How Kenney, Mulcair and Trudeau took on Quebec’s charter of values

The federal leaders frame their arguments


Reporting on Jason Kenney’s announcement today that the federal government might challenge Quebec’s so-called charter of values in court, the Canadian Press noted that the employment minister, who is also responsible for multiculturalism, was “uncharacteristically terse.”

In most instances, a politician might be praised for restraint and brevity. But in light of the proposed Quebec rules on what religious garb the province’s public servants would no longer be allowed to wear on the job—Sikh turbans, Jewish kippas, Muslim hijabs, and large Christian crosses would all be banned—Kenney might have allowed himself to get a bit more worked up.

“If it’s determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled,” Kenney said on Parliament Hill, “we will defend those rights vigorously.” Good to hear, but, as CP suggested, strangely clipped. Both opposition leaders offered more expansive responses, and both sought to ground their reactions explicitly in party lore.

For Justin Trudeau, this was an obvious tack. After all, he shares a father with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “We have a government that seems to want to hide from defending those freedoms,” Trudeau said today. He called Pierre Trudeau’s Charter ““the pride of the majority of Canadians including Quebecers.” And, needless to say, of Liberals.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair reached further back in history today to claim for his own party a link to the defence of religious freedoms in Quebec. In coming out against the Parti Quebecois’ proposed values code, Mulcair talked about how F. R. Scott— founding NDP figure and an icon of Montréal’s left—fought landmark court cases on religious freedoms the 1950s against then-Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis’ government.

With Trudeau and Mulcair both framing their reactions as flowing from their parties’ legal protection for religious and other freedoms, Kenney might have staked a Conservative claim. Why not, for instance, invoke former Tory prime minister John Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights? Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been known to remark that Dief doesn’t get enough credit for that 1960 bid to entrench federal protection of freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly.

This might have been the very moment to recall that legacy. In the days to come, the Tories will almost certainly want to find their own way of talking more forcefully on this issue. But now they will have to play catch-up.


How Kenney, Mulcair and Trudeau took on Quebec’s charter of values

  1. How about habits and cassocks? And of course there are Amish and Mennonites.

    Everybody or nobody.

    Sad that Cons are so far behind the curve on one of their pet subjects.

    • Or, Hutterites here in Alberta. The women are covered to the ankle and keep their hair covered, too. And have for, what, most of a century without Canadians getting in a turmoil about it.

      • I dunno if they have any in Quebec….but it’s got to be the same rule for everyone. The charter says ‘equality’

        • The problem, Emily, is that some religions/communities/cultures require a specific dress and others don’t. The turban and kirpan are absolutely central to Sikhism, whereas there’s no requirement for the Christian cross except perhaps in the examples you gave.

          And, yet, I like to see someone’s face when I have dealings with him or her, and I dislike talking to people who wear reflective/mirrored sunglasses for the same reason…

          • No, christians aren’t ‘required’ to wear a cross….but you’ll notice Quebec isn’t banning crosses…..just ‘large’ ones…but ‘large’ isn’t defined.

            What about the crosses worn by nuns and priests who work in hospitals and schools?

            Not all Jews are required to wear kippas either….but apparently now they’re banned anyway.

          • That’s what I meant, Emily. Some forms of religious garb are optional; others aren’t. I guess I laugh at the thought of the cross police out there measuring crosses, except the one in the National Assembly, of course.

          • LOL ‘Cross police’….what a can of worms this would be!

            Ain’t gonna happen.

      • Yes but Hutterites aren’t going to work in the public service. As for nuns and priests, they aren’t wearing habits or cassocks in the hospitals and they don’t work for the public service. They are paid by the Catholic church.

        • Agreed, but for some reason the dress that seems acceptable when it is adopted by Christian groups is not acceptable when worn by non-Christian groups.

          • The Hutterites have been the victims of a lot of bigotry as well. I lived in a small city as a child and I can remember store owners chasing the Hutterite kids out and accusing them of theft.

          • Yes, I’ve seen it even in Calgary. Just general unfriendliness toward them. They do seem to have a hard-bargaining outlook on business, which seems to annoy some. But, their cooperative lifestyle is really successful. One of my friends who grew up in the BC interior told me that the Dutch who came to her town after WWII were given quite a hard time, mainly (in her view) out of jealousy. The Dutch worked together and became very successful in their agricultural pursuits. This is like the Japanese-Canadians on the coast, who were completely ripped off under the guise of national security. Excuses for bigotry abound.

