Colby Cosh on the real reason to fear Quebec’s charter of values

Pauline Marois’s proposal is based on laïcité, for which there is no English translation


Jacques Boissinot / CP

Is there anything to be said for the Quebec government’s idea for a “Charter of Quebec Values” that would forbid public employees from wearing religious symbols on the job? You would never know it from Canada’s English-language broadsheet newspapers: the Globe and Mail, for one, has completely abandoned its typical attention to artificial balance in public controversies and published at least five opinion pieces and several letters opposing the proposed charter, with nary a word in favour.

It may be that the Globe and other newspapers simply can’t find an anglophone opinionator to defend Premier Pauline Marois’s gesture in defence of laïcité. And it probably doesn’t help that the French term laïcité has no exact English equivalent, since it swims in an imprecise area between “church and state separation” (of the American type) and “anticlericalism” (of the European type). Quebecers are arguing over a concept we Anglo-Saxons don’t even have. And the polite, accepted English Canadian opinion is losing the argument inside Quebec, judging from the early polls and the attitude of the kingmaking Coalition Avenir Québec.

These are all pretty bad warning signs. The real purpose of trial ballooning a Charter of Values is certainly not to be gratuitously beastly to hijab-wearers: it is, rather, to invite the kind of outrage that English Canadian opinion leaders and federalist sages in Quebec have hastened to display. Marois is, for nationalist purposes, emphasizing the contradictions in the established system of religious accommodation. That system is predicated, awkwardly, on both the existence of a secular state and on the total freedom of expression of its individual servants.

It is just plain goofy to argue that a state cannot devise rules for the dress, the conduct, or the speech of its workers, and particularly of those workers who have responsibilities for education or advice, as teachers, daycare workers and nurses do. Yet that is the nature of the argument being advanced hastily against Marois and the hinterland Quebecers who support her. Asserting “freedom of religion” doesn’t settle the debate magically; as the Alberta Hutterites who were uncomfortable with driver’s licence photos found out when they went, in vain, to the Supreme Court in 2009, even sincere and long-established religious principles must sometimes bend to the aims of government.

The argument against Marois’s charter is not going to accomplish anything unless it becomes more sophisticated, and moves beyond mere imprecation. It will not help to shout, “Intolerant!”—or, as philosopher Charles Taylor cried, “Putinesque!” Health authorities are intolerant of dirty fingernails in the operating room, and I suppose Vladimir Putin probably is, too. Public schools are intolerant of peanut butter and wrong answers on math quizzes. The important question is whether purely personal, passive displays of religious faith by employees are inconsistent with the government of Quebec’s overall secular mission and nature.

To settle this question we would need to agree on what kind of secularity we are talking about, and this is how Marois has been able to whip up useful opposition so effectively. We Anglo liberals expect a passively secular government, one that merely prefers no religious sect over any other, and so we see a hijab in the daycare as a positive marker of success. It confirms that we are “secular” when a Muslim is allowed to express Muslim identity while working for the government. The French-style ideal of laïcité goes slightly further—toward expecting teachers and nurses to positively set aside their private religious identities while at work. This way of thinking sees the front-line government employee as being like a uniformed soldier, part of a great army of progressive nation builders. Some show of commitment is expected: while you are representing Quebec, you represent Quebec exclusively. And implied within laïcité is a subtle hope that religion will ultimately dwindle—that it will not so much be defeated, in the long run, as left behind.

That particular idea has a poor track record, and there is no harm in ridiculing laïcité on the sufficient grounds of mere hopelessness. But the commentators now attacking Quebec’s government as “subtly racist” (it was mighty big of the National Post’s John Ivison to include the “subtly”) imply that the legitimacy of that government depends on allowing its employees to wear a particular sort of hat while on duty. On a purely tactical level, that seems like a tough sell. Those who regard one function of the Quebec government as preserving a small, conquered nation are not very afraid of being “subtly racist,” and the more that government is barracked for racism over a law that has no racial content as such, the less afraid of the label its people are likely to be. Which, in turn, seems like something completely appropriate to fear.

On the web: For more Colby Cosh, visit his blog at macleans.ca/colbycosh


Colby Cosh on the real reason to fear Quebec’s charter of values

  1. I’m not sure this from Marois is all benign and non racist (subtle or otherwise) nor am I sure it is lawful under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. My real problem is that it could very well prevent those who are committed to not only their profession, Doctors for example, and their religion will have to either compromise their beliefs or move to another Province to practice their profession. Do I care if someone wears something which points to their beliefs? Not really as long as they do a competent job and do not proselytize. Does this mean like it once was in Northern Ireland adverts for positions said Catholics need not apply, in this case would it be any religionists who have to wear conspicuous religious regalia need not apply? I think this is absurd. Is Quebec Canada’s most Kafkaesque Province?

