It was the showdown that wasn’t. Concordia University’s Graduate Students’ Association organized a debate about the highly-contested Charter of Values proposed by the Parti Québécois, which included Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville. The minister backed out the morning of, citing safety concerns.
With less than three hours before the debate in Montreal on Thursday morning (Nov. 28), Drainville announced his decision to pull out due to a planned demonstration by students denouncing the charter. In a statement released by the PQ, it cites that Concordia could not guarantee security for Drainville or attendees in the wake of a protest.
“We see that a group of people are threatening to disturb the debate instead of allowing us to have a democratic discussion,” said Drainville in the statement. “I sincerely regret this situation.”
However, the debate continued and so did the protest against the charter that consisted of approximately 10–15 students.
“We need to walk out on the street without being seen as others,” said protest organizer Christina Xydous, from Quebec Public Interest Research Group.
Jaggi Singh, a well-known Montreal activist and organizer of the demonstration, denounced the charter entirely.
“I’m not saying Bernard Drainville is a bad person,” said Singh. “But he is complicit in racism.”
The debate turned into more of a discussion with Liberal MNA Kathleen Weil and Québec Solidaire’s André Frappier, who both mocked Drainville and the PQ’s absence to discuss a bill proposed by them.
Frappier called Drainville’s absence “disappointing” while Weil said that she was sure the debate would still be peaceful if Drainville was present. The discussion lasted about two hours; both Weil and Frappier explained why they could not support Bill 60. Frappier said while his party supports secularism and sovereignty, the proposed legislation isn’t appropriate.
“What does that even mean, Quebec values?” asked Frappier. “We are horrified to see a process like this that puts others aside.”
Weil echoed the statements, explaining that Bill 60 will fail in court and called it “inapplicable.”
“It’s too disruptive for Quebec society to be living this debate,” said Weil. “You don’t legislate because people are fed up — there has to be a real problem.”
Following the debate, students asked questions regarding the legislation, though some of them couldn’t be answered by Weil or Frappier since the bill was proposed by the PQ.
Drainville has visited francophone universities such as Université Laval in Quebec City to defend the PQ’s charter over the last few months. The debate at Concordia passed without incident.
The Charter of Values, known as Bill 60, aims to promote secularism in the public sector by prohibiting civil servants from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols and limiting time off based on religious grounds. It also seeks to amend Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms by outlining measures for reasonable accommodations. The PQ announced Bill 60 in early September and it has garnered a mixture of opposition and support.