The Quebec government tabled its controversial Charter of Values in the National Assembly this past week. Bill 60, or the recently renamed “Charter afﬁrming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation request” has caused a national stir in the past few months, from critics and supporters alike.
The Parti Québécois cabinet minister responsible for the proposed legislation, Bernard Drainville, said the Bill would ensure gender equality as well as the religious neutrality of the state.
“The state must be neutral because it must show the same respect for all religions — regardless of their beliefs,” Drainville said. “Quebec is increasingly a multiethnic, multireligious society. This is a great source of richness. It’s also why we need clear rules.”
Drainville said he didn’t pick the 28-word name for the proposed charter and that the title was selected by government lawyers who like large titles that include major details. The lengthy title, however, fails to list its proposed violation of protected freedoms.
Quebec’s Charter of Values would require all workers of the public sector to take off their hijabs, Yakamas, yarmulkes, and overtly large crucifixes if they want to remain employed.
It reads: “In the exercise of their functions, personnel members of public bodies must not wear objects such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overtly indicate a religious affiliation.”
If passed, the plan would apply to civil and public servants like judges, police, and prosecutors; public daycare workers; teacher and school employees; hospital workers; municipal workers and personnel; and employees at state-run liquor stores (SAQs) and the auto-insurance board.
The CBC News reported that Drainville did say some public organizations and institutions could potentially be opt out of the ban for a five-year period, but daycare workers, early care providers and elementary school teachers would not be eligible.
Yet, after the tabling and public release of the charter, it became clear that the symbolic religious affiliation rules may not been the worst of proposed amendments.
Specifically, the charter includes a prohibition clause relating to day care workers. This clause would ban “a repeated activity or practice stemming from a religious precept, in particular with regard to dietary matters … if its aim, through words or actions, is to teach children that precept.” This could mean that religious dietary restrictions such as kosher and halal could become to taboo in the public day care sector – A significant leap from restricting religious symbols in the PQ’s crusade to separate church and state.
Thankfully, this charter is likely to face federal challenge. Jason Kenny, the Federal Employment and Social Development Minister vowed to contest the legislation and defend Canadians’ right to religious freedoms.
“Whatever bill is produced by the National Assembly on this matter, we will refer to the Department of Justice for a constitutional analysis,” Kenney told journalists. “If we believe that the final act adopted by Quebec, if any, violates the Canadian constitution and our fundamental rights such as freedom of religion we will vigorously challenge it. We will vigorously defend Canadians’ right to freedom of religion.”
The federal government is currently conducting a constitutional analysis of Quebec’s Charter of Values. The bill will likely not pass given its violation of Canadian’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression, employment, and religion.
The Commission on Human Rights has directly voiced their opposition by asserting that the ban on wearing visible religious symbols “would have the effect of excluding persons of a significant number of jobs.”
Yet, historically and culturally significant artifacts like the giant Mount Royale cross – and the one hanging above the Speaker’s chair of the legislature – would remain in place to preserve heritage.
On one hand, the government is aiming to rid any chance of bias from government and public workers stemming from religious beliefs. On the other hand, it’s biasedly preserving its own crosses in the logic of heritage.
Just because a head scarf or yamakah is not part of Quebec heritage, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Canada is a multicultural country. These symbols represent other cultural heritages and are just as important in defending the aura of acceptance in Canada.
However, the PQ only has a minority government and would need the support of other parties for the charter to pass.
The Liberals have been deeply critical of the plan, and called for its clothing provisions to be all but eliminated with the exception of people covering their faces while receiving state services.
Yet, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) had tabled a secularism charter which the PQ has failed to address.
The proposed bill tabled by the Coalition would apply to a far smaller number of public employees, like police and judges. Even the bill name is smaller, at one-ninth the size of the PQ’s. The title contains a mere three words: “Charter of Secularism.”
Coalition Leader Francois Legault says the government should at least be willing to discuss his own party’s proposed bill.
“We’ve known for months that the PQ governent was tabling a bill. Despite the olive branch extended by our party, which even tabled its own secularism charter two weeks ago, never has the government of Pauline Marois taken the trouble to consult us or listen to us.”
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responded by saying “We’ll do things in order. Once this bill is tabled, the debate will be open. The leader of the CAQ… can then provide his point of view. The members of the Liberal opposition, I hope, will have one.”
It seems that the PQ has two basic options: dilute the bill for adoption, or save it in their back pocket for an election campaign.
Premier Marois delivered a campaign styled speech this past weekend in Montreal to PQ delegates at the close of their convention. Her fiery speech put sovereignty in the front and centre. Yet, she later denied that the proposed charter of values is part of an attempt to rile up support for Quebec independence.
“The charter wasn’t tabled to give us any advantage when it comes to sovereignty. I want to be very clear on this,” the premier said. “We decided to present this charter because we think it’s important to say what will be the rules for behaviour in our society.”
Marois did assert, however, that a separate and independent Quebec would have an easier time putting the charter into law because they “wouldn’t have to deal with challenges from Ottawa.”
She contended that the province would benefit in every respect if it was independent, and that Canada and Quebec would be “better off as friendly countries rather than two rival governments.”
Yet, the PQs proposed charter has irritated Canadian onlookers and local residents of Quebec. This extreme approach to secularism doesn’t seem to reflect the Canadian ethos. In this sense, the charter can be seen as a ploy to rally PQ supporters for a push towards independence by alarming fellow Canadians with their differing approaches to governance.
In the midst of these debates, the Quebec government said it will be lowering its immigration targets so it can better integrate newcomers and ensure they are able to function in French. As she made public the government’s immigration plan for next year, Immigration Minister Diane De Courcy announced the reductions.
About 55,000 immigrants came to Quebec in 2012, which the government of Premier Pauline Marois now believes is too many. The target for 2014 has been set between 49,000 and 52,500 and will be reduced the following year to between 48,500 and 51,500 people.
The province struck a deal with the federal government decades ago to gain some control over its immigration programs. Quebec has also announced that it will spend an additional $13.5 million per year during the next three years to teach immigrants French.
It seems there is a real political push to preserve the heritage and culture of Quebec, while taking steps to stop others from tainting it. These actions may represent rising and notable trends of xenophobia within the province, but luckily do not reflect the Quebec population as a whole.
Though the charter will likely fail to be adopted, the national attention it has garnered seems to be supporting the PQs push for sovereignty. Thankfully, Canadians everywhere have voiced their opposition to the Charter of Values for its unacceptable violation of human rights.