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Nenshi to Quebeckers: Come to Calgary, we don’t care how you worship

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and another marcher take a photo while marching in a gay pride parade in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi used his city's Pride parade Sunday to criticize the Quebec government's controversial plan for a secular charter – and invited Quebeckers dissatisfied with their government to move west.

Speaking to a crowd of thousands at the downtown end point for Calgary's 23rd annual Pride parade, Mr. Nenshi referenced "a certain part of this country" and a national debate about "how people should be restricted from certain jobs because of their religious faith."

Mr. Nenshi continued with a message touching on both religious and Pride-event themes. "We need, together, to show Canada and to show the world that here in Calgary it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what you look like, it doesn't matter what you worship, it doesn't matter who you love."

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After his speech, Mr. Nenshi told reporters he was referencing Quebec's proposed Charter of Quebec Values, which would ban turbans, kippas, hijabs and visible crosses from the bodies of all public employees. He called the policy "short-sighted."

The charter is "an absolute violation not just of Canadian morals and ethics, but of what has made our country successful. If we are not able to attract the very best people from around the world to want to work and learn and invest and raise families in this country, we don't have a future as a country," he said.

"It is important for people across Canada, and particularly in Quebec, to know that if they don't feel welcome in that community, they're certainly welcome in this one," he added.

Even 3,800 kilometres away from Quebec City, Calgary's mayor has a history of lambasting Quebec's Parti Québécois government. Last year, Mr. Nenshi said talk of the secular charter was "social suicide."

Mr. Nenshi – a popular mayor who led the city through June's disastrous floods and is widely expected to be re-elected in next month's municipal election – became the first Calgary mayor to lead the annual Pride parade in 2011. This year, he again wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "straight not narrow."

The 2012 parade attracted a crowd estimated at 35,000, and organizers expressed hope this year that a week-long set of Pride activities would draw even more people to the 82-float parade in downtown Calgary on Sunday.

A small group of Olympic athletes in the parade said that as they prepare for next year's Winter Games in Sochi, Pride events are more important than ever.

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Many athletes and their supporters have raised concerns about Russian's new anti-gay "propaganda" law. Calgary's Anastasia Bucsis, who is hoping to qualify to represent Canada in long-track speed skating, said the Russian law is "a little bit scary in a sense just because it is so foreign to us, having grown up in such an open-minded, accepting country like Canada."

Ms. Bucsis, who is gay and attends the city's Pride parade every year, said "with everything going on obviously in Russia, it's just so comforting to see so many people out and supporting us."

Wearing a decorative sticker on her cheek, Alberta Premier Alison Redford also marched in this year's parade, alongside LGBT youth from Camp fYrefly, the group that marshalled the parade. Although Ms. Redford has attended the parade as Premier before, this is the first year any sitting Alberta premier has actually marched in the event.

Still, Ms. Redford's Progressive Conservative government has long been criticized by opposition Liberal and NDP MLAs for enabling legislation that allows parents to pull their children out of school when classes about sexual orientation are being taught – and for removing a legal requirement for educational materials to honour the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.

However, the Premier made a point of saying she's concerned about other politicians who "are very selective with respect to how they talk about gay issues, and in terms of how they participate in events." She didn't reply when asked whether she was speaking about the opposition Wildrose Party, which unlike the other political parties, had no visible presence at Sunday's parade.

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