    • yeah, pretty big “citation needed” on the “real reason isn’t really racist (discriminatory, whatever)” bit.

      • I am not saying either way, is it racist or political posturing? I don’t know but the introduction of such divisiveness, cannot I think be a good thing. I am looking at the ramifications. I don’t know what Marois is up to I just believe it is not Just. I grew up during the worst of the sectarian hatred and violence in N Ireland and hated every moment of it. I despair to see the seeds of such hatred find fertile ground here in Canada.

        • Unfortunately that is the way we’re headed. I wish it weren’t so but there will be push back – not just from the anglophones any longer but from the allophones as well. This is all deliberate to get us to leave the province but unfortunately there are many of us that can’t afford to leave because of the worthlessness of our land and homes. No one wants to move to Quebec any longer so that only no votes that will be left will be the poorer les autres. Hateful,miserable, PQ and their separatist supporters. I need a lotto and then I’ll throw a match into this house and let it burn to the ground rather than leave it to any PQ. I hate them for what they are doing to our province and our country. They should all be in jail for treason!

  2. The law seems to imply that one cannot perform a task in an objective and secular fashion while wearing a conspicuous religious item. There are two implications here, a) wearing, say, a hijab clouds one’s professional judgement, and b) by removing it the person will magically acquire a secular perspective.

    The first is completely offensive to the individual, claiming they cannot hold two ideas in their head at the same time (a public idea and a private one). And the second assumes that this unprofessional limitation is true but can simply be solved by the removal of a piece of cloth.

    • I think you are confusing being a true religious adherent with being a cafeteria faithiest. If you are truly a religious adherent then there is not one faith that doesn’t declare that you must live the faithy life. That doesn’t change when you go to work, On the other hand if you like to pick and choose which bits you’d like to include in your behavioural menu then I guess you could decide to turn off your faith when it conflicts with your ability to earn a wage.

      Religion by decree is not private as the conga line of many different cults knocking at my door to convert me illustrates all too well. The really honest faithful cannot turn off their faith at a whim. Those who can are not really committed to begin with.

      Your second point is spot on.

      • I am fascinated with your comparison between a “true religious adherent and a cafeteria faithiest”. By your definition, my guess is there are no true religious adherents among us. Everyone “picks and chooses the bits they include in their behavioral menu.” No one person is adhering to every rule and proclamation made by their church. Look around you…the Catholics are using birth control. Evangelicals like Harper are pro-choice. Why can’t a person have real faith and yet still doubt some of the rules, which are man-made after all.

        • ” Why can’t a person have real faith and yet still doubt some of the rules, which are man-made after all.”
          And that’s the bit that a lot of the religious ignore. Like communism, fascism, conservatism, socialism etc. every faith is a man made creation complete with all the faults and foibles of man. So none of the texts held as holy are in fact the word of any supreme being, they are the words of men and contain the rules and wishes of the men who wrote them.
          Yet when we want to enact some social policy such as permitting homosexuals to marry, making abortion as safe as possible for the mother etc we are constantly opposed by those who claim that their god says it is wrong and it is written in this book or that book and it is the immutable word of god.
          The authority of the religions of the book come from the very fact that the bible is the unchanging word of god, yet the majority of the faithful decide that they can know not only which bits they can ignore on certain days, but that they can interpret it as they see fit when they see fit. God’s words aren’t what he meant and they need some preacher in a megachurch to tell folk what he actually meant.
          You either believe that the bible as written is the word of god or you don’t. Those who pick and choose are really just hedging their bets a la Pascal’s wager and really could not be said to be a true believer.
          Most believers are looking for something to make them feel loved and to illustrate this isn’t all there is. To do that they are willing to live in a world full of dissonance and ironically the greatest act of dissonance is the one that allows them to believe that what they believe is built on logically sound foundations.

          • I wasn’t really referring to the bible as many church doctrines are not taken from the bible. For instance with regard to Catholicism, I don’t believe there is anything in the bible stopping women from becoming priests or priest from marrying or married couples from using birth control. Like eating fish on Friday, there likely will come a time when practices will evolve and a progressive Pope in Rome will decide that the times are ripe for change.
            I will agree with you that many use religion as a way to spew hatred and condone their own bad behavior. However, I also know people who have a lot of faith and it is a great personal comfort to them. Those people aren’t admonishing anyone or spewing hatred toward anyone. Faith doesn’t have to centre around an organized church. It can just be a belief that one aught to treat others with the same dignity and respect that one wants to be treated with themselves. I have worked in the hospital for many years and I have yet to hear any staff (chaplain included) talking religion to a patient that didn’t request spiritual guidance. In Alberta, we have all kinds of non-denominational services including services for First Nations (sweet grass & drumming) in our health care system. These things give people comfort and they are only provided because patients ask for them.

          • If the many doctrines aren’t based on the revealed word of god, then what is the source of their authority? Smith’s golden tablets have as much authority as any of the rest of the established cults because it’s all based on mumbo jumbo.

