Let’s talk about the so-called ‘Quebec values charter’

Martin Patriquin on the start of 280 hours and 300+ submissions

The so-called “Quebec values charter” would compel Quebec’s public sector employees, as well as anyone doing business with the government, to doff their religious accoutrements should they be too large and/or “conspicuous.” Introduced by way of strategic media leaks in late August, the Parti Québecois bill has hogged much of the political oxygen over the past six months and, I know for a fact, ruined more than one Christmas party. The debate has often been of the shirt-ripping variety—the stuff of angry for-and-against newspaper columns, a half-dozen manifestos (notably here, here, and here) and, most troubling, a few dérapages in which certain individuals took it upon themselves to confront the so-called Muslim menace on the street or the bus.

This week, the bill began its long legislative path through the National Assembly with public hearings on the proposed charter. These hearings are the antithesis of the debate so far: arguments are couched in parliamentary language, outrage constrained by its decorum. In many ways, it’s how the debate should have started in the first place. Which is too bad, because though there are upwards of 280 hours of hearings scheduled, the fate of the charter is in all likelihood a fait accompli. Thanks to intransigence and the reality of Quebec’s minority government, there is very little chance of it becoming law before the next election. But more on this later.

Pro-charter types dominated the first day of the hearings, a result not of PQ meddling but because the pro-charter types were the first to submit briefs. Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship Minister Bernard Drainville, chief architect of the proposed charter, opened the hearings.

“At a time when Quebec has never been so diverse, which is a richness for all Quebecers, it is important to define what is the common base of our society to integrate new arrivals,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, religious signs send a message… The charter doesn’t prevent anyone from practising his or her religion. If they decide that their religion is more important than the neutrality of the state, that is their choice.” Choosing between one’s religion and one’s job “will be painful for some people,” Drainville admitted, “but it will promote more harmony, social cohesion, serenity and respect for others.”

“The charter is a step in the right direction [and] is very reasonable,” echoed Réjean Parent, former president of the Central des syndicats du Québec union federation. In fact, Parent said, the proposed law doesn’t go far enough because it “doesn’t fight religious fundamentalism.”

“Certain media has said we [Quebecers] are racists. I was shocked to hear that people would say we are something we are not.” A teacher by trade, Parent said banning religious symbols from the public sector was a natural next step in Quebec’s decades-long secularist evolution. “Step by step, we [secularized] the school system and replaced the clergy-dominated teaching core. It wasn’t done against anyone, but as a way to build our society.”

Creeping religiosity “is a social malaise, and it needs to be prevented,” he said. “It’s not quite a cancer but…” He later hammered home this point. “Fundamentalists have the habit of asking for accommodations to create precedent, to change society’s norms […] In my book, wearing a religious symbol at work isn’t a fundamental right.”

Sam Haroun, the second speaker, agreed. “God doesn’t accommodate,” said the retired high school teacher. A fervent supporter of the charter, Haroun also pointed to the secularization of Quebec’s classrooms. “It was a good thing when we took the crucifix out of the classrooms, because we had students from all over. If a teacher wears a cross, it sends a certain message.” Disallowing that teacher (or a civil servant, or a police officer) from wearing religious garb “is not an attack on the freedom of religion, but a limit on the freedom of religious expression.”

The vast majority of immigrants coming to Quebec settle in Montreal, a point clearly demonstrated by Serge Gauthier, the president of Charlevoix’s historical society and the first of four afternoon speakers. Charlevoix, the region north of Quebec City, is home to 125 immigrants, according to Statistics Canada. The charter is necessary to prevent Montreal from becoming “Quebec’s gigantic exception.”

“As residents of a Quebec region, we don’t want to find ourselves with a completely different Montreal in terms of socio-cultural identity from the rest of Quebec, especially in the image projected by state employees,” he said.

“I know a lot of people who have gone to Montreal, and when they came back they said they felt uncomfortable. It was a bit weird, a bit different,” Gauthier said later. He would welcome more immigrants to Charlevoix, though “we have a problem with unemployment in the region.”

“My brother-in-law is Laotian. We’ve welcomed him for 35 years. We ate tourtière together. We are very welcoming,” Gauthier said. Nevertheless, “It took us decades to get out from under the Catholic Church, we shouldn’t have to go at it again with another religion.”

The day’s sole dissenting voice was Samira Laouni, president of the Montreal-based Communication, Openness and Intercultural Rapprochement. Laouni, who wears a veil, described herself as a “fierce feminist” for whom “emancipation of women cannot take place without financial autonomy.” Laouni pointed out how Quebec has a high unemployment rate amongst its immigrant population—highest in the country, in fact, according to Statistics Canada. “Women are scared of going into the street alone for fear of being spit on or having their veil pulled off. I’ve been in Quebec for 15 years and it’s never been worse.”

