MONTREAL — A group of Sikhs was turned away from the Quebec legislature for carrying ceremonial daggers in an incident Tuesday that served as a flashpoint in the province’s emotional debate about multiculturalism.
The opposition Parti Quebecois applauded the decision by security guards to refuse entry to the kirpan-carrying Sikhs, with one prominent Pequiste declaring, "Multiculturalism is not a Quebec value."
Four members of the World Sikh Organization of Canada had intended to make a statement about religious tolerance at legislative hearings inside the national assembly.
Instead, the four of them walked away and found themselves at the centre of a complex, long-simmering dispute involving the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its impact on Quebec.
On one side, the province’s Liberal government bit its lip and refused to take a position on what had happened. On the other, the PQ applauded the security guards and blamed the Sikhs.
It was a single snapshot of Quebec’s ongoing reasonable-accommodations debate, with the government facing a familiar accusation from its more nationalist opponents of weak-kneed buckling to minority pressure.
The PQ has demanded the government go further with its Bill 94, which would deny government services to Muslim women wearing face-coverings. It used Tuesday’s incident to illustrate its case the bill should be broadened to include kirpans.
The Pequistes also cited the brouhaha as a reminder that Quebec has never endorsed the 1982 Canadian Constitution, and the charter.
That charter — specifically designed to protect minorities — has often been used by Quebec Anglos in court cases to overturn the province’s language laws; it was also used in one famous case to defend the rights of kirpan-wearing Sikhs.
Louise Beaudoin, the PQ’s designated critic for secularism, noted that the province’s politicians have never subscribed to the charter vision — which critics here have often described as a threat to Quebec’s culture. Quebec is the only province that has never supported the Constitution.
"Multiculturalism is not a Quebec value," Beaudoin told reporters.
"It may be a Canadian one — but it’s not a Quebec one. Even for the (Quebec) Liberal party, because they’re talking about interculturalism and it’s supposed to not be the same thing.
"And we haven’t signed the Constitution of Canada — neither the Parti Quebecois, nor the Liberal party.
"Multiculturalism is not a Quebec value,"