QUEBEC MAYOR GETS AROUND PRAYER BAN.
Recites French O Canada at council meeting
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.