Janette Bertrand warns ‘rich McGill students’ threaten Quebec women's rights
Melanie Marquis, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, March 30, 2014 2:30PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 31, 2014 6:30PM EDT
LAVAL – Quebec icon Janette Bertrand believes that a “danger” is creeping up on Quebec society -- “fundamentalists” who are “chipping away” at rights and threatening gender equality, and we’re better off preventing it than dealing with it case-by-case, she said.
The 89-year-old author and activist was the guest of honour at a “secular brunch” which took place Sunday morning in the Laval riding of Mille Iles.
Running for the PQ in that riding is Djemila Benhabib, a staunch anti-Islamist with Algerian roots who also supports the charter.
Bertrand explained that she felt compelled to speak up in favour of the proposed Charter of Values after watching the leaders’ debate Thursday night.
The co-founder of the pro-charter group “Les Janette” used an example to demonstrate the need, she says, to have this legislation, which includes a framework on how to deal with reasonable accommodation requests.
She told a story about a time when two men arrived at the pool at her Montreal apartment building, where she does aquafit classes.
She said the men were upset at the of the sight of two women in the water.
"Let us then imagine those men go see the owner, who is happy to have rich McGill students at this pool and agrees to have a day (where women aren’t allowed), she continued.
“And then in a few months, only they can use the pool. Well that's it, the chipping away at rights that's we’re scared of and that's what will happen if there is no charter,” Bertrand said.
The minister overseeing the charter, Bernard Drainville, was also on hand at the brunch and reiterated his message that voters can forget about the charter if they don’t vote in a PQ majority.
He also made a comparison between Bill 60, the charter, and Bill 101, drawing a parallel between the decision of Quebecers 40 years ago to “give themselves a language” and the decision they should make on election day with the charter.
Bertrand was one of the big guns rolled out by Pauline Marois in Laval on the day advancing polling began.
Sunday was the second time in as many days that Bertrand was publicly campaigning for the Parti Quebecois. The day before, she took part in a PQ rally in Montreal.
When asked later in the day whether Bertrand’s comments constituted fear mongering, Marois refuted that idea, choosing instead to chide previous Liberal governments for their perceived inaction on reasonable accommodation issues.
“I am very proud to have Mrs. Bertrand on my side,” she said, commending Bertrand’s efforts in fighting for gender equality.
Marois wouldn’t say, however, whether she agreed with the sentiments put forth by her guest of honour, and did not distance herself from Bertrand’s comments.
She did concede that fundamentalism is not eating away at Quebecers' rights, but added that's no reason not to try and prevent it with the charter, which she said will act as a barrier against fundamentalism.
The Premier hopes to outdo her Liberal opponent, Philippe Couillard, who supplied the PQ with ammunition of late, making controversial remarks on the language of work in the province’s businesses and with his shaky stance on secularism.
The Liberal leader was grilled on a similar issue during last Thursday's debate.
Coalition Avenir Quebec party head Francois Legault peppered Couillard with questions about whether a Quebec police officer should be allowed to wear a hijab.
Couillard didn't take a clear position and said he wouldn't speculate since the specific situation hasn't come up in Quebec.
The CAQ is also in favour of a secular charter, though it doesn't go as far. He said Bertrand's comments represent a fear many Quebecers have but she chose the wrong words to express it.
The PQ has put the focus on identity issues like language and the values charter in recent days.
Both were expected to be significant issues during the campaign, but originally took a back seat sovereignty after star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau and Marois discussed the possibility of an independent Quebec.
The proposed charter has been highly controversial but polls suggest it's favoured by a majority of francophones, a key voting group in the April 7 election.
-- with files from CTV Montreal