COLUMN: Charter of Quebec Values would create a society of divisions

Secularism is not defined by policies which promote active discrimination.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the Parti Quebecois (PQ) government officially announced the highly controversial Charter of Quebec Values, which would prevent public sector employees – such as prosecutors, judges, police officers, health care workers, and educators – from wearing their religious symbols at work.

Banned symbols would include kippahs, large crosses, turbans, hijabs and burkas.

The charter is expected to be introduced in Quebec’s legislature this fall. As the Parti Quebecois is leading a minority government, it will need the support of either the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) or Quebec Liberals to pass the Charter of Quebec Values.

It is claimed that such a charter would help maintain secularity, religious neutrality, and the separation of religion and government in the province. However, secularism is not defined by policies which promote active discrimination, which in fact, oppose the underlying ideals of secularism.

What is perplexing and paradoxical is the idea that the PQ’s Bernard Drainville, Quebec’s minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, is saying that such actions will help promote “social peace, harmony and cohesion.”

Implementing draconian measures which infringe on Canadians’ religious freedoms would not be able to advance such causes. The very charter which aims to establish equality and fairness is itself the product of government intervention in the affairs of the people and an example of blatant discrimination.

PQ leader Pauline Marois has stated that the Charter of Quebec Values would unite Quebecers. In a statement, Ms. Marois said that “far from dividing us, when the rules are clear, it allows us to better live together.”

Such a statement is absolutely misguided. No charter which discriminates against people can lead to unity or harmony, and history is full of examples where policies of segregation and discrimination have indeed had the opposite effect.

The Charter of Quebec Values is in direct contravention to one’s freedom of religion.  Fundamental freedoms and equality rights are explicitly guaranteed in Section 2 and Section 15, respectively, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Quebec’s Charter of Values does more than just showcase the discriminatory nature of the proposal. It is clear that the divisive and controversial announcements are being used to detract Quebecers from other important issues of significance. It is easy to spark discontent in the population on the basis of topics like identity and culture. It is, however, difficult to confront issues relating to the economy, health care, and education. The old and dirty trick of inciting a controversy to hide and ignore these issues is at play.

Simply wearing an article or symbol of one’s religion does not mean that one is imposing or forcing his/her beliefs on others. Canadians across this country should continue to strongly voice their opposition to this potential charter, as was done during the Quebec Soccer Federation’s turban ban a few months ago. We must protect the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadians can also sign the petition I have set up, calling on PQ leader Pauline Marois and Quebec minister Bernard Drainville to eliminate their discriminatory Charter of Quebec Values proposal.

In the days since details of this charter were released, there has been outcry from Canadians of all regions, races, and religions across this country. Federal politicians, across party lines, have also voiced their opposition to this charter.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau stated that “Madame Marois does not speak for all Quebecers when she puts forward an idea of forcing people to choose between their work and their religion, to set out an idea of second-class Quebecers who would not qualify to work in public institutions because of their religion.”  Federal Conservative minister Jason Kenney has stated that the federal government could take action if the “prospective law” infringed on constitutional rights.

Similarly, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair also opposed the PQ’s proposal.

“There’s no expiry date on human rights. It’s not a popularity contest, this for us is completely unacceptable and the NDP will be standing up foursquare against this project,” said Mulcair.

Clearly, Quebec’s Charter of Values would not unify but rather create a society of divisions.  Furthermore, this charter is not representative of Quebec’s values. Those proposing such a charter would be wise to consider the long-term ramifications of political moves which lead to exclusionary policies and contradict a modern, free and globalized society, in which an open-minded approach is the key to economic and social success.

The children of Quebec, like all Canadians, deserve to live in a province where multiculturalism and freedom of religion thrives.  The thousands of public employees in Quebec also deserve to freely practise their religion, without fear of losing employment or breaking an irrational law.

Additionally, any political party which feels that identity is lost due to exposure to other communities is mistaken. Our individual differences unite us as Canadians. Forceful assimilation or integration does not result in a harmonious society. Policies which challenge the beauty of our Canadian diversity not only create unnecessary turmoil in the country, but also reflect poorly on the international reputation that Canada has developed as being multicultural and diverse.

Policies like the Charter of Quebec Values do not have the right to curtail the fundamental freedoms that we as Canadians hold so close to our heart.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

japreet@live.ca

 

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