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CAQ secular charter pre-empts PQ

The Parti Québécois minority government hasn’t announced when it will table draft legislation setting limits to reasonable accommodation, but on Monday, the Coalition Avenir Québec weighed in anyway, calling for a “responsible, balanced approach” that will nevertheless go farther in limiting individual rights than proposed by the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor report.

On Monday, the CAQ released its ‘secular charter’ proposal, ending days of speculation that began when the Journal de Montréal broke the story that the Marois péquistes are planning to table a Charter of Quebec Values when the National Assembly resumes sitting.

Among other things, the proposed charter would reportedly bar the overt display of religion among public employees, such as the wearing of hijabs, niqabs, burkas, turbans, kippahs, kirpans and overly large crucifixes.

Bouchard Taylor crucifix RGB

The Coalition Avenir Quebec’s proposed secular charter gender equality would trump religious accommodation. This would have an immediate impact on the cultural beliefs and practices of a number of ethic communities.

As in Bouchard-Taylor, the CAQ’s core concept is the neutrality of the state. However the 300-page report by Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor recommended that only those personifying state authority — judges, police officers and other peace officers — should be constrained from wearing religious symbols. The CAQ proposes to widen that list to include primary and secondary school administrators and teachers because they also represent authority. Other CAQ constraints:

• Nobody delivering or receiving provincial services can cover his or her face.

• When there’s a clash between gender equality and religious rights, gender equality will prevail.

• Easter, Christmas and other holidays that are part of Quebec’s heritage are untouchable, as are crucifixes in the National Assembly and public buildings.

By pre-empting both the PQ and the Liberals, the CAQ leader says he’s hoping to shape the coming debate. “We’d like to present Quebeckers with a responsible, balanced proposal that respects the interests and aspirations of all Quebeckers,” Legault said.

“We think it contains all the elements necessary to rally the great majority of Quebeckers who aspire to live together while ensuring the primacy of the culture and heritage of the majority and the benefits of an open, pluralistic North American society.”

There’s been enough discussion, Legault concluded. “It’s time to act. In any case, the National Assembly can hold consultations when it comes time to study the draft bill.”

by Jim Duff


Libs in limbo over PQ religious ban

Because it has yet to be tabled in the National Assembly, Vaudreuil-Soulanges Liberal MNAs Lucie Charlebois and Yvon Marcoux had little to say about the proposed Parti Québécois Charter of Quebec Values.

Last week, PQ cultural communities minister Bernard Drainville admitted the new idea would be up for discussion in the NatAss this fall. If adopted, it would have the effect of barring devout Muslims, Jews and Sikhs from public-sector jobs unless they’re prepared to doff the overt symbols of their beliefs.

The ban is almost certain to be challenged in court because it contravenes both the Canadian and Quebec rights charters, leading observers to conclude that the Marois government is less concerned with Quebec values than it is with starting a constitutional war.

Soulanges MNA Lucie Charlebois doesn’t see why religious symbols that don’t cover the face should be banned.
“I have no problem with the hijab, if the face is visible,” says Charlebois. “When I went to CEGEP, I remember it was the style to wear a scarf. It wasn’t religious, we all wore scarves on our heads.”

She also thinks the PQ government should be tackling more pressing troubles, such as the tanking economy. She says Liberal leader Philippe Couillard has been touring the province talking to Quebeckers and that’s what’s really keeping people up at night.

“People are preoccupied with the economic situation, they are losing their jobs. That’s a subject that needs to be dealt with.”

Charlebois is hesitant to make comments on what will be proposed until the PQ tables a draft bill. “We will wait to see what they concoct…it’s very foggy right now.”

MNA Yvon Marcoux agrees religious accommodation should be discussed, but not until the government gets a handle on the economy.

“That’s what the Quebec population is preoccupied with,” Marcoux said last week. “We lost 40,000 jobs since the beginning of the year. The number of unemployment insurance recipients has increased in Quebec.”

Marcoux says it’s also important to make sure newcomers to Quebec can integrate in a harmonious way and to respect equality between men and women.

He doesn’t agree with the way the PQ government has introduced the proposed ban. The PQ should have communicated with the other parties before talking to the media.

“It shouldn’t become a partisan issue, it’s important,” argues Marcoux. “We don’t know exactly what the PQ is going to propose.”

The Liberals have mandated a committee headed by MNA Marc Tanguay to draft a proposal by this fall. It, too, would be based on the recommendations of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission’s report.

by Meghan Low


School crucifix RGB

Déja Vu

Over the weekend Pauline Marois told a gathering of young péquistes her proposed charter of Quebec values would be a uniting force. I hope she’s right and that her proposed charter will unite Quebeckers from all linguistic backgrounds in a shared wave of revulsion and contempt for this small-minded attack on individual rights.

