Martin C. Barry
Bill 21, the controversial legislation passed by the province’s Coalition Avenir Québec government banning the display of religious symbols, came up as an issue during a seminar and workshop on the impact of racism on cultural minorities held by the Himalaya Seniors at the William Hingston centre on July 5.
“Being racially abused is something no one ever wants to fall victim of, considering how it could give rise to anxiety, depression and feeling unsafe,” said Ruaid Usmani, the first of more than a half-dozen speakers.
Criticizing Bill 21
“The Himalaya Seniors of Quebec wants to eradicate such actions – and especially right now considering how the Quebec government has internalized discrimination by passing Bill 21, which apparently intends to unite the Quebec government by taking away the religious freedom of people who want to practice their religion in a peaceful manner.”
Usmani was the recipient of the Borough of Villeray/St-Michel/Parc Extension’s Volunteer of the Year award in 2018, in the 13-17 years of age category for his volunteerism with the Himalaya Seniors.
Graham Carpenter, former political attaché to former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and a candidate in Montreal municipal elections, also alluded to Bill 21 in some of his remarks. “Nobody in a society likes to see themselves as an oppressor,” he said.
Muslim women impacted
“We like to think that we are there to promote human rights for all. And in a society where today it is mostly women, it is our Muslim sisters that are bearing the biggest brunt of Bill 21, they are bearing the brunt of racism and treatments of otherness in our society. And it hurts. It hurts us all.
“But it was the Italians before it was Muslim women,” he continued. “And the Jewish population that came to escape Fascism in Europe. And before that it was the Irish population that came to escape the famine. And we could all the way back to the discrimination that was held against and the way the First Nations were treated when my ancestors came to this land.”
Discrimination towards men
Carpenter maintained that former Quebec Premier René Lévesque, who introduced the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in the mid-1970s, would reject Bill 21 were he still alive today. “This Bill 21 is not in keeping with our charter – it is not in keeping with the values of this place,” he said.
In a counterpoint to discrimination practiced against women, Muhammad Zafer maintained that men too are sometimes discriminated against. He recounted a personal experience when he was just ten years old and a woman more than 30 years of age molested him sexually.
Raising his voice for men
He said his parents didn’t take the incident very seriously. He also noted that in certain countries, men who commit sexual offences can be punished with the death penalty. “People think the men always do crimes women cannot do,” he said. “So this is a kind of discrimination. Most of the time voices are being raised for women. I just wanted to raise a voice for men.”
Park Extension city councillor Mary Deros recounted an incident involving some men from the Ghanian community that she said illustrated discrimination. According to Deros, the men were gathered outside their social club on Jarry St. when a police cruiser passed by and the patrolling officer felt threatened by the gathering and switched on his dome flasher.
When the Ghanian men denied any wrongdoing, the policeman called for backup, said Deros, without understanding the cultural habits of Ghanians who sometimes gather in groups to socialize in public places. “It’s a question of educating people,” she said, while adding that the Ghanians also needed to understand the position of the police officer who felt threatened because he was greatly outnumbered.
VSP borough mayor Giuliana Fumagalli pointed out that everyone in Park Extension manages somehow to harmonize all the district’s languages and cultures. “We have something in particular in Park Ex – and I think it’s respect – and I think I’ll repeat it until the cows come home,” she said.
“We are actually all living as neighbours and have a profound respect for each other and for the cultures we have. It’s not always easy to have all the language and culture barriers that we have. But with time we are able to.”