An open letter to the Premier of Quebec concerning Bill 21

The Honorable François Legault
Premier of Quebec
Édifice Honoré-Mercier, 3e étage
835, boul. René-Lévesque Est
Québec, QC  G1A 1B4

Dear Premier Legault,

As representatives of the Anglican Church, which has been present and active in Quebec for more than 250 years, we feel compelled to respond to your open letter, published in several of Quebec’s daily newspapers on Monday, April 1.

We share your conviction that “in a secular society—which we have been since the Quiet Revolution—common sense dictates that religion must not interfere with the affairs of the state. Nor the reverse.” We also agree with your observation that “state laicity respects freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Everyone is free to practice the religion of his or her choice, and is also free not to practice a religion.”

However, rather than maintaining a religiously neutral state, Bill 21, An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State, would in fact legislate the very kind of governmental interference in religion that you claim to oppose.

As Christians, we believe that the earth and its creatures have an abiding relationship to their Creator. Seeking to participate and give expression to this relationship in some form is a part of being human. For some this will mean wearing religious symbols and attire—such as a hijab, yarmulke, or cross—objects that can be intrinsic to the practice of one’s faith, and which cannot be removed at a whim.

We therefore embrace the vision of Quebec as a secular state that is pluralistic, privileging no particular religion, yet creating the space in which Quebecers of whatever (or no) religious tradition can fully participate in public life and contribute to the common good, including as public servants.

We appreciate your recent call for the debate around this proposed legislation to be conducted in a manner that is respectful and not divisive. However, we know too well that proposed laws such as Bill 21 risk contributing to a climate of suspicion and fear of others—especially Muslim Quebecers—at a time when we need our government to help protect, rather than further and needlessly target, our neighbours. The horrific mass murder at the Grand Mosque in Quebec City in 2017 calls us to be mindful of how our debates might stoke the fires of fear, and put people’s lives at risk.

We agree with you, Premier, that it is time for Quebec society to move forward on this matter. However, our own experience has taught us there is another way to do so.

One of our church’s principles of dialogue with people of other religions is to “meet the people themselves and get to know their traditions.” This too is common sense, and has helped us change attitudes, challenge stereotypes, and build new relationships with people of other faith communities.

We have been enriched and blessed, not impoverished or threatened, by face-to-face exchanges with these neighbours who have now become friends. It is only in encountering our differences honestly and openly—rather than hiding or suppressing those differences—that we can hope to build a truly secular and pluralistic Quebec that provides all of its citizens with the opportunity to flourish.

Yours sincerely,
The Rt. Rev. Mary Irwin-Gibson
Bishop of Montreal
The Rt. Rev. Bruce Myers
Bishop of Quebec
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A letter from Bishop Bruce

Bishop Bruce writes, “I wish to bring to your attention two especially important matters in the common life of our diocesan family. One has to do with another important meeting of our church; the other regards our collective responsibility to safeguard vulnerable people in our midst.”
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