I confess I’m not hopeful. A Léger Marketing poll in Monday’s Journal de Montréal found 65 per cent of Quebeckers blindly support the concept of a charter defining what constitutes Quebec values without knowing any details of what the PQ is proposing, or why. Leaks imply the charter will include a ban on the wearing of religious accoutrements by anyone in public service. We can assume it will cover the usual scapegoat symbols — hijabs, chadors, niqabs, burkas, kippahs, turbans and kirpans — while sparing the crucifix unless you’re carrying it. But we don’t know who it will apply to. Will it be limited to those who represent the state’s officially neutral face — judges, peace officers, prison guards? Will it extend to teachers and school administrators? Or will it apply to everyone working in the public sector, from cabinet ministers to bus mechanics, from doctors to daycare workers?

The bill’s sponsor is Bernard Drainville, the PQ minister responsible for democratic institutions and ‘active citizenship’ who said last week the law will define acceptable demonstrations of religion in Quebec. Quebeckers have the political maturity to debate the matter without getting emotional, he added. Trouble is, people tend to become emotional when they have to choose between religious freedom and a job.

Politics, not conviction, are powering this latest assault on individual rights. The PQ never stops seeking to drive ideological wedges between Quebec and the rest of Canada. The trouble with any law targeting religious, cultural or ethnic behaviour in Canada is that it is almost guaranteed to be struck down by the courts on the basis of current human rights protections. Equality rights guarantees contained in Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms include accommodations for ethnic minorities. That has been interpreted to include space in which to pray in the workplace, diet accommodations — and the right to wear the traditional accoutrements of one’s religion. A kirpan ban at the West Island’s Commission scolaire Marguerite Bourgeoys was outlawed by Quebec’s human rights tribunal before going all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in the student’s favour.

Marois has already said she’ll invoke the federal charter’s notwithstanding clause when — not if — the first challenge to her government’s yet-to-be-tabled law reaches the Supreme Court of Canada. When you can’t push the secession option past 40 per cent, what better substitute than to marginalize les autres by legitimizing and enshrining as law the majority’s biases?

Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms also contains anti-discrimination laws, but as we saw with Bill 14 on language, this is not a government of principle. The changes being proposed to the French language and rights charters would strip both of minority rights, so I can’t see the PQ having many scruples against doing the same thing with their attempt to dictate what constitutes Quebec values.

The PQ also stands to gain politically. Back in 2006-2007, Mario Dumont and his Action Democratique party launched their frontal assault on reasonable accommodation. The resulting uproar cost the Charest Liberals a majority in their second term, made the ADQ the official opposition and exiled André Boisclair’s PQ to the opposition backbenches. The Liberals were able to achieve a truce of sorts by setting up the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, but the debate brought out the worst in a province where in many regions, distrust for anyone but old-stock francophones runs deep.

It also struck a chord among reactionaries everywhere. Remember the Herouxville council’s resolution banning the stoning, burning alive or genital mutilation of women, special accommodation for prayer and Jewish or Muslim dietary laws and the wearing of a kirpan? Herouxville may have shamed progressives but it garnered the support of rednecks, neo-Nazis and white supremacists throughout the western world.

The recommendations contained in Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation, Gérard Bouchard’s and Charles Taylor’s 2008 report summarizing a year of hearings and consultations, failed to appease because they stressed dialogue and negotiation. Only those representing the official neutrality of the state — judges, police officers and jail guards — should be barred from displaying outward signs of religious affiliation. Everything else should be a matter of civilized discussion. The Charest government chose to shelve the report.

On Monday, the Coalition Avenir Québec pitched its own notion of a secular charter, based on the Bouchard-Taylor recommendations. The CAQ proposes to extend the symbol ban to primary and secondary school teachers. It would also require those dispensing and receiving provincial government services to do so with their faces uncovered, something the Charest Liberals themselves had considered. Finally, it would give gender equality precedence over religious or cultural practices.

As for the Liberals, who can blame them for tiptoeing through this political minefield? Their new leader Philippe Couillard has just announced he’ll seek a NatAss seat in Roberval, the heartland of opposition to reasonable accommodation. I can’t see how the Liberals can play this other than to side with the CAQ and hope to change peoples’ minds during legislative commission hearings.

Quebeckers, I believe, are a fundamentally tolerant people whose values are undergoing constant re-evaluation as the result of social changes in the world around them. I’d like to agree with La Presse’s Yves Boisvert, who says that respect for rights, freedoms and minorities is in itself a valeur québécoise. I hope he’s right, but I get this depressing sense of déja vu.

by Jim Duff

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