            The position that one should treat one’s fellow man as one would like to be treated oneself is not a spiritual or religious belief, it’s actually a basic tenet of community survival.

            In fact it takes the suspension of empathy that religion provides to overcome our natural reticence to harm our fellow man. To kill without compassion takes training and dogma helps provide that excuse and distance that is need to do it with justification.

          • “If the many doctrines aren’t based on the revealed word of God, then what is the source of their authority?”
            Excellent question! Should you study the history of religion vs. theology, you would find that much of what we have been taught did not historically come about the way we were led to believe it did with regard to many of the teachings of the church. This includes even the most basic beliefs such as the way the bible came to be written and who the actual apostles were. The rules have been made up by powerful leaders within the churches.
            As for the tenant that one treat one’s fellow man the way one wants to be treated, that was one of the most important lessons that Jesus Christ, who according to history was a real person, supposedly taught to his followers. Because he extended that treatment to the weak, poor and compromised, he showed that this compassionate way of treating others is “NOT a basic tenet of community survival”, rather it is a unselfish act of providing help to people who will likely never be in a position to offer help back and who might not even thank you for the help you have given. There is no selfish motive for helping the marginalized. It is often not even acknowledged when one does so and we know that throughout history, countless people have suffered no ill effects from treating marginalized people poorly.
            The actual point of Marois value charter though is whether a person of faith can be good at their job without letting their faith interfere in their work. Does the Hippocratic Oath conflict with one’s faith? Not necessarily.

          • I’ve studied religion a wee bit mainly through philosophy and philosophy of religion in particular and certainly have a basic idea on how the bible was compiled and also how early church doctrine was created. It wasn’t pretty reading and ethics and morality were larger sidelined in the name of political expediency. The concept of the trinity is a great case study in appearance over substance.
            With respect to the golden rule in both its negative and positive interpretations, Jesus was preceded by a long long line of people who pushed the love of others. That’s why I termed it a basic tenet of community survival. From Ancient China, India and through to the Med it has been a cornerstone of community law and like many other things that worked the Christians among others claimed it as their own.
            As for selfish motives about helping others Kant might have a thing or two to say about that. If one gains even a modicum of satisfaction or a glow of happiness when one helps one’s fellow man then a charge could be made that helping the oppressed is something one does because it makes one feel holier than thou; or one gains a personal benefit form the act. That according to Kant renders it self serving and not an ethical act.
            Finally the Hippocratic oath is in fact an oath to pagan gods. If one swears such an oath and doesn’t believe that such gods exist then they are lieing. That’s why there are modified versions around, after all do you really want your medical professional’s first act on graduation to be a lie? Once religion is removed from the oath then there is no conflict, but is it really still the Hippocratic oath?

          • Hahaha! This is awesome. You are a true cynic. When your children do something nice for another kid, you must cringe because you are thinking to yourself “my gawd, the little bugger has that “flow of happiness and is feeling holier than thou…it is so self-serving and not an ethical act.”
            I hate to break it to you, harebell but sociopaths and psychopaths don’t get that “glow”. They are incapable of feeling empathy and feel no remorse for doing nasty crap to others either. Who cares if we feel good about ourselves when we help our fellow man, just so long as it keeps us helping him/her and stops us from doing harm. Is it such an egregious thing that we take pride in doing the right thing by others for no other benefit besides the fact that it makes us feel good about ourselves? Is it awful that Bill and Melinda Gates take some pride in donating a lot of cash and time to finding cures for terrible diseases and trying to rid the world of poverty? You explain to me why this is so awful because I am obviously a little slow on the uptake here.
            As for the Hippocratic oath, it is an oath to practice “honestly” and to do no harm. So what if it originated as an “oath to a pagan God”? Does that make it less applicable today. For what reason would you have people do right by each other if they aren’t allowed to feel good about doing so?

          • I was just citing a renowned ethical philosopher who did accurately point out that true charity was helping someone with no benefits at all to the giver. I didn’t say I agreed with him, just that Kant is not a small time player in the field of ethics, no matter how sociopathic you try and paint him. His theories countered utilitarianism which was a dominant theory at the time.
            I mentioned this because you introduced studying religion and ethics etc.

            As for my ethics, I’m kind of a fan of virtue ethics where one stays away from vices and aims to make the virtuous decision; although Kant and his idea to treat others as an end in themselves and never a means to an end is a sweet idea to. I don’t have to like a person to treat them as a person and I don’t have to get a warm glow out not using them in order to act ethically. In fact the golden rule doesn’t require me to feel great because I treated someone like I’d like to be treated. So in that case i could treat someone I despise well because it is the right thing to do rather than the rewarding thing.

