Thousands attended an anti-racism protest in downtown Montreal Sunday afternoon, expressing anger at proposals by the incoming Coalition Avenir Québec government that they say would affect immigrants and religious minorities in the province.
Many see the plans as racist and xenophobic.
“We are concerned about the CAQ election because they have been trying to divide Quebecers into real Quebecers and immigrants,” said Scott Weinstein of the Independent Jewish Voices, one of several groups at the demonstration.
After an historic win in last week’s provincial election, party leader Francois Legault reiterated plans to slash immigration by 20 per cent. He also wants to impose a values and French language test for immigrants, the failure of which would leave them open to deportation.
Kheira Megdoud, a Muslim woman at the protest who wears a hijab, is fed up.
“Mr. Legault, he wanted to be elected and he knew that some Quebecers [are] fed up with immigration.”
But one of the party’s top priorities is a promised secularism charter. It would ban civil servants in positions of authority from wearing visible religious items like head scarves. Affected professions would include police officers, teachers and judges.
“We left our country many years ago to come build and be a part of this country, and build,” fumed Megdoud, who is worried for teachers who would be affected. “We have the right to work and be part of this country.”
In response to criticism that such a plan would run afoul of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Legault vowed to invoke the notwithstanding clause.
“We’re gonna fight it,” said Marlihan lopez, one of the protesters. “We’re gonna fight it to the end.”
These proposals, protesters say, set a tone that creates division and encourages racist groups to target minorities. On Tuesday, a tweet by France’s far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, supporting the party on its proposals, forced Legault to reject any association with her. Weinstein wasn’t impressed.
“The problem with his response,” Weinstein said, “is he says he rejects it but nothing has changed in terms of his policies.”
The protesters vow to do everything they can to prevent Legault from implementing his plans and this, they say, is just the start.
“Being on the street is just an afternoon of solidarity,” Weinstein told Global News. “The real work comes in our workplaces and in our communities.”