Chicoutimi, Que., mosque vandalized as debate over religious symbols heats up

A mosque in Quebec's Saguenay region was sprayed with what appears to be pig's blood.
It's impossible to prove a direct link between the vandalism directed against a mosque in Chicoutimi, Que., and the provincial government's plan to introduce a charter of Quebec values that would outlaw the wearing of religious symbols by public-sector employees.

But it's hard not to make the connection after days of heated debate over the Parti Quebecois' aim of embedding secularist culture through legislation.

The attack took place over the weekend, when someone sprayed what was claimed to be pig's blood on the entrance to the mosque, located in a nondescript building.

According to CBC News, the anonymous vandal left a letter condemning Islam and warning Muslims to "assimilate or go home."

“This mosque has been baptized with fresh pig's blood from Quebec,” said the letter, a copy of which was sent to the local Radio Canada outlet.

[ Related: Vandals splatter mosque in Quebec with possible pig blood ]

The mosque's director played down the incident, though police called it a "heinous act," CBC News said.

Chicoutimi is in the heart of Quebec's Saguenay region, a PQ stronghold. It's not as diverse as larger urban areas such as Montreal. Its roughly 158,000 residents are 99 per cent francophone and overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, with only a handful of Muslims and other minorities, according to 2011 census data compiled by Statistics Canada.

Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay also condemned the vandalism as the isolated act of "fanatics," which doesn't represent the region's views.

But once the government tables its proposed legislation, the debate over Quebec values will trigger "many things like that," he told CBC News. "It can be dangerous."

There's no question things will get heated as the PQ tries to sell the idea that using law to suppress individual displays of religiosity, such as crucifixes and religious head coverings, in government workplaces will somehow lead Quebecers to more deeply embrace the province's secularist values.

Sovereigntists have never been at ease with official multiculturalism, which they see as a threat to Quebec's francophone identity.

Quebec nationalists take a more U.S.-style assimilationist approach. The issue of reasonable accommodation of minorities has flared for years. Apparently the PQ now will extend legal protection beyond the French language, to cover distinct Quebec "values," such as secularism.

A poll released over the holiday weekend suggests the government's policy is resonating with many Quebecers, the Montreal Gazette reported.

The Leger Marketing survey done for Le Devoir late last week found Premier Pauline Marois' PQ gained five percentage points to 32 per cent, though it still lagged behind the Liberals, who were at 36 per cent.

And almost one in two of the survey respondents preferred the PQ as the party to "defend and protect Quebec culture and values," outpacing the Liberals 47 per cent to 16 per cent.

Although all the details of the legislation haven't been revealed, Marois told a PQ gathering Sunday she's confident it will reflect Quebec values.

"It will become, I'm certain, a strong uniting element between Quebecers," Marois said, according to The Canadian Press.

"We're moving forward in the name of all the women, all the men, who chose Quebec for our culture, for our freedom and for our diversity."

[ Related: Unwelcome by PQ Values Charter? Come to Calgary: Mayor ]

Even without the new charter, the PQ government isn't afraid to flex its values muscle.

A Muslim conference scheduled for Montreal next weekend has been cancelled, apparently because the government didn't like some of the speakers, CTV News reported.

Officials reportedly objected to some of the speakers' conservative views on women, CTV News said. Quebec Women's Affairs Minister Agnes Maltais wrote to her federal counterpart, Kelly Leich, earlier this month in what appears to be an attempt to have the four men from France barred.

She asked Leich to "take the measures necessary to avoid propagation of dialogue unacceptable to Quebec women," CTV News said.

The federal government was still looking into the matter when it was announced that the convention centre hosting the conference had cancelled it out of security concerns because of a threatened protest during the event.