          • I believe you misunderstood me. I did not mean to suggest that Kant was a sociopath. Rather my point is that only sociopaths and psychopaths get absolutely NO satisfactions from doing something charitable for others (“simply because it is the right thing to do”) and at same time feel no guilt when they inflict suffering upon others. For some reason they are not capable of feeling empathy for others.
            Anyone else who is capable of feeling empathy for another person is going to feel better by helping to alleviate the suffering they witness that person encountering. Whether that is because they actually made a difference in someone’s life or just gladness that the suffering person has found some relief.
            Well, harebell, it is a fascinating topic. Thank you for the discussion.

  3. Secularism was an issue in 1960 but has disappeared; in Que., it’s a red herring and a smokescreen.

    There are false analogies and errors in this article that should be addressed.

    1- The drivers-licence photo is about public security. The Hutterite aversion interferes with security, so it’s overridden as “unreasonable.” Where’s the public security issue in a clerk wearing a kippa and a female typist in her hijab?

    2- quote: “It is just plain goofy to argue that a state cannot devise rules for the dress, the conduct, or the speech of its workers….”

    Reply: No-one is talking about “speech” or conduct. As for the so-called dress code, a civilian dress code in the workplace, in Western countries, relates to decorum, not uniformity. Typists don’t wear uniforms but private attire, and neither does the clerk who renews your licence.

    So the onus for the ban is on the discriminators.

    Discomfort over a typist’s headscarf, or a clerk in a turban? Get a drink or get a shrink.

    3-quote: “Marois is, for nationalist purposes, emphasizing the contradictions in the established system of religious accommodation.”

    Reply: … as they did at Hérouxville??
    There are no such “contradictons” of accommodation in the existing system, except those perceived by racists and xenophobes.

    No one anywhere has offered “unrestricted accommodation” to anything. It has always been “reasonable” accommodation based on bona-fide job requirements. For example, an employee whose religion required that they took 3 holidays per week would not be hired full-time.

    4- quote: “it … doesn’t help that the French term laïcité has no exact English equivalent, since it swims in an imprecise area between “church and state separation” (of the American type) and “anticlericalism” (of the European type).”

    Reply: Quebec history is colonial and never went through or near the French Revolution; it never even passed through the European Enlightenment.
    Quebec’s idea of governance and rights, since the 1770s, is British democracy, colonial rule, the criminal code, and a version of the Ancien-regime’s code in matters of civil litigation.

    Quebec’s nationalists borrow the word laïcité from the French Revolution because it suits their contemporary agenda. It’s just a buzz-word.

    On the old continent, the struggle against Church control re-errupted around 1900 via the Dreyfuss Affair, when there was a serious plot by Catholic monarchists, to overthrow
    the French Republic. In the uproar, state bureaucracy and schools were stripped of any religious signs. Today’s French ban on “religious signs” is a vestige of that, and is a historical reference. People shrug at it, no more; it’s called “republican values,” rarely “laïcité” and it is never called “French Values.”

    There too, the historical narrative counts. We’ve forgotten, but France fell to the Nazis and was ruled by a nativist-fascist regime for 4 years. When did that ever happen to Quebec?

    By contrast, Laïcité in Quebec was a single, brief historical campaign, when 2 massive government services, Education and the social-service bureaucracy, were transferred from the Church to the State. That’s an administrative move that was debated, and had important cultural implications, to be sure, but nothing more.

    The Quebec effort was seamless and 100% effective and has never been contested by anyone, no push-back. Today, reference to that would be a smokescreen. By the way, Quebec nuns don’t even wear the habit anymore.

    Marois’ “values” bill is crass xenophobia, racism and goes against what modern Quebeckers have NO TROUBLE understanding: Canadian human rights as a principle of conscience, in matters of religion.

    • A new Leger poll seems to show that it has given them a boost…

      • Marnie, what is ‘it’ and who is ‘them’? Just asking…

        • The debate over the secularism charter and the PQ.

          • Since she ran her own poll before introducing the charter, why does it surprise us?

            I’m convinced, though, that many people think “burka” and “special holiday privileges” and “genital mutilation,” when they reply to such polls.

          • Yes that’s probably the case given that in the French press whenever the story is about the secularism debate the included picture tends to show a woman wearing a burka.

          • It’s inflamed by press reports and radio rants about events that are clearly not related except by association.
            The worst example is the business of the Jewish sect in Outremont, an inner suburb of Montreal. As you know, that sect is exclusionary, very “different,” and somewhat aggressive. The neighboring francophones have a NIMBY reaction to them and that’s fairly understandable.

            However, the controversy is contained within a small area, and is manageable on the level of the municipality. It has nothing to do with “secularism” in the public sector.

            Yet it’s known about all over Quebec. In other words, it’s a non-story illustrating nothing, used to push a wider and unrelated agenda.

          • Agreed, I think many people suspect that this secularism charter is somehow going to make it so they will no longer have to see people wearing turbans and hijabs on the streets…. And yes, the chassids can be quite pushy….

