As Quebec enters another chapter in the debate over the government’s proposed values charter, a former Liberal cabinet minister and interfaith dialogue pioneer pleads for the province not to regress to the intolerance of its past. Ninety-year-old Victor Goldbloom appears in one of two short French-language videos posted earlier this month on YouTube by Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal (CJDM). Over his long life, Goldbloom says he has seen Quebec evolve to “become [an] open and generous and welcoming” society from one of “barriers, constraints and discrimination.”

“I would not want to return to the years of constraint that I knew during my youth,” he states. The video, titled Etre québécois, qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? (What does it mean to be Québécois?) is a companion to the CJDM’s 3-1/2-minute video Nous sommes québécois, which features individuals representing a variety of origins, religions and ages affirming their Quebec identity and belief that fundamental freedoms are a cornerstone of Quebec society. Public hearings on Bill 60, the proposed charter, were slated to begin Jan. 14. Goldbloom, a doctor by profession, was the first Jewish Quebec cabinet minister in the 1970s and the federal Commissioner of Official Languages in the 1990s.

He was among the founders of CJDM in 1971 and was president of Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec region. In answer to the video title’s question, Goldbloom quotes the late René Lévesque as saying, “essentially, ‘whoever wants to be a Quebecer is one.’” The Parti Québécois founder and leader of its first government, who died in 1987, is today revered by many as the spiritual father of the sovereigntist movement. “I am Victor Goldbloom. I am of the Jewish faith. I am Québécois,” he concludes.

The longer video opens with a reciting of the individual liberties protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, including that of conscience, religion, opinion and expression. Fifteen people with names as diverse as Hersimar Singh, Fa Xiang, Shaheen Ashraf, Avrum Dunsky and Marie-Claude Tremblay introduce themselves as “the voices and faces” of Quebecers. They include a doctor, professor, entrepreneur, artist, student and housewife with faiths ranging from Muslim and Buddhist to Jewish and Baptist, even agnostic and atheist. To them, Quebec values are respect, inclusiveness, and justice.

The videos were posted just before Christmas, around the same time the PQ released a pamphlet to members called Project de loi 60: Charte des valeurs/Des réponses aux questions de votre famille pour les partys des fétes! (Bill 60: charter of values/ Answers to your family’s questions during the holiday parties!). It was intended as a handbook on how to answer troublesome points raised by skeptical relatives about the bill, which was tabled in November. By Jan. 7 when the CJDM videos were officially launched – one week before the start of the public hearings – “Nous sommes québécois” had had 2,100 views and the Goldbloom followup more than 1,600. In its brief to the National Assembly committee conducting the Bill 60 hearings, CJDM calls for “a Quebec that is open and welcoming and where Quebecers are free to live their spirituality, whatever form it may take, in their own way.” It expresses concern that the government, in its effort to ensure the religious neutrality of the state, is “trying to silence religions and make them invisible.” CJDM emphasizes that religion should remain an important part of the lives of Quebecers, “inspiring them to work toward peace, social justice and openness towards others.

“These are positive values that should be welcomed in public life, not confined to the private sphere.” CJDM agrees with state neutrality and that employees representing public authority “should set aside [their] religious beliefs in carrying out [their] functions,” but it insists that “neutrality and objectivity are in the heart and mind, and in the training received, and not in clothing or religious symbols.”

The CJDM committee that was responsible for preparing the videos consisted of Catherive Jarvis and Ana Carina Fratta of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Rev. Diane Rollert of the Unitarian Church of Montreal, Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, Catherine Cherry of the Catholic Church, and the Anglican Rev. Patricia Kirkpatrick. “CJDM wishes to promote the idea that we can live together in harmony and that we can equally celebrate our diversity,” Jarvis commented. “Quebec has a rich history, and we are all part of it. It is this spirit that we are trying to capture in the videos and bring to the forefront on the eve of the committee meetings.”

By The Canadian Jewish News

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