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Celine Dion performs on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City on Saturday, July 27, 2013. (Clément Allard/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Celine Dion performs on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City on Saturday, July 27, 2013. (Clément Allard/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

JACK JEDWAB

Dear Celine Dion: You’re wrong about the veil law Add to ...

Dear Celine,

My wife and I count ourselves amongst your millions of devoted fans across the planet. It is a true delight to listen to your angelic voice as you put out so many great tunes in both English and French. Not everyone is aware of the many humanitarian causes you support, which are a genuine source of inspiration. So, it was with great astonishment and much dismay that we read your mistaken and inadvisable comments about the Quebec government’s proposed Charter of Values.

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When interviewed in the latest edition of Maclean’s Magazine with regard to the Values Charter you say that: “… these women who practise the things they believe in have to adapt to our country. They have to not change our laws. Because you have a lot of Anglican or veiled women in a school – you can’t just take off the [Catholic] cross from the walls, or take down Christmas trees. If I go live in their country and have to be veiled, I will.”

You appear profoundly misinformed on this point as no one in the province is seriously asking to remove Christmas trees. As to the Crucifix – if indeed you’re referring to the one in the Quebec Parliament – the desire to move it elsewhere is not being led by Quebec’s religious minorities and is rather surprisingly likely to be proposed by the very government that is drafting the values charter.

Your confusion doesn’t stop there. You contend that “… it’s not about the veil – it’s beyond that. I’m not against what people wear but if you go to the hospital…you can’t just say my religion doesn’t permit me to see a woman or a male doctor.”

The situation you describe almost never arises in Quebec and is offered as an example by those more ardent proponents of the values charter that wish to whip up hysteria. Your reference to the veil (the full face cover) again suggests that you’re misinformed about the core issue of this divisive debate. The proposed Charter would deprive medical professionals that wear hijabs, keepas or turbans from their practice in public institutions. The same restriction would also apply to educators (including university professors), day care workers and many other individuals that serve the public.

It is in part for this reason that Amnesty International declared the Quebec charter of values as an important limit on fundamental rights. The Maclean’s reporter pointed this out to you but sadly it proved to no avail. If you follow the debate in Quebec you also need to know that the president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission described the proposed Charter as far from meeting the rights prescribed in our very own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our government dismissed this warning as less important than what the "majority" (of francophone Quebecers) have said in public opinion surveys about the values Charter.

To your credit, you correctly point out that: “If I’m going to see a doctor and he is gay, I’m not going to have a problem with that. It should not be an issue.” I only wish our minister of health agreed with you. Regrettably, on a widely watched Radio-Canada variety show, Minister Rejean Hebert said that “… I think these overt [religious] signs put a distance and can actually cause some problems in the relationship between the nurse, the doctor and the patient and this is what we want to avoid. I take the side of the user, the patient.” In most provinces and states in North America that comment would at the very least earned him a severe reprimand. Instead he received some enthusiastic applause from members of the audience.

Perhaps more worrisome is your statement that, “…[if] you are in Quebec and we have embraced you and opened our country for you to live in a better world, you have to adapt to our rules.” This echoes views expressed by some of the Values Charter’s advocates who give the impression that the people that will affected by such measures are newcomers to the country that refuse to abide by the rules. Note that many of the people affected by the Charter were born in the same province as you. By the way, it is the Quebec government and not members of the province's minorities that seek to change the so-called rules so as to introduce restrictions that would violate the very rights they previously considered guaranteed under the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Rights.

I hope you take the advice of this very loyal fan. Should you choose to get further involved in this issue be sure to get better informed. Otherwise you risk being exploited by politicians that regrettably care far too little about the impact of their harmful proposals on the place you and I call home.

Jack Jedwab is executive vice-President of the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration

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