Forcing observant women to remove their headscarves would further disenfranchise a significant portion of Quebec’s Muslim population. Laouni, it might be noted, is in favour of regulating religious accommodations, as well as a secular state. Her only sticking point, she says, is removing her veil. Noting how the proposed law singles out the Islamic head covering (but not, say, the religious facial hair), Laouni said, “Women pay the price, which the bearded man doesn’t have to suffer at all.”

Upwards of 300 individuals and groups will be heard in the coming months: unions, professors, secular and religious groups, various municipalities, hospitals, law societies, human rights organizations, universities and, notably, an anti-circumcision group bent on exposing the tyranny of conspicuously clipped members. As interesting as they may be, the hearings could well be all for naught. Even before the hearings began, Drainville declared there would be no question of changing any of the proposed law’s provisions—including the banning of religious symbols in the public sector, its most contentious provision.

Yet for all of Drainville’s obstinacy, the PQ is a minority government, and would therefore be ripe for a Liberal filibuster, if there isn’t an election call beforehand. Should that happen, and there is a strong chance it will, the PQ has made no attempt to hide its desire to use the charter as its warhorse of choice. The charter came to the National Assembly today, but it won’t be limited to its walls anytime soon.




Browse

Let’s talk about the so-called ‘Quebec values charter’

  1. Why? You know the Constitution prevents it being put into effect, and it’s only a distraction from the economic situation anyway.

    Our media shouldn’t be falling for bright shiny objects much less trying to talk others into doing so.

    • As you know particularly, everybody’s got an opinion. On this issue, the opinions are strong. The government could back either side and win. They chose the xenophobes.

      • They won’t win in court….but in the meantime you’re being distracted.

    • Doesn’t it include a notwithstanding clause?

      • Everybody thinks that’s some magic wand to solve everything. It’s simply a temporary delay.

        • Five years – renewable. As is the government….

          • Mmm oh look it’s a shiny ball…..

  2. The Values Charter it is a big distraction. Quebec has used the Notwithstanding
    Clause before and I’m sure they wouldn’t hesitate to use it again. It
    stands very little chance of becoming law anyway, this entire debate has
    been designed by the PQ as an election gimmick.

    The PQ should use the Construction Corruption Saga against the Quebec Libs instead.

  3. “I know a lot of people who have gone to Montreal, and when they came
    back they said they felt uncomfortable. It was a bit weird, a bit
    different,”

    Xenophobia.

    • The downside of the current and otherwise successful “linguistic peace” where since the Clarity Act ROC generally leaves Quebec alone is that few voices ever tell Quebecers when they’re being outrageous, since they rarely hear it from their own cultural elite or the English Canada political class. People in the rural districts actually feel they have the right to dictate what Montreal should feel like, rather than the Montrealers themselves. This was a very illuminating choice of quotes, Mr. Patriquin. Very good.

      My one quibble is that when I google Samira Laouni I see pics of a woman whose hair and ears are covered but whose face isn’t. Is that a “veil” ? To me a veil is when you can’t see someone’s face, and is genuinely disturbing. Headscarves aren’t a big deal.

      • The linguistic peace is a myth – as you’ve mentioned the English have been neutered. The people who could not tolerate bill 101 and the rest, they have left Quebec. The ones that remain are unwilling to stand up for themselves, and they are only willing to rationalize the behaviour of the sovereignists and to pretend it is understandable, at the same time their rights are taken away.
        It’s obvious the linguistic peace is a myth, because every time the PQ wins an election they go on the offensive again. There is this clarity act, there was the attempt to close the private school route to an English education, there was the attempt to force most people to attend French Cegeps, and there have been various other new offensives in the language war. These new offensives occur every time the PQ wins an election. There is a lull whenever the Liberals win, until the next time the Liberals are removed from power. There has never been a linguistic peace – the battles rage on.

        • “The linguistic peace is a myth – as you’ve mentioned the English have been neutered. The people who could not tolerate bill 101 and the rest, they have left Quebec.” But that’s linguistic peace! Passive aggressive for sure, but peace. In a lot of ways I prefer it to the alternative, which might have started to look like 70s and 80s Belfast.

          • Normally peace means a level of stability. But instead, the PQ has been trying to restrict access to English CEGEPs, is coming up with new language laws, and is restricting religious symbols.
            That is a new offensive in the ongoing battle. That is not peace.

      • The veil (la voile) is a catch-all term for all Muslim headcoverings, but is typically used for the hijab (which is what Ms. Laouni wears). The overwhelming majority of women who wear Muslim religious clothing don the hijab, with a much smaller number wearing the chador (which exposes the entire face but covers the rest of the body), the niqab (which covers everything except the eyes), or the burqa (which covers everything from head to toe). Only a tiny percentage of Muslim women in Western countries wear the latter two.

