Quebec premier Francois Legault.

Editorial: What is normal?

  • February 10, 2022

Premier François Legault vowed in advance of a truckers’ convoy arriving in Quebec City there would be zero tolerance for antics that interfered with residents enjoying “normal” life.

It’s impossible to tell if Legault’s warning caused the vaccine mandate protesters to be so well behaved during the weekend, unlike some of their counterparts in Ottawa. But the real mystery is how the province’s 8.4 million residents managed to keep from rolling on the ground in hysterics.

Normal life? Two words joined together by a Premier who has imposed draconian curfews on Quebecers, mandated vaccine passports to enter stores over a certain size and pledged to impose a special punitive tax on the unvaccinated until saner heads talked him down off the political bridge.

Normal life? Wherever the Premier has lived for the past two years, it can’t possibly have been inside his own skin. At least not in the same province, under the same conditions, as the citizens he has wielded power over during the pandemic.

Now, Quebecers of religious faith will be pulled further into the world of Legaultian ab/normality by having to present government documentation proving they are among the clean permitted to enter houses of worship. Yes, those spiritual havens re-opened this week to 50-per-cent capacity after being locked shut by government fiat since December. But no vaccine passport? Sorry. No entry to the church, synagogue, mosque or wherever you gather with your community to pray and praise God. Of course, it’s insufficient to just show verification of your COVID vaccination status. You’ll need to show state papers to prove you aren’t trying to worship under false pretences.

As Quebec’s Catholic bishops made clear, the edict is wildly outside the bounds of normal life. It is also a prima facie breach of religious liberty and the very separation of Church and State the Legault government insists is foundational to its vision of laïcité (secularism). The bishops were in accord that vaccine mandates at the church door represent an “intolerable act of discrimination” against the unvaccinated. Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix underscored that: “It’s not our way to exclude people. It’s not (our way) to reject people,” he said.

Some will criticize the bishops and the Cardinal for failing to lead the faithful to engage in civil disobedience of the government’s intolerable act. But what reasonable form could that disobedience take? Driving a big rig around the National Assembly in Quebec City? Trying to barge into Masses and risking confrontation with fellow parishioners asked to check passports at the church door? Neither is the path back to normal.

Such a path requires a long series of steps, extending well beyond COVID, to the reassertion of people of religious belief as full — and politically persuasive — citizens inside and outside Quebec. It’s not something left to clergy. It’s essential for Catholics, for Christians, for all faith traditions whose conceptions of normal life unequivocally reject division of Canadians into categories of clean and unclean. 

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