‘We are committed to providing a climate of tolerance’
By Doug Sweet
As debate swirls inside and outside Quebec about the provincial government’s proposed Charter of Values that would ban the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by public employees, McGill’s new Principal, Suzanne Fortier, has affirmed that the right of religious choice and cultural diversity are essential values for the McGill community.
In a statement released Tuesday morning, Fortier was clear that the proposed Charter, which would prohibit, for example, the wearing of Sikh turbans, “ostentatious” Christian crosses, Muslim hijabs or Jewish kippas by those employed by the province, including medical and teaching personnel, runs counter to McGill’s fundamental values. In speaking with members of the community, she said, it is clear that the proposed Charter is a cause for concern.
“The University must remain a place for the free and full exchange of ideas,” she said. “The proposal to prohibit our professors and staff from wearing visible religious symbols runs contrary to our principles. The wearing of such symbols in no way interferes with the religious and political neutrality of McGill as an institution. All the members of the University community with whom I have spoken on this issue are clearly worried about the proposal, and would like to see it withdrawn.”
The proposed Charter has sparked a storm of protest and debate in recent weeks, including a large demonstration on Saturday that drew tens of thousands to downtown Montreal, and vigorous exchanges amongst politicians and commentators in the media. Opinion polls suggest Quebecers are deeply divided over the proposal, which aims to establish the religious neutrality of the state.
But the proposed Charter doesn’t fit with McGill’s conception and practice of openness, Fortier said in the statement.
“Over the years, McGill has put in place a variety of policies and services aimed not only at respecting but at actively promoting cultural diversity, both in the recruitment of its students and in the hiring of staff and faculty members. The diversity of our community contributes to the richness of daily life on our campuses for both students and employees,” Fortier said. “We are committed to promoting a climate of tolerance on campus which will allow all of students, faculty and staff to flourish in their pursuits.”
Meanwhile, the University’s Faculty of Medicine and affiliated hospitals – the McGill University Health Centre, the Jewish General Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital Center and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute – are also declaring their opposition to the Charter today, underlining that the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols doesn’t impede anyone’s ability to perform their roles as academics or clinicians in medical institutions.