        The paranoia surrounding these articles of clothing originates in France and has been pithily analyzed by historian Joan Wallach Scott:

        http://www.thenation.com/article/beyond-veil
        http://www.theguardian.com/law/2010/aug/26/france-ban-islamic-veil

  4. The PQ mantra is that the Charter will bring harmony to Québec. Public opinion polls suggest otherwise. But in pursuing the Charter, the PQ might stand to gain politically. What may seem to be anti-leftist and more like something a U.S. Tea Party member might support might save the PQ. If this Charter is just a political tactic – a “vote-getting ploy” – one cannot help but wonder whether the potential political rewards are worth the divisiveness and conflict that will likely be felt for years. Read more:http://mobilizingideas.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/secularism-nationalism-the-quebec-tea-party-whats-the-charter-of-values-really-about/

  5. We can see clearly that it’s again one of the goals of the PQ: Montreal is different, so let’s change Montreal. I’m a French-speaker Montrealer since I was born, and I’m just tired of people who are “afraid” of Montreal and can’t understand that it have to be different than other regions of Quebec. It’s not Quebec who should separate from Canada, it’s Montreal who should separate from Quebec!

    • I’ve always found the place of Montreal in the Canadian and Quebec nationalist imaginations pretty interesting. Both laying such fierce claim to the place, even though it’s so alien culturally and in the PQ case is the demographic frustration of their electoral dreams. If Rene Levesque or Parizeau had offered to carve out most of the Island of Montreal as a Canadian province I bet Quebec would have had independence long ago..

  6. Quebecers have the guts to say – enough of the Muslim outfits…Canada should follow.

    • Jews dress the same way.

  7. John Stuart Mill – Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

  8. Given that the fleur de lys, prominently featured on the Quebec flag, has historically been used as a Roman Catholic symbol of both the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, why is it not included in the proposed banned symbols?

  9. Where’s Bonhomme when you need him?

  10. This is the result of 50 years of the bureaucratic control of culture in Quebec. Now there is very little authentic Quebec culture left, it is the culture of the bureaucrats instead. As such it is going to be a weak and beaten thing, residing in a minster’s dossier instead of the hearts and minds of its people.

    A vibrant culture is able to absorb its rivals and put their own spin on other people’s customs. It does not fear being overtaken or subverted because it is strong.

    All Quebec does with this “charter of values” is show their weakness, because the state has long decided on what makes for true Quebec culture, and it is very narrow and largely serves the political goals of a few. Secular, socialist and linguistically french, with the corpse of the Church which they abandoned. Starved by a bureaucratic diet, beaten by its politicians, Quebec culture is old and defeated.

    • Dans un premier temps, je suis contre l’interdiction du port des signes ostentatoires dans la fonction publique. La charte ne se limite toutefois pas à ce seul point. L’ensemble des éléments devraient aussi être inclus dans le débat public. Je suis toutefois consterné de la pauvreté des échanges de part et d’autre. Je comprends que le commentaire d’un individu de courte vue vend de la copie, mais tant qu’à débatre la population serait mieux servie si on se basait sur des faits et des points de vue d’expert.
      Autre points en rafale:
      - Pascal Robert & s_c_f: La situation que vie Montréal vs le reste du Québec est la même que vie toute les grandes villes vs les régions qui les entourent. Augmenter les échanges et réussir à augmenter l’apport des immigrants dans l’ensemble des régions me semble être plus constructif. Si tu n’as pas eu la chance d’aller à la rencontre de l’autre, il est malheureusement normal de la percevoir avec crainte.
      - Yanni: Je crois que la réalité est plus compexe que cela. Chaque société doit trouver une façon d’accueillir les nouveaux arrivant en regard de sa propre situation (économique, politique, culturelle, historique, etc). Je ne crois pas que la politique du “bar ouvert” est nécessairement la bonne. Mmm il faudrait en débatre.
      - ÉmilieOne: Bon point, mais la société ne se limite pas seulement aux questions économiques.

      • No, it’s not always all about economics. But this one is just a PQ distraction. Navel-gazing to keep everybody from noticing other problems.

        • Il s’agit en effet de petite politique… qui n’en fait pas? Pour le reste, je me permets d’être d’avis contraire… it’s not always about economics.

          • I believe we just did this one Fred.

  11. The Quebec Values Charter discussion is simply the means by which the PQ is trying to get the “pure Laine” to forget about Marois’s mismanagement of the province.
    They are hoping that “fear of the other” is stronger than their sense of “fear of bad Government”
    They want to pick a fight with the Feds (who oppose the Charter) in the hopes of bolstering their support.

  12. Pass the thing. No religion in government. They want religion in government, go to the old country of intolerances.

    It offends me that any aspect of government presents in religious appearances, bias and oppression of women.

  13. There is a very good reason for the charter, one only has to recall the downtrodden condition the RC Church kept the “faithful” for centuries. Secularism is now deeply rooted and should not be challenged.

    • You can not judge the Québec population by a video from someone of the St-Jean Baptiste society. Most of these people are nuts and definitively not endorsed by a majority of Quebecers.

Sign in to comment.