          • Actually, it’s a very specific sect that goes beyond the ultra-Orthodox. I’m a bit hazy on the name they use.

          • I know the one you’re talking about….Belz, Lubavitch??? There was a whole debate over zoning by-laws and a synagogue a few years ago I think…

          • Someone mentioned the word “Hungarian” to me in their connection. I don’t have very good research on it.

          • Don’t know…

          • … I would wish you a good Sabbath, but Secularism forbids.

          • I’m not Jewish but thanks anyway :).

          • go out for pulled pork!!

          • There’s a place near me that does pretty good BBQ….lol

    • “By the way, Quebec nuns don’t even wear the habit anymore.”

      I don’t think there are many nuns or clergy in Quebec anymore.

  4. The main question is whether big black beards on newspaper columnists are consistent with Canadian values.

    I vote no, shave it. And the majority’s with me. You’re screwed, Cosh. Democracy in action. The Folk Speaks.

    Wait, what’s that you squeal? We don’t want the state dictating dress codes that have absolutely nothing to do with the performance of one’s job? Quite unlike the absurd comparison of hijab-wearing with driver’s licence photos?

    Run that one about artificial balance by me again . . .

    • The problems with your hypothetical are that a) I don’t work for the government and b) as a practical matter, if Maclean’s told me to shave off my beard as a condition of my employment, it would be gone in five minutes.

      • Working for the government is not the point. If the State has the authority to mandate dress code for its own workers on arbitrary grounds of Values, it has the authority to do it for the private sector.

        Meanwhile, now that the beard’s gone, let’s get you circumcised. It’s the will of Allah, I mean JF Lisée his Prophet.

        • CCU, that’s TMI.

          • Once State-mandated circumcision is standard, you won’t blink an eye.

          • I want State-mandated champagne.
            French culture!!!

          • You’re in luck, that WILL be part of the next referendum questino.

          • Depends; if fabuloso has to undergo a circumcision (& that assumes (a) fabbie is male not female and (b) has not already had the surgery), I’m betting there will be more than just eye-blinking…

          • Too circumspect to think of that circumstance without circumnavigating the room for another drink.

        • “If the State has the authority to mandate dress code for its own workers
          on arbitrary grounds of Values, it has the authority to do it for the
          private sector.”

          False. That’s a non-sequitur.

          • Not at all. The State currently makes you wear pants even if you’re working in the private sector.

          • I’m pretty sure scf was talking about the state as it exists in his imagination, not the state in the world in which reasonably human beings inhabit.

          • My “you must wear pants” example probably doesn’t resonate with him either.

          • It doesn’t resonate with me either. Coming from Scotland, I don’t have to wear pants and even if I came from elsewhere I still wouldn’t have to wear pants either.

          • On the serious side, I meant that the government does assert its right to prevent men walking around with their schlongs hanging out; but it doesn’t apply to s_c_f because he never leaves his great-grandchildren’s basement.

          • It does and that is based on some archaic shame principle founded in the morality of a Middle Eastern religion that hasn’t changed for over 2000 years.
            The same shame principle is seen today in the insistence that men have to wear heavy canvas shorts to swim in; especially in N America. It’s weird that men wear more clothes to swim in and get wet than they have to do to mow the lawn.

          • Wait a minute. Here in N. America you CAN wear a speedo. If you don’t have the body of a young Olympic swimmer, you will be mocked but you can wear one to swim.

          • Why should you have to cover up to get wet? Speedos are accepted everywhere with no issues except N America because why would you want to wear more in order to immerse yourself in water or get a tan?
            Puritanical nonsense.

          • Personally, I don’t care what you wear or don’t wear to get wet. However, my youngish daughters believe if you don’t “have it”, you shouldn’t flaunt it (this applies to men and women). They would prefer that people who have less than stellar figures didn’t mow the lawn or go to the beach displaying all of their flaws for everyone to see (hence the comment about the Speedo). Me…I say, “good on ya! wear whatever you are comfortable in.”
            Your take that this is puritanical nonsense” is accurate in so far as we are not allowed to go naked on beach as people in Europe are. However, if you believe that we N. Americans don’t like to see a beautiful body in a Speedo, you couldn’t be more wrong. The National Water Polo team trains in Calgary and they all wear Speedo’s. No one complains when they enter the pool.

          • I can accept that the young have an idea of what they like and don’t, but when supposed adults fall into the Miley Cyrus mindset I’m a little concerned.
            Any human body is just what it is, a body and why should it be covered when immersed or tanning? We have laws that genitalia should be covered and they are. But then we have bullshit that locks people into “appropriate” behaviour and then it’s the rule of the “eeeeeew” factor. Everybody becomes a middle school student with a middle school student’s mind with the same immature attitude around the old, the fat and the not perfect.
            You typified that immature mindset with your response.

