When you think of Montreal, you think of a melting pot of cultures and religions that somehow come together to create this mock United Nations city that boasts its international reputation for multiculturalism, and the best part is that it all works. Local montrealers will laugh at the idea of having had a meal in an authentic Indian restaurant and then caught a Chinese movie at the International Film Festival or a performance by an artist from Africa at the Jazz Festival. Tourists are left amazed by the way all these cultures coexist in the city; we embrace the diversity rather than push one another away because of it.
While all of this is something to be commended on as Montrealers, we also have a reputation for speaking out when we don’t like something in the government, we are no pushover in the eyes of our government. Recently, the Charte Des Valeurs Quebecois has been said to need a bit of tweaking and rewriting as Premier Pauline Marois discusses the bill that would ban all ostentatious religious symbols from the public sector. In the hopes of neutralizing the services that are available to us, she feels that openly practicing your religion has no place in our hospitals, schools and government institutions.
As her campaign began in the hopes that it would raise support for this sudden stomp on Québécois people’s right to practice their religion without fear or repercussion, protestors took to the streets to voice their anger towards it. People from all walks of life came out last Saturday to show their discontent for the charter that would cause many of them to lose their jobs if they refused to remove their religious symbols and many more protests have been organized for the coming days.
The importance of this protest in the history of Montreal is primordial as it did something which none of the other protests ever did; it brought us all together under one demand. This protest was not just for a certain age group, a certain religion or a certain culture, it was for all Montrealers who felt that the government was overstepping their bounds in terms of dictating what can and cannot be done. Quebecois, Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Anglophone, Francophone, old and young all came together for one cause; to defend our rights to practice our religion, to live free and safe in the city we called our home the day we immigrated to it.
Protests will always be a part of the Montreal scene, so much so that we’ve learnt to maneuver our way around the city when we hear the distant chants of angry, yet peaceful, mobs fighting for the rights of people locally or internationally. The hope is that this protest will be different though, that because the melting pot of cultures has solidified into one entity, we will be effective enough and strong enough to defend the rights of our fellow Quebecois no matter what religion they practice.