Secular charter is 2013's 'Speak White,' says Montreal school board

The Lester B. Pearson School Board says the Parti Québécois’s proposed secular charter is the 2013 version of “Speak White,” a controversial Quebec poem.

The poem, written by Michèle Lalonde in 1968, speaks about intolerance toward French-speaking people in Canada.

The school board on Montreal’s West Island filed its written brief with the national assembly and its Commission on Institutions on Dec. 19, a day shy of the deadline for submission of briefs on the proposed secular charter.

The national assembly will begin its public hearings on Bill 60 in the new year.

The brief was signed by school board chairwoman Suanne Stein Day.

In it, she wrote, “We believe the proposed legislation is completely unnecessary and its basic premises unfounded. There is no identifiable problem that this legislation is looking to address.”

The school board joins the English Montreal School Board, Concordia University and a number of other Quebec institutions in formally opposing the charter. 

The commission hearings formally begin Jan. 14.

Read the Lester B. Pearson School Board letter to the Commission on Institutions here:

December 19, 2013

Mme Valérie Roy
Édifice Pamphile-Le May
1035, rue des Parlementaires
3e étage, Bureau 3.15
Québec (Quebec) G1A 1A3

Mme Roy,

Please accept this summary of our brief on behalf of the Lester B. Pearson School Board along with its submission to the Committee on Institutions.

Lester B. Pearson School Board is opposed to all the provisions of Bill 60.  We believe the proposed legislation is completely unnecessary and its basic premises unfounded. There is no identifiable problem that this legislation is looking to address.  We find the education sections and regulations of the proposed legislation to be overbearingly discriminatory and detrimental to the growth and development of our students in the public school system.

We contend the proposed articles within Bill 60 are the antithesis of the principles stated in our board’s mission and vision statement. The articles of Bill 60 are, in our opinion, fundamentally opposed to the daily environment and understanding we foster in our schools and centres and in our relations and partnerships with the communities we serve. Furthermore, the proposed restrictions on the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols would irreparably disturb the harmony and balance we have nurtured with our teachers, staff and students.

There is no possibility of our Board adopting a policy, as would be required by section 19 of the law if Bill 60 is adopted, that would be consistent with our own mission and characteristics and still be compliant with the law. We go further to state that this fear-mongering, hate-promoting bill goes against everything the English public school system and the Lester B. Pearson School Board believes in, stands for and teaches in our classrooms.  We believe in openness, inclusion and acceptance.  We believe that by teaching children about the differences and similarities between people of different religions, cultures and traditions we will enrich our students’ lives, not exert undue influences on them.  In fact, there is no evidence within our board and throughout our history of any such influences.
Section 40 of the bill slips in the term “primacy of the French language”.  This concept is not in line with the premise of this bill, the existing Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms or the values of non-francophone Quebecers.  If there is any doubt that the comments of the Italian Quebecer Marco Micone in his poem “Speak What”, a response to Michèle Lalonde’s “Speak White” poem, were untrue or fabricated and had no place in reality, the proposed bill clearly puts an end to that debate. It is not a stretch to say that Bill 60 is the “Speak White” of 2013 as if to say there is only one way to be a Quebecer and the “Speak White” of today means you have no right to manifest your cultural and religious beliefs in the public sphere. 

We also question how this bill ensures equality to women?  In the public school sector, where the number of women employed far exceeds the number of men, the bill ensures that those who want to follow their religious or cultural traditions will be forbidden to work.  Violence against women includes controlling what they can wear AND WHAT THEY CAN'T.

On behalf of the Lester B. Pearson School Board and its Council of Commissioners, we would be pleased to attend the public hearings relating to this consultation and answer any questions you may have.

Yours truly
Suanne Stein Day

cc.  Chairmen, English School Boards
       Quebec English School Board Association
       Lucie Charlebois, MNA, Soulanges
       Yvon Marcoux, MNA, Vaudreuil
       Geoffrey Kelley, MNA, Jacques Cartier
       Yolande James, MNA, Nelligan
       Pierre Marsan, MNA, Robert-Baldwin
       Francois Ouimet, MNA, Marquette
       Robert Poeti, MNA, Margeurite Bourgeoys
       Henri-Francois Gautrin, MNA, Verdun
       Philippe Couillard, MNA, Outremont

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