          • Sorry to offend. It was a tongue-in-cheek comment. I guess I should have done an Emily and added an LOL. In actual fact, I have never seen the national water polo team. They might be wearing “canvas” trunks down to their knees for all I know.
            In all seriousness, I could care a less what anybody wears on their body to mow the law or swim, regardless of their body condition. As a nurse, I have literally pretty much seen it all and frankly at 50 years old, I am hardly one to judge.
            Still, the fact remains that no matter how “immature” or distasteful you might find the developed world’s obsession with beauty, it still exists. Suggesting it only exists in N. America is disingenuous when you consider that the first place they set minimum weight requirements for runway models appearing in fashion shows was in Europe. This bigotry toward the overweight, the aged and the physically unattractive is alive and well in Europe as well as N. America. The English press was wretched toward Princess Diana and Duchess Sarah with regard to weight issues. Duchess Kate was just the victim of all kinds of nasty comments by Europeans one day after she gave birth. People called her a “fat pig” because her uterus was enlarged.

          • While the press might be obsessed with beauty in Europe, go to any beach on the Med and see what the reality is. People in Europe don’t really worry about that or even sex. The Brits do just like the N Americans because let’s face it they come form the same gene pool.

            The hang up is generally religiously based and has been extrapolated by the cult of youth pushed on the population by the media and those who try and make people feel ashamed because they’ve lived a few more years than most.
            Wrinkles, scars and a mat of hair are nothing to be ashamed of and are a useful counter to the prepubescence ideal obsessed over by the media of today. The fact that that is held up as the ideal form is a sad indictment of the mindset of the movers and shakers of society and borders on the criminal.
            I for one want nothing to do with those people as they are frankly creepy to me.

      • Further, while I’m sure Maclean’s appreciates your hypothetical complaisance, if Maclean’s did make your beard a condition of employment you could, under current employment law, sue for wrongful dismissal. I gather you are now in favour of getting rid of that protection?

        • Why would he want “facial hair protection” if he already said that he would shave his beard? Obviously he doesn’t see the need to “protect” his facial hair.

          • He might not want it, but he’s entitled to it under current employment law.

          • Again not necessarily.

            A condition of me working in a steel mill or wearing khaki and carrying a weapon was that I should have a clean shaven chin. (I might have to don a respirator.)

            I think it depends on whether the rule is brought in by your employer after they employ you or before they do and as to whether there is a health and safety aspect to it.

          • Right, well, the latter doesn’t apply in Cosh’s complaisant beard-shaving; even if Maclean’s had typewriters and really low seats the onus would be on them to prevent workplace injury.

            I don’t see how the army ban on beards makes sense. Many Sikh regiments donned respirators in defense of freedom in WWI and WWII, and the don them in many Sikh regiments in India today. Also situations in which you actually had to don a respirator (like WWI as opposed to modern drill) often involved troops who had not shaved in weeks. So it’s just cultural. I can see the case for keeping soldiers clean-shaven for aesthetic reasons (though not in the case of Sikh troops, who have earned every inch of respect), but let’s not pretend the justification is practical as opposed to whimsical.

          • It is very practical in this day and age of advanced chemical and biological weaponry. Royal Navy sailors have to shave their beards off when entering a war zone just for this very purpose. In fact I remember watching such a ceremony on the tube in the run up to the Falklands war. These beards are full sets only.

      • Dress codes usually have some sense, safety and identification. A crucifix, turban or skullcap worn by a clerk in an office is neither dangerous nor does it hide the the identity.

        • How about the state forbidding its employees from wearing a tee-shirt or pin displaying a partisan political message? Surely not safety, nor id, as in police officer. We accept that restriction on freedom of expression without debate. An NDP tee-shirt is neither dangerous nor does it hide the id.
          That’s the argument you have to counter in QC.

      • That you would kowtow to Maclean’s if asked for a nonsensical request such as beard removal says much about you and what it says is not good.

      • Colby, you might shave off your beard but a Sikh man might feel differently about cutting the long hair that is hidden under his turban.

      • Now add to that scenario that specifically you can’t have a beard because you look like a “bear” from homosexual community stereotypes and for no other reason than that you have to shave your beard to keep your job. Would you still do it given that its a ludicrously prejudicial requirement on your job that has no bearing on the quality of your writing? If you can honestly answer yes and say that the beard has no effect on any part of you or your pride and their request is reasonable, I’ll give it to you that this is a “necessary” policy. BUT by your flippant references to different types of “hats” its pretty obvious that you most likely belong to the new brand of vocal atheist that, not being contented in not being forced to practice any religion, vehemently opposes any type of religious association for anyone. For a Sikh a turban is not a hat, its a symbol of a 500 year long struggle as first defenders of India. If the Ottomans, the Persians, the Mughals and the British couldnt get them to remove their turbans using force of death, what really makes the pur laine think they can win this battle? Perhaps there’s something lost between the translation of secularism and laïcisme and its understanding. For most people, secularism represents the right for a person to choose to practice or not to practice any religion regardless of the influence of or hindrance by the state. Key Words: choose to practice or not. I can understand why growing up in a repressive caucasian society that rigidly follows Christian dogma for no other reason than cultural pride would make you averse to any person showing any pride in their religion/cultural heritage but that in a word is called Xenophobia. Its specifically because of acts of defiance by Jews, various Asian groups, Muslims and Hindus that we have a society today where no one religion (in theory in Canada) takes preference over the other. So why does your irreligion take preference over the actual religion of others? Humanism is an ideal for atheism yet I’ve seen more charity done and given by people with faith and morals based in faith than I have by the laissez-faire atheist gen why.

