Charter of Quebec Values Would Send Canada Backward as a Nation

Back in September I submitted an Opinion Editorial to the Globe and Mail in reaction to Charter of Quebec Values. You might recall this issue made significant headlines back then and continues to be debated around the country.

Now that we have this great new tool called #MindVine, I thought I would share it with you all now.

Submitted to the Globe and Mail on Friday September 27, 2013

Our country rarely surprises me.

I have witnessed the movement for change at different points of my life and career and I am proud of the many victories, large and small, that have shaped and molded Canada into the nation it is today. There is never a day that I am not thankful that I was born and continue to live in Canada.

Influencing cultural views on issues such as gender equality, gay rights and religious freedom is no easy task. Over the years, it has taken considerable time for Canadians to understand these issues before offering acceptance and, ultimately, weaving these rights into the fabric of our country.

But, as a nation, we did. Canada needed time to understand, but ultimately stepped up to the plate and established a culture where everyone is genuinely welcomed. We are internationally known for our compassion, tolerance and acceptance. It’s who we are as Canadians.

As a leader in healthcare for the last number of years, I have been privileged to support our country’s determination to establish and maintain culturally competent environments. Within our organization, processes are in place to ensure employees, volunteers, patients and families are celebrated for who they are and treated with respect.

Our leadership team challenges our people to explore new opportunities to eliminate cultural barriers and continually nurture an environment of acceptance. However, our organization is not alone in this area. Our colleagues in the public and private sectors are equally inspired to raise the bar in terms of cultural competence.

This is why the mere mention of the proposed Charter of Quebec Values makes me uncomfortable. The proposal by the Parti Quebecois to ban the wearing of religious symbols, such as crucifix, kippah, turban or hijab, by government employees would impact everyone from judges to day care workers.

The wearing of religious symbols tells a story. It allows people to share a piece of their own personal history and builds awareness within their own environment. In mental health we have taken a similar approach by encouraging patients to tell their story so others will connect with them and be able to see the person and not just the mental illness. Eliminating individuality and personal uniqueness breeds ignorance and feeds stigma.

In recent weeks Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi made headlines by commenting on the proposed bill and opening the door for unhappy Quebec employees to relocate to the Alberta city. Closer to home, Lakeridge Health in Oshawa saw a potential recruiting opportunity amidst the controversial topic and attracted attention with an inspiring advertisement intended for the province’s healthcare professionals.

I commend Mayor Nenshi and Lakeridge Health for shedding light on this matter by joining the conversation with unique perspectives. Indeed, I believe all Canadians must understand the issues raised by this charter.

Following years of education to build understanding and awareness, this bill has the potential to send us backward as a nation. Canada is the country it is today because we accept everyone and view new encounters or experiences as an opportunity to learn and improve. Sitting back as an observer while a significant section of our country is threatened by a law that flies in the face of inclusion and respect is unacceptable. As Canadians, we should be outraged and encouraging our Quebec brothers and sisters to end this erosion of rights and promote inclusivity and celebrate the value diversity adds to our country.

This bill originated out of Quebec, but it is not a Quebec issue. It is a national issue that all Canadians should take interest in as it has the potential to unfairly set our country back decades and tarnish our image as a nation.

Barbara Mildon, RN, PhD
Vice-President, Professional Practice, Human Resources, Research and Chief Nursing Executive
Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences