On August 19th, Bernard Drainville, Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, welcomed a delegation of Jewish leaders, where he presented the general guidelines of the government’s planned Charter of Quebec Values. The delegation was headed by Eric Maldoff, Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – Quebec (CIJA-Quebec), David Cape, President of Federation CJA, Dr. Victor Goldbloom (CIJA-Quebec), Rabbi Reuben Poupko (CIJA-Quebec) and Jason Caron (CIJA-Quebec), as well as senior Federation CJA and CIJA-Quebec professionals.
Minister Drainville opened the meeting with a presentation on the general principles of the government’s proposals to legislate the secular nature of Quebec’s public institutions and regulate the practice of religious accommodation.
The presentation was followed by a discussion with the Jewish community delegation. Federation CJA President David Cape first gave an overview of Quebec’s Jewish community, underlining the fact that ours is a historical community which has contributed and continues to contribute profoundly to the flourishing of Quebec. Mr. Cape also offered a history of Federation CJA and its central role in Jewish communal life.
CIJA-Quebec Chair Eric Maldoff then expressed the community’s strong opposition to the government’s most problematic proposal, restricting public and parapublic employees from wearing religious symbols. Mr. Maldoff stated that “while the Jewish community supports the principle of state neutrality in religious matters, banning religious symbols from the public and parapublic sectors goes too far”. He went on to say that a debate on this issue would be divisive and counter-productive.
Dr. Victor Goldbloom, former chair of the Quebec Jewish Congress (CIJA-Quebec’s predecessor) at the time of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, reiterated the community’s opposition to restrictions on the wearing of religious symbols in the public sector. “We are convinced that religious neutrality does not reside in one’s clothing but in one’s mind. Wearing a kippa or a Star of David is a matter of personal choice and does not compromise one’s impartiality”, he told Minister Drainville.
By the meeting’s end, Minister Drainville expressed the wish to keep channels of communication open with the organized Jewish community’s representatives and agreed to meet again with CIJA-Quebec and Federation CJA after the government officially unveils the general outline of its Charter early next month.
CIJA-Quebec and Federation CJA officials will continue to meet with the government and the opposition parties to present the Jewish community’s position on the place of religion in the public sphere.