Mr. Speaker, we are here this evening to talk about this motion to recognize, create, rename and symbolically designate a Hindu heritage month. I have to say that it is the word “heritage” that makes me receptive to this motion because, of course, all of us here support secularism. I personally am a great supporter of secularism and freedom of conscience. Unfortunately, the concept of secularism is sometimes a bit foreign to this Parliament and this country. There is no direct equivalent for the French word “laïcité” in the language of Canada, which is English. The word does not exist.
“Laïcité”—or, loosely, secularism—relegates the matter of religion to the private sphere. Basically, it means that the matter of God or gods, or the absence of a god, cannot be settled through public debate. It cannot be settled through argumentation or reason. The previous debate on inflation and budget proposals can be settled using fact-based arguments, but the matter of belief or non-belief cannot.
As a federal elected official, I will never answer questions about my faith. As an individual, of course, I am free to believe or not believe, like everyone else. I am free to be passionate about a particular religious culture, but it does not interfere with my job. I represent people of all faiths or people who simply have no faith. Everyone is free to make their own choice.
Secularism puts beliefs and lack of beliefs on a level playing field. Of course, it also comes with the right to dislike, or even hate, a religion, some religions, several religions or all religions. It also comes with the right to ridicule them, if we so wish, or to ridicule just one. Those who have wanted to thwart this fundamental right have unfortunately sometimes taken it to the extreme, as was the case in the tragic Charlie Hebdo massacre.
I also personally refuse to label people based on their religious community. For me, a nation is not a group of communities that belong to one religion or another. It is a group of citizens who are each equal in rights and duties, and whose beliefs, or lack thereof, are no one's business but their own. That is what makes up a nation.
The state is aware of every religion, of course, but should not recognize any of them. That is the foundation of this secularism. It is certainly not for me, an elected federal member, to comment on dogmas, rites, religions or the tenets of one religion or another, whether we are talking about Hinduism, Catholicism, Islam or any other.
What is more, let us also clarify that where these citizens come from, when we talk about cultural diversity, is not synonymous with religion. Someone who follows a religion is not someone who, according to the religion itself, necessarily comes from one country or another. There may be people with deep roots who convert to one religion or another.
However, it is clear, and I have no problem saying this, that there is no religious heritage either, but rather religious heritages. That is why we tend to support this proposal. Just because we are ardent supporters of secularism does not mean we do not recognize the importance of Catholic congregations in Quebec's history, for example. Just because we are ardent supporters of secularism does not mean it is impossible to say that churches and places of worship are tremendous architectural gems. I have no problem saying that. Personally, I think religious buildings are the most beautiful buildings on earth.
The same goes for Hinduism and Hindu heritage, which is significant in Quebec. Quebec certainly does have a Hindu heritage, and a well-established one at that. The Hindu religious community, despite any reservations I may have expressed previously, has its own unique history. Adapting traditional rituals to Quebec winters was pretty difficult. It has not always been easy, unlike in places like India, Sri Lanka or the Caribbean, where it is much easier. Most celebrations take place outside. Some festivals have even been rescheduled. Generally speaking, the community has adapted to Quebec's weather and climate constraints.
I was talking about architecture. Let us talk about the majestic Hindu temple in Dollard‑des‑Ormeaux, an architectural jewel that contributes to the richness of Quebec's heritage and the beauty of its architectural landscape. We fully support this motion.
I should note that the arrival of the first Hindus in Canada dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. That is quite some time ago. Immigration fell off around 2015, when a law was passed prohibiting Asians from immigrating to Canada. The law was repealed in 1965. Since then, the influx of Hindu immigrants has continued, mainly from India, but also from elsewhere, such as Sri Lanka and even the Caribbean.
According to Statistics Canada, there were nearly 7,000 members of the Hindu faith in Quebec in 1981. There were 14,000 in 1991 and 25,000 in 2001. Hindu heritage has arguably been prominent in Montreal since the 1980s, following the construction of Canada's first Hindu temple, the Hindu Mission Temple, located on Bellechasse Street in La Petite-Patrie. The community is made up of two main groups. The first is people from north India, and the second is people from south India and Tamils.
There are, of course, two main spaces used for liturgical celebrations: home and temple. I want to emphasize that I am not here to comment on the validity of any of this.
Home is an important place of religious heritage, but in Quebec, Hindu heritage is mainly celebrated in temples, the second space. The unique architecture of some temples, such as the Thiru Murugan Temple built by Montreal's Tamil community, reflects this heritage.
There is also the Hindu Mission Temple, which was designed in the traditional Hindu architectural style but also has some more practical features. The Thiru Murugan Temple emulates traditional Indian architecture that dates back to around 5,000 B.C. Twelve workers came over from India to help build the Thiru Murugan Temple. The Tamil community saved $3.5 million over 20 years to build it. I tip my hat to them.
Some of the rituals practised at the temple in Dollard‑des‑Ormeaux are thousands of years old. The Thiru Murugan Temple is one of the largest Hindu temples in Canada and is the main place of worship for Quebec's Tamil community.
They are magnificent buildings. The Hindu temple in Dollard‑des‑Ormeaux is a vast 6,000-square-foot space. Whoever goes there, whether tourist or faithful, passes under a tower in the shape of a pyramid that is about thirty metres high. I have never gone, but I have to admit that my research on this subject has piqued my interest into going to have a look. I am going to make a point of going there very soon. The second tower sits imposingly above the main altar of the temple and is dedicated to the god Murugan, who is considered by Hindu Tamils to be their national divinity.
The exterior of the sanctuary transports the visitor to other spaces inspired by India. It is a very impressive place both inside and out. The temple is open to everyone every day of the year. This project was carried out mainly by Sri Lankan immigrants who began arriving in Montreal in the 1980s.
Interest in building this temple, a temple for this particular faith, dates back to 1983. I was saying that it was a long wait and that they had to organize fundraisers. We are pleased because this truly honours the community and its contributions. It is part of the city and is in the industrial sector. For many years, the organization collected private donations.
In closing, it will be a pleasure to support this motion for the reasons stated earlier.