from up above as a light the giant menorah. The crowd spills into Cavendish Blvd. as limos wait to begin the parade.

I was privileged, as the Deputy Mayor, to climb into the ‘cherry picker’ to be hoisted up to the top of the menorah to light the six ‘candles’ (for night six of Chanukah) and sing the traditional blessings. The view was amazing from 30 or 40 feet in the air and I stated over the loudspeakers, “I hope Mme. Marois can see us lighting this menorah in Quebec City! These lights of freedom and celebration should shine bright across our province.”

In Chabad tradition, jelly-filled donuts were passed around along with dreydles and Chanukah-gelt (Chocolate coins) and several youngsters were chosen to ride in limousines – with illuminated Chanukah menorahs atop their roofs – through the streets of Côte Saint-Luc, holiday melodies blaring for all too hear.

Watch Global News from CSL

Watch CBC News from CSL (advance to 5 minute mark)

Watch CTV News from CSL (first news item)

Des juifs et des chrétiens de Côte-Saint-Luc se révoltent contre la Charte (Huffington Post)

Hampstead council votes unanimously to condemn Bill 60 values charter (Montreal Gazette)

Cote Saint Luc, Hampstead, Universities denounce Charter (CTV News)

West-end mayors vow to defy values charter | The Canadian Jewish News.

Cllr. Mitchell Brownstein on Global Montreal

Rally in favour of religious freedoms – Dec. 2 at CSL City Hall

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Join in a rally against the Charter of so-called Quebec Values and cast your vote in favour of religious freedom.

Come to Cote Saint-Luc City Hall, 5810 Cavendish Boulevard at 6pm on Monday, December 2, 2013.

The rally event will be preceded by a Christmas tree lighting event with Father Peter Laviolette of Saint Richard’s Church of Côte Saint-Luc. Following the rally event will be a Chanukah menorah lighting event with Rabbi Mendel Raskin of Chabad of Côte Saint-Luc.

“We call on all our residents and our neighbours to attend this rally to send the message that residents of Montreal island municipalities reject the Parti Québécois’ proposed Bill 60 that would restrict our rights as Canadians and Quebecers,” Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather said. “We hope that people from all faiths, backgrounds and communities will join us to send a message to the PQ government that we respect individual rights and freedoms and reject Bill 60 and the division it has caused.”

Speakers at the rally will be Mayor Housefather, D’Arcy McGee MNA Lawrence Bergman and Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem. Hampstead mayor Bill Steinberg and Montreal West Mayor Beny Masalla will also address the crowd.

Many municipalities opposed to values charter

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Joel Goldenberg, The Suburban

September 18th, 2013

The Association of Suburban Municipalities, representing the 15 demerged cities, released a statement opposing the charter, saying the plan “reveals a conscious denial of the multicultural reality of Montreal and will only lead to division and exclusion. The plan threatens the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”

Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather said, “I am appalled. I believe this charter does not reflect the common values of Quebec society but rather the narrow and mean-spirited values of the government and violates both the federal and Quebec charters of rights in its attack on religious freedom. The ban on religious symbols has a disproportionate effect on members of religions where observant individuals are required to wear a certain form of dress versus those who are members of religions where such dress is not a requirement. I will do all that I can to oppose this.”

Hampstead mayor William Steinberg said publicly he will wear a very visible kippa if the charter passes. And the night before the charter was revealed, Hampstead council passed a resolution proposed by Councillor Jack Edery and seconded by Councillor Harvey Shaffer, saying the town believes in “the fundamental right of freedom of religion,” and that while there should be separation of church and state, “we believe the wearing of a kippa, Sikh turban or hijab is not an impediment to carrying out one’s duties as employees of the state. We reject the notion that people who believe in a deity are somewhat lesser citizens. We reject the notion that wearing an identifiable religious symbol that does not physically impede a person from performing their duties, is a basis for discrimination.”

St. Laurent mayor Alan DeSousa advised patience, in terms of how discussion of the charter evolves. “The legislation, as presented, might not see the light of day in its present form, so before we get excited about it, let’s take the time to see if it actually gets the support of the National Assembly.” DeSousa added that the charter, “as currently drafted, doesn’t correspond at all to the reality we live in St. Laurent. We’ve been in St. Laurent and in over 30 years, we’ve been able to find harmonious ways of welcoming people of all faiths, making them an integral part of our community, and active participants. We were the first to come out with a policy on intercultural integration that takes into account respect and harmony. That’s one of the reasons St. Laurent is a community where people choose to live.”

