Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette, October 8, 2018
Many wore the Muslim hijab and a handful wore the Jewish kippah while dozens pushed strollers and a couple of marching bands played as close to 3,000 people took to the streets of downtown Montreal on Sunday afternoon to protest racism.
Although the event had been planned before the Oct. 1 election of François Legault and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) and was intended as a general protest against systemic racism, speakers criticized the premier-designate and his party for what they said were racist policies.
Speakers were especially critical of Legault’s decision, announced shortly after his election, to follow through on a campaign promise to ban the wearing of religious symbols by civil servants in positions of authority, including teachers, judges and police officers. If they refuse, they will have to transfer to other jobs or leave the civil services, CAQ MNA Geneviève Guilbault, a spokesperson for the transition to government, told reporters last week.
As she addressed demonstrators, Marlihan Lopez, vice-president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), said although many women representing the CAQ were elected, “they represent racist philosophies.”
The CAQ has also announced plans to reduce immigration by 20 per cent and to oblige new immigrants who do not pass mandatory French and “Quebec values” tests to leave. And Legault has said he would use the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights, which allows governments to override enshrined rights, to implement the proposed ban on religious symbols.
These plans amount to a withdrawal of rights, Safa Chebbi of the group Alternatives, told Sunday’s demonstrators. “Politics using the race card to stigmatize some groups are a real danger to our society,” she said.
Dozens at the demonstration, which began at Place Émilie-Gamelin and snaked west along René Lévesque Blvd. to Peel St., up Peel and east along Ste-Catherine St. back to the St-Laurent métro, carried banners and placards featuring such slogans as “You are sowing hate” and “Stop telling us to take off our clothes.”
One woman wearing a broad-brimmed hat carried a placard reading: “Not only will I keep my veil but I will put on my hat, M. Legault, to fight for my rights.”
Said Lopez of the FFQ: “We are here to resist policies that put already vulnerable people in vulnerable situations.”
As they walked, demonstrators chanted “so-so-so-solidarité” and “Say it loud, say it clear: Immigrants are welcome here.”
Also heard was “La Meute raciste, Legault complice.”
La Meute, a nationalist group considered by many to be on the far-right spectrum, said in September its manifesto was inspired by the CAQ platform. Legault responded he would prefer the group not like him. “I don’t like La Meute’s discourse. It’s borderline racism,” he said.