    • How about the government forbidding employees from wearing tee-shirts or pins from political parties? Start a conversation on the Charter of Quebec values with a péquiste and he will immediately bring that one up.

      If the PQ were to forbid signs of religious affiliation, could a person opt for the bonnet of our ancestors from New-France as a sign of full integration and acceptance of the traditional values of Quebec ?


      They can also wear a turtleneck with that, and voila!

      Personally I would opt for the coiffe normande. I’m a very tall older lady (5’11”) and, man, would I make an impression with one of those on my head:

      J’aurais du panache en plus d’avoir du front !

      • Sapristie, vous êtes plus grande que moi par exemple!

  5. Asserting “freedom of religion” doesn’t settle the debate magically; as
    the Alberta Hutterites who were uncomfortable with driver’s licence
    photos found out when they went, in vain, to the Supreme Court in 2009,
    even sincere and long-established religious principles must sometimes
    bend to the aims of government.”

    Surely that depends on just what the aims of the govt are? In this case we have a purely pragmatic and practical consideration.[ and i might add a pretty rare occurance] Going to work with your kippa, turban or cross on display merits no such consideration. As you say it is wise to ask just what the aim of this PQ govt is. Clearly being the sole arbiter of just what the acceptable face of secular govt is is not acceptable in our time…or so the RoC thinks[ or does it?] If for instance my govt clerk/cop/teacher/civic marriage guy[ brain cramp??] decides that their religious belief precludes enforcing a particular law or rule that individual has but one choice imo; but disappearing religious expression entirely from the state or any freely chosen creed is not the job of govt.

    Agreed, throwing the racist tag around is not cool – QC society in general needs no lessons from us about progressive or inclusive politics. This is going to be a harder fix then we imagine. It seems there really may well be a deep seated view within QC that it is ok for the govt to demand more then just a passive secularism. But i come back to a question i asked before – just what problem is this designed to fix? obviously not just whether your religion gives you the right to opt out of photo id on your DR.
    After all this time we’re still two solitudes. But as long as we remain one country it is the job of the federal govt to uphold the constitution and the law.

    • ..

      • ??

        • transmission by error, deleted, km.

      • Why I said in general. I make no apologies for the die hard PQ, but two can play at this stupid game. The Orange lodge, anti Catholic bigotry in ON, residential schools, the Chinese head tax…of even pre Nazis eugenics in AB…so spare me the ethnocentric one up man-ship please.

      • This post disappeared for some reason, but I still have on the I ph…are you Pierre poutine by any chance?

    • >It seems there really may well be a deep seated view within QC that it is ok for the govt to demand more then just a passive secularism

      Been a while since I lived there, but the idea that the QC government would be more than passive about anything is pretty well established. They are intrusive to the extreme in the details of how you can go about your business. The language laws are an example; sometimes people complain about the chinese or sihk business neighborhoods in Vancouver, but it is an agent of the government who comes to see you if you put something on your sign they don’t like.

      And let’s face it. The Quebec project is fundamentally non inclusive. It isn’t and never has been live and let live. This is just another extension.

      • It’s certainly been going on since the day I arrived in this country, some 36 years ago now. Sometimes I think it’ll be still going strong after I’m six feet under.

  6. As a nurse and some one who never wears any sort of religious items, I can say that this deeply offends me. I know that any Christian or Jewish person could just make a choice not to wear a cross or the Star of David to work. However a Sikh man cannot just choose not to wear his turban to work. He has very long hair that he cannot cut underneath. This ruling is completely unfair. I cannot understand how people who are educated cannot understand that religious requirements are not always simplistic.

    • I suspect that this isn’t about some sihk turban, but rather a nurse whose face is not visible while applying some treatment. I’ll be honest. I would rather see the face of those poking instruments into my body. That being said I wouldn’t want anyone forced to act contrary to their religious beliefs.

      • You suspect wrong! The Charter of Quebec Values as mooted definitely includes turbans and hijabs.

        • Sure, it is inclusive. But from where is the impetus? Some clerk wearing a cross? I doubt it. It is the woman who is treating you or deciding how much money they will extract from you whose face you can’t see.

