A Response to Gilles Duceppe

Since the group of teachers and students from Westmount High released our video “A Lesson in Values for Madame Marois” the response has been overwhelming. In the first 72 hours the video was posted it was viewed nearly 27,000 times. The teachers involved and Westmount’s principal have been flooded with messages from former Westmount students saying how proud the video made them to be graduates of Westmount High.

westmount-high-video-against-secular-charter-of-valuesPerhaps most satisfying was seeing how the release of this video put the Parti Quebecois into damage control mode. Many of the newscasts on the video featured a very uncomfortable looking Pauline Marois having to state that her Party was not against cultural diversity, religious freedom or freedom of expression. How she squares this with Bill 60 which clearly infringes on these fundamental freedoms is beyond me, but I was glad she had to answer this question nonetheless.

The other element of the PQ’s damage control strategy has been to have Gilles Duceppe write two columns (here and here) in the Peladeau-owned Journal de Montreal questioning the professional integrity of the teachers involved in this video and suggesting that it was inappropriate for Westmount High to take a political position on this issue.

Apparently Mr Duceppe had not watched the video to the end where it clearly states that this video was not produced by Westmount High but by a group of concerned teachers and students from Westmount High.

Nor did Mr Duceppe bother to investigate how the students in the video came to be involved. Had he done so, he would have learned that this was not an activity done in class, but something done outside of class time with a group of students participating voluntarily with the explicit written consent of their parents.

But more importantly, I find it very interesting that in neither of his two columns on the matter does Mr Duceppe address the substance of the video’s message. I would like to know exactly which political statement Mr Duceppe feels was inappropriate for students in the video to read. Was it students reading a direct quote from the Quebec Charter of Rights & Freedoms? Was it students reading from the UN Declaration on Human Rights? Was it students reading from the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child?

In both of his columns Mr Duceppe speculates that a Francophone school taking a similar political position with its students would provoke immediate outrage. The problem with this is that Francophone schools across the province do regularly promote the exact views expressed in the video because these are explicitly promoted by Quebec’s own curriculum.

Quebec’s curriculum is not neutral on the question of fundamental human rights and freedoms, nor should it be. It explicitly promotes the international norms on human rights as expressed through documents such as the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Rights & Freedoms and the UN Declarations on Human Rights and the Rights of the Child.

Quebec’s curriculum is not neutral on the question of respect for cultural diversity, nor should it be. It explicitly promotes such diversity and directs schools to be places that “reject all forms of exclusion”.

Quebec’s curriculum is not neutral on the issue of students becoming active and engaged citizens who think critically and participate in the democratic process, nor should it be. One of the three competencies taught in Quebec’s history curriculum is about promoting values of active citizenship and democratic participation amongst students.

So when Mr Duceppe states that there would be immediate outrage if a Francophone school took a political position, he is not exactly telling the truth. When Francophone schools advocate political positions which are promoted explicitly by Quebec’s highest laws and its own curriculum there is no controversy whatsoever.

However, were any school, English or French, to promote a political issue that is not explicitly supported by Quebec’s laws and school curriculum there would certainly be outrage and that outrage would be entirely justified.

If the views of Mr Duceppe and other supporters of Bill 60 are contradicted by Quebec’s highest laws, international norms of human rights and Quebec’s own PQ-created curriculum, it is they, not the teachers of Westmount High that should be reflecting on the appropriateness of their actions.


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