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In my opinion: I am in complete agreement with our mayor, Anthony Housefather, who assured residents at the last public meeting of council, that we will oppose the charter and do everything possible to prevent it from passing and would not enforce it if required to do so in the Cote Saint-Luc civil service. We must all speak out forcefully when basic rights are trampled. This is a despicable and offensive attack by the PQ government.

A time of joy and celebration of our real values

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Last night I joined Mayor Anthony Housefather and all eight members of City Council at the home of Rabbi Mendel and Sarah Raskin of Chabad Cote Saint-Luc. We sat in their Sukkah and enjoyed a lovely dinner in celebration of the holiday of Sukkot.

The Raskins established themselves in Cote Saint-Luc to build the Jewish Community within the Chabad movement.  It was their dream and vision to eventually build the Hechal Menachem Community Centre and Synagogue. The long held dream was shared by many in the community and after 25 years of planning and praying the centre finally opened two years ago.

Rabbi Raskin was elated, for the first time, to have the entire City Council in his Sukkah, along with many guests.  Consul General of Israel Joel Lion was also in attendance.

Mayor Housefather spoke passionately about Cote Saint-Luc’s total opposition to the proposed Charter of Quebec Values. “This city was built upon the values of respecting the Quebec Charter of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” the Mayor said. “We value the right of people to express themselves as they freely choose, to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours. Never will we subscribe to a divisive and discriminatory policy that would restrict the rights of our staff to wear a turban, hijab or kippah.”

Mayor Housefather, or Anthony as he prefers to be called, was widely applauded by all for his outstanding leadership and vision which has benefited not only residents in Hampstead (in his first years in municipal politics) and in Cote Saint-Luc, but throughout our provincial and federal ridings and indeed across Quebec.

It was my turn to speak and I reiterated my firm belief that Cote Saint-Luc is a big family, where residents help one another and that no matter their language or their religious affiliation, we are a close community, highly respectful of one another. We draw strength from our diversity and this makes us a stronger community. I used my own family’s experience of blending my wife’s heritage of Moroccan, Yemenite and Israeli ancestry with mine, from Romania, Russia, Austria and the U.S. Similar to so many other families in Cote Saint-Luc, we are all enriched by our collective history.

One councillor quipped that we should create a CSL Charter of Values that would be one of respect, tolerance and welcome our differences.

Several made mention that in past years Rabbi Raskin offered a prayer for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive by Hamas for over five years. This year, we celebrated his freedom, noting that he was in Montreal just days ago to share his story.  Talk about a time of joy and celebration!

The evening ended, as it always has, with dancing across two lanes of Cavendish Blvd. What a beautiful juxtaposition from a despicable Charter to the public celebration, one in which Consul General Lion described as a holiday that is to be shared with the whole world, one in which a Torah scroll representing each country on earth is paraded around.

Sarah Raskin thanked the council saying,”People do not realize that working for the public is a thankless job and takes hours of personal time in order to make things work. Our councillors are constantly thinking of how to enrich the quality of our lives.”

Thanks to Rabbi Mendel and Sarah Raskin for bringing overwhelming joy and deep compassion to the people of Cote Saint-Luc and beyond.

 

MP Cotler’s support of linguistic minorities must guide parliament

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I’m very pleased that our Member of Parliament, Irwin Cotler, has broken a long parliamentary silence and has come out to denounce Bill 14. Cotler is internationally recognized for his support of human rights of oppressed peoples around the globe. This is his opportunity, as he likely approaches the end of an illustrious political career, to take a bold stand in support of the majority of his constituents, indeed for all Quebecers who stand for human rights and equality of all Canadian citizens.

There’s a new bitterness around Bill 14, one that hasn’t been manifested since the Alliance Quebec days. The community is very, very displeased by the divisive, mean-spirited direction the PQ has taken us in.  We are also concerned by the continued silence of parliamentarians of all stripes in all legislatures in this country.

If this discrimination was happening to any other group in Canada there would be a loud (and even international) outcry. Idle no more – Anglo style?.

Why has it been acceptable to ignore and trample the rights of Quebec Anglos?

Thank you Professor Cotler. Now the challenge is yours to convince not only the Liberal Party of Canada but the Government of Canada to speak up in defence of Anglo Canadians in Quebec who have had their rights diminished for far too long.

Acceptable no more!

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