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'We will not apologize for celebrating Christmas': Quebec politicians unite to defend holiday

Christmas lights and decorations are seen in the old historic Quartier Petit Champlain in Quebec City Wednesday, December 21, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot Christmas lights and decorations are seen in the old historic Quartier Petit Champlain in Quebec City Wednesday, December 21, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
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The national assembly in Quebec City unanimously adopted a motion on Wednesday to defend Christmas.

Quebec elected officials went against the position of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which judged that the holiday constitutes systemic religious discrimination.

However, its Quebec counterpart had already expressed an opinion on the discriminatory effect of these festivities.

"Honestly, we will continue to celebrate Christmas, and then we will not apologize for celebrating Christmas in Quebec," said Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, in a press scrum.

In its "Reflection Paper on Religious Intolerance," the commission argues that "discrimination against religious minorities in Canada is rooted in Canada's history of colonialism. This history manifests itself today in systemic religious discrimination. An obvious example is that of public holidays in Canada."

The Minister responsible for the Fight against Racism, Christopher Skeete, tabled a motion to protest these assertions, jointly with the Liberal opposition, the Parti Québécois as well as the two independent deputies, but without Québec Solidaire.

The 109 elected officials present in the Salon Bleu after question period, however, voted for the motion without abstention.

The wording "denounces the comments of the Canadian Human Rights Commission."

The motion rejects "any polarization around unifying events which have been part of Quebec heritage for several generations."

Finally, the motion invites "all Quebecers to unite during this approaching Christmas period."

The elected officials highlighted the motion's adoption with ostentatious rounds of applause.

The government's deputy parliamentary leader, Mathieu Lévesque, then asked that a copy of the motion be sent to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the federal government, the House of Commons and also to "Santa Claus, to the North Pole," he concluded.

"It's a celebration that is shared," said Jolin-Barrette after in the press scrum.

"People come from all over Quebec, we are a welcoming land, and I think it is important to say that it is part of Quebec culture and to invite everyone to celebrate Christmas if they wish," he continued. "Honestly, to be told by the Canadian Rights Commission that Christmas is discriminatory, there are limits."

The Commission on Human Rights and Youth Rights of Quebec (CDPDJ) used an argument similar to that of its federal equivalent on the issue of reasonable accommodation.

It ruled that "the civic calendar is similar to common operating standards of neutral appearance which can still have a discriminatory effect on an individual or on certain categories of individuals," the Virtual Guide on the processing of an accommodation request reads.

The calendar modelled on Catholic holidays "will potentially have a detrimental effect on people belonging to minority religious groups since the observance of their own religious holidays is not provided for," it concludes.

"The CDPDJ does not associate itself with the comments of the Canadian Commission as they were reported by the media," spokesperson Geneviève Dorais-Beauregard clarified in an email on Wednesday. "This passage from the guide aims to explain that in an employment context, the employer may have to accommodate an employee so that he can have time off during a religious holiday of his own religion. We are talking about a potentially discriminatory effect, which is different from saying that the calendar or the holidays are discriminatory. We qualified the potential effect in the context of accommodation. We have not qualified the holiday or the calendar."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Nov. 29, 2023. 

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