Que­bec mayor skirts prayer ban

Re­cites French O Canada at coun­cil meet­ing

Edmonton Journal - - NEWS - Graeme Hamil­ton Na­tional Post ghamil­ton@na­tion­al­post.com Twit­ter.com/gray­hamil­ton

MON­TREAL • A Que­bec mayor has found a novel way around a Supreme Court rul­ing for­bid­ding prayers at mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil meet­ings — read­ing the na­tional an­them.

In its French ver­sion, O Canada is loaded with Chris­tian im­agery. Its first verse hails a Canada car­ry­ing the cross in its arms and in­vokes “val­our steeped in faith.” A later, sel­dom-sung verse de­clares, “Christ is king.”

On Mon­day, Loui­seville Mayor Yvon De­shaies opened the monthly coun­cil meet­ing by ask­ing peo­ple to stand as he re­cited an abridged ver­sion of the an­them, which in­cluded the lines about the cross and faith as well as a French trans­la­tion of “God keep our land glo­ri­ous and free,” from the English O Canada.

De­shaies then hung a cru­ci­fix on the wall of the com­mu­nity cen­tre where the meet­ing was held, draw­ing ap­plause from most of the roughly 70 peo­ple in at­ten­dance

In an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day, he said his ac­tions were in response to news about re­li­gious mi­nori­ties seek­ing to work as po­lice of­fi­cers in Que­bec while wear­ing such sym­bols as the hi­jab and tur­ban. “Where are we headed?” he asked.

Mayor since 2013, he said a prayer was read be­fore Loui­seville coun­cil meet­ings un­til the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 on a case in­volv­ing a Chris­tian prayer and sym­bols used by Sague­nay city coun­cil.

The court ruled against the prayer, say­ing coun­cil meet­ings must be “neu­tral pub­lic space free from co­er­cion, pres­sure and judg­ment on the part of pub­lic au­thor­i­ties in mat­ters of spir­i­tu­al­ity.” But it did not oblige Sague­nay to re­move a cru­ci­fix and statue of Je­sus with a glow­ing red heart, declar­ing them his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­facts.

De­shaies said he was in­spired in part by the ex­am­ple of Hérouxville. The town about 45 kilo­me­tres away adopted a con­tro­ver­sial “code of life” in 2007 declar­ing, among other things, that it was for­bid­den to stone women and that face-cover­ings were only al­lowed at Hal­loween.

“I am not against any­one, but if they take away our prayer, take this and that, that is too much,” De­shaies said. A non-Chris­tian who might take of­fence at the read­ing at the open­ing of the meet­ing can sim­ply “ar­rive 10 min­utes later if he isn’t happy,” he said.

But there will be no get­ting around the cru­ci­fix on the wall. “That is our cul­ture, whether you are for or against,” De­shaies said.

Loui­seville, about 100 kilo­me­tres north­east of Mon­treal, prides it­self as the “land of buck­wheat,” with an an­nual fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing buck­wheat crepes. But De­shaies noted it is also the place of birth of the mu­si­cian Ernest Gagnon, who by some ac­counts played a small part in Cal­ixa Laval­lée’s com­po­si­tion of O Canada.

Michel Thibeault, a long­time Loui­seville res­i­dent, said re­gard­less of the town’s con­nec­tion to the com­po­si­tion of O Canada, he does not think the mayor’s ac­tions re­spect the spirit of the Supreme Court rul­ing.

“It’s not the na­tional an­them (that is be­ing read),” he said. “It’s a part of the na­tional an­them trans­formed into a prayer.”

He said the move is hurt­ful not just to ad­her­ents of other re­li­gions but also to peo­ple who have suf­fered abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy.

“Que­bec and its mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have de­cided his­tor­i­cally to live in a sec­u­lar state,” he said. “Im­pos­ing re­li­gious sym­bols in a pub­lic meet­ing is to im­pose one re­li­gion over an­other on the peo­ple present.”

He ac­knowl­edges that the ma­jor­ity of Loui­seville res­i­dents sup­port the mayor, but said a few are talk­ing about tak­ing the mat­ter to court.

De­shaies said he is con­fi­dent the na­tional an­them would with­stand a court chal­lenge.

“If they tell me to stop, they will have to stop singing O Canada from ocean to ocean,” he said.

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