          • There are no such women.

          • Derek, there has been a niqab (facial covering) ban in Quebec for any person dealing with government services for a few years now. A Muslim woman was ejected from evening classes because she refused to remove her facial covering. She was not the teacher but a student.
            No nurse in Quebec can wear facial covering as the law stands NOW. Neither can any patient. This new values charter has nothing to do with anyone having their face covered. It is all about other religious symbols. The government doesn’t want its employees…doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. to show any personal affiliation to any religion BUT the Quebec government will continue to hang a big crucifix on the wall because that is part of Quebec’s “history”. You want to know what the “impetus” is? My guess is that Marois wants to further her agenda for creating dissension between the French the English…a kind of Us v. Them mentality. She believes she will solidify her popularity with the French voters who will ignore the real problems in the province.

          • Thanks for the clarification. I do agree with your last point. These things are always a diversion from other more serious issues.

      • There is complete consensus (outside fundamentalist islam) that the hidden face is unacceptable, certainly in public employment.

        I’m sure you are sincere; however, in the PQ this idea is a bogyman and a red-herring.

  7. Part of the problem is the breadth and scope of the proposed draft charter which calls for it to be named for what it is: identity politics at its worst. A more nuanced approached building on Bouchard-Taylor’s laicité ouverte, which limited religious signs to officers of the law etc is more justified. But excluding people of faith who choose to express it through crosses, turbans, hijabs etc while driving buses, teaching kids, providing daycare service is just plain wrong. And given the Canadian (and Quebec) charters, Canadians outside Quebec can’t and should be silent (just as Canada was not silent on Putin’s anti-gay legislation and measures).

    And I say this as someone secular, but nevertheless respects the beliefs of others.

  8. About time someone in Canada stood up & emulated the ex Austrailian PM.

  9. Agree 100% with the article. I think critics are too easily pointing the finger at the source of the proposal instead of evaluating its merits.
    Of course checking the source of any proposal is important yet this proposal’s content should be evaluated and discussed in depth before dismissing it because it was brought up by Marois’ party.
    I write this because (and just mark my words here) a very similar proposal will be advanced in the future by another political party and most people will say that it is pretty reasonable and that it merits our attention for eventual implementation.

  10. Just do a Mordecai Richler and publish an explanation of the new Quebec law in the New York Times.

  11. Finally an intelligent response from the ROC. I’ve lived in Quebec all my life, have never voted PQ and never will. I’ve voted no in both referendums and consider myself a Canadian…….full stop. I think we need more immigration, not less. But immigrants have the right to know the rules we live by before they arrive. Equality of the sexes, separation of church and state and most importantly the obligation to follow all of our laws or be put on the first plane home. Now let the hysteria begin!
    MP Irwin Cotler in an op-ed page last week stated that a Jewish man wearing a yarmulka could be refused treatment in a hospital if this law comes into effect. First of all……there is no law, only several trial balloons and I have heard nothing of the sort even from the most wacko of PQ ministers. The mayor of Calgary, that bastion of inclusiveness, invites the downtrodden from Quebec to move there. Boy, are they in for a surprise!!!
    These are not some kind of cultural costumes we’re talking about. They are religious symbols that have no place on a person of authority in the workplace. So can we all drop the superiority complex anytime the PQ does anything and have a real debate.

    • Religious symbols are most definitely cultural dress. They speak to a person’s identity, not their capacity to do their job. A Jewish doctor with a kippa is not somehow exercising a “religious version of authority” over a patient in comparison with a Jewish doctor whose head is hatless. There’s no advocacy or pressure in either case, you simply know something extra about the other person’s identity in the former.

  12. The Cdn Hindu community has come out solidly in support of Ms Marois, as seen in this radio interview http://tinyurl.com/mzpatmq

  13. To me it’s the same problem as an ad selling something without any price mentioned.
    Mr. McLean might be offered a different price than Mr. Singh but we would never know and that’s the problem. Are you being treated fairly?
    It makes me nervous to think a cop or a judge might be swayed by religious ‘camaraderie’.(it happens)
    I don’t want to see any religious symbol and I deplore the fanaticism that enforces and expects those symbols.
    I see all religious people as a bit out of their minds for believing in some supernatural entity they will never meet.
    Look to the murderously fanatical around the world, all of it religious fervent driven.

  14. The french laïcité is known in english as secularism, is it not? “And it probably doesn’t help that the French term laïcité has no exact English equivalent, since it swims in an imprecise area between “church and state separation” (of the American type) and “anticlericalism” (of the European type). Quebecers are arguing over a concept we Anglo-Saxons don’t even have.”

  15. I would like to share with you this artistic campaign:


    We need help from everyone in Canada to send their ‘values’, so we can build a new sense of culture in this country, besides First Nations, we are ALL immigrants!

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