Montreal students’ video counters Quebec values charter citing Marois’ 1997 education policy

·National Affairs Contributor

The Parti Quebecois hoped to steer its stumbling re-election campaign back on track this week by refocusing on its proposed values charter but some Montreal high school students are skewering the controversial document, apparently using policy that Premier Pauline Marois herself supported in the past.

The charter enshrines secularism as a core principle and bans display of religious symbols and headgear by public servants, including teachers. It's popular among francophone voters, especially outside of Montreal and Quebec City. It drove the PQ's popularity into election-winning territory before the writ was dropped for the April 7 vote, and the party is hoping to bolster its collapsing poll numbers by refocusing on it.

But a YouTube video posted Tuesday by students at Westmount High School does a pretty efficient job of undermining the principles behind the charter.

[ Related: Charter to take centre stage in second half of Que election ]

The video, entitled "A Lesson for Premier Marois," which had more than 13,000 views by Wednesday afternoon, quotes anti-discrimination clauses of Quebec's own Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

Most damningly, it cites the Quebec Education Program, which was introduced by Marois in 1997 when she was the PQ government's education minister.

The program, according to the students, stresses the need to appreciate "the personal and cultural differences of others while ensuring that their own distinctiveness is respected.

"Schools must act as agents of social cohesion by helping students learn how to live together and by fostering a feeling of belonging to the community."

Schools are the ideal place to teach respect for others and accept their differences, "and to reject all forms of exclusion," the education policy states, according to the Westmount students.

The program document itself says this:

"Contact with ethnic and cultural diversity can make [students] realize that they are part of a community and help them to take their place in that community while affirming their own values in a spirit of respect for differences."

[ Related: Is Quebec's values charter the PQ's ticket to a majority? ]

The video was produced under the direction of history teacher Robert Green, who also posted it on YouTube. The video was proposed by students and school staff who took part in protests against the proposed charter when it was first introduced, he said.

Green told the Montreal Gazette the values charter flies in the face of Quebec and Canadian charter sections regarding discrimination and "is absolutely contrary to the values of a democratic society."

"It's contrary to Quebec's own curriculum, which is promoting the notion that Quebec's diversity is something to be valued," he said.

Grade 11 student Ariana Da Cunha, who appears in the video, said participating was important to her because the school has a diverse body of students and staff.

"It's not fair to take away the right to religious expression," she told the Gazette.

[ Related: Que Liberal leader challenges Marois to reveal personal wealth ]

Asked about the video, Marois said the values charter does not contradict the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Gazette reported. Marois said she respects religious freedom but "the government has to be neutral."

Former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe criticized production of the video. In a post on his blog, Duceppe questioned whether a public institution such as a school should intervene in an election campaign.

He called on the leaders of all the provincial parties to denounce the school's teachers and staff for the students' effort, pointing out there would have been an outcry if a school had come out in support of the secularism charter.

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