- Published on Thursday, 23 December 2010 05:30
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2706
In 1997, Quebec started to subsidize day-cares - a popular move. It works by paying the centres directly and does not go via the users. So when Muslim and Jewish day-cares started to use the centres to promote their religion, there was an outcry that taxpayer money was being used to subsidize religion. Since Quebec, like France, has a strong Catholic tradition - yet like France, is strongly secular, the Government moved to ban "teaching religion" at day-cares in the province. The ban goes into effect June 2011 and the number of inspectors is being tripled to 58 to enforce this rule (and others). Centres that flout the ban will lose their Government funding and parents will have to pay more.
The Globe and mail quotes Quebec Family Minister Yolande James (photo right - click to enlarge) as saying: "All questions touching the transmission of faith - that is, teaching religion itself - do not belong within the publicly funded daycare system." But symbols of religion like a crucifix are allowed and priests, rabbis and imams are allowed to visit provided they don't "teach religion".
Meanwhile, some centres are already implementing changes - even Catholic ones. According to the Globe & Mail. "At the Friends of Don Bosco daycare centre in Montreal's Rivière-des-Prairies district, this year's Christmas concert omitted the reenactment of the Nativity scene. Instead, the children sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Bing Crosby's Mele Kalikimaka Hawaiian Christmas.
'We didn't sing Silent Night, because we wanted to comply with the directives as quickly as possible,' said Pietro Mercuri, head of the parent committee for the daycare, which is partly located in a Catholic church and run by nuns. 'We toned it down this year. Part of being a good Christian is following directives and following the law.
'It's too bad, because our parents chose to send their children here because they know it's related to our church,' Mr. Mercuri said. 'But we don't want to lose our subsidy. In this day and age, everyone is watching their pennies.'"
It also helps that they know that the same rules apply to the Muslim centres so they have less to fear from their competitors!
Ms. James says Christmas trees can stay, and daycares can still pursue cultural traditions that grow out of a specific faith. But "crafts, role-playing, songs" used for religious teaching are banned, and so are religious rituals done repeatedly.
And the subsidy is significant - parents pay $7 a day and the government (tax-payer) pays the remaining $40 a day. The Family Ministry says it found an estimated 100 subsidized daycares in the province with a religious content - they included the Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Greek Orthodox religions.
Ms. James said: "Every person, every group has the right to their religious beliefs, and to exercise them. The line that is clearly being defined here is with respect to the subsidy." She is obviously hoping to head off court challenges which some centres have said they will pursue.
Manitoba also subsidizes day-care but has said they will not introduce similar measures. Winnipeg Free Press
Update June 1, 2011
A coalition of mostly Catholic and Jewish parents has filed an injunction to suspend the no-religion rules, which are to come into effect in the province’s 1,400 publicly financed daycares starting June 1, 2011
“This was something that was well thought-out,” Family Minister Ms. James said in an interview. Quebec’s daycares cost parents $7 a day and are heavily subsidized by the state, she said. “In that context, contrary to private daycare, the teaching of religion is not appropriate.”
But a newly formed group, Quebeckers for Equal Rights to Subsidized Day Cares, argues the government directives are vague, a bureaucratic headache to apply, and discriminate against parents who believe daycares should be an extension of the family home. The group is challenging the rules under the Quebec and Canadian charters.
“This is a fundamental question,” said Marie-Josée Hogue, lawyer for the coalition, which includes more than 200 parents and associations from the Catholic, Jewish and Egyptian Copt communities. “The benefits of the law should be the same without distinctions like religion and belief.” Daycare, she said, “is a substitute to the home environment.”
The coalition said that when the Parti Québécois government introduced its popular universal daycare network in 1998, the centres were to be reflections of the diverse communities they served. Today about 100 daycares offer some form of religious focus representing the Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Greek Orthodox faiths. The new policy, announced last year, will be implemented by 58 inspectors; daycares found in violation risk losing their subsidy, which amounts to about $40 per child per day.