  2. Well the opposition parties talk. The government acts. Trudeau and Mulcair can talk all day long, it won’t change a thing.

    • The government acts with the urging of the opposition. Obviously the opposition cannot compel the government to challenge this in court so your point is, well, pointless.

      The government here is slow out of the gate. Trudeau was the first leader to speak forcefully about this. The other two are just following him.

      • Trudeau and Mulclair are Quebecers and as such have every right in the eyes of the French in the province to speak their opinions on what happens within the province and yet Marois attacked them, telling them to mind their own business. The federal government is headed by an Albertan. Marois was hoping the PM would get involved so she could whip up anti-English sentiment and turn this into show of how the English federalists try to intimidate the French and why Quebec needs to separate. She has to know this ridiculous value charter will never survive a court challenge. This is a diversionary tactic on her part. Yes, the government was slow out of the gate. It was a strategic move. If another province comes up with a bigoted value charter in the future, I expect Trudeau and Mulclair will be a little slower out the gate.

        • Marois’ motives are more than a little obvious. But you are totally speculating (and baselessly as well) about what Trudeau would do if another province followed suit.

          This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact Harper is from Alberta and Trudeau is from Quebec. The government was slow out the gate because a lot of their base happens to agree with Marois. Mulcair has the same problem. Trudeau was free to speak out because he does not.

          • I don’t agree that NDPers agree with Marois. The background of many New Democrats is non-AngloSaxon, non-francophone. What has united us is justice for all no matter how poor or disadvantaged.

          • Sure, the NDP outside of Quebec, but the ones inside Quebec?

            Last night the CBC reported that many in Mulcair’s caucus agree with Marois and that he had to put his foot down.

          • Shocking! I thought it was only Conservatives that were bigots.

          • But you are speculating too, when you say that the other two leaders are just following Justin Trudeau.

            It is your opinion that leaders must and shall respond quickly to something Marois proposes.

            Just because Justin Trudeau decided to respond quickly, does not mean therefore all other parties or leaders have to respond quickly.

            Justin Trudeau has not responded to the Syria crisis in any meaningful way. He has never come out to say if he would back the US.

            You are setting double standards and expect that to be the norm.

          • What happened, Francien, is that Mr. Trudeau put his future in Quebec at risk by offering his opinion; the other leaders had to ponder their electoral prospects for some time before they were willing to say a thing.

          • No, what happened is that Justin Trudeau needed to have airtime. And Trudeau is fully aware that the media takes his actions now as being the example which should be followed by all other leaders.

            In other words: when Justin speaks, all other leaders should speak!

            Such silly logic. Such silly games.

            Oh, btw, the media won’t complain, of course, when Justin does not speak up on matters Syria, as in: Does Justin stand behind the US or does he stand behind Russia?

            And so forth.

          • Mr. Trudeau is not in a position to do anything about our foreign policy, whereas he may be able to influence domestic policy. And, apparently, has – after Conservatives weighed their electoral risks and options.

          • I find posts such as yours so comical. I find them comical because the contents of your post (the one I am responding to now) contradicts itself without you being aware of it.

            First of all: just because Justin Trudeau speaks out on a particular issue does NOT automatically mean that other leaders must therefore speak out on the issue. But since you think it must be a given that all other leaders must speak up on an issue when Justin T has done so, leaves me to think that you believe Justin T must set the tone. Or else your demand (that others speak when Justin decides to speak) is not consistent but is merely a display of a pick-and-choose attitude.

            Ok, so which is it? Are other leaders worth less because they don’t speak after Justin speaks on a particular topic, or are leaders worthwhile for what they have to say on any topic under discussion?

            I would choose the latter. I want a leader to speak freely on topics of their choosing, regardless of what other leaders decide is worthwhile speaking up about. This tells me, when evaluating leadership, that because Justin has not spoken up about the US in regards to Syria, that he must not have an opinion in that regard, or at least not an opinion he finds worthwhile sharing. Such behaviour is not what I am looking for in a leader who wants to become our next PM.

            Being first out of the gate for speaking up against Quebec’s confusion, only has value when you find ‘being first out of the gate’ to be most important. I don’t value politicians in such manner. Sorry!

          • He went first, the other two waited, hence they followed. Not that they did what they did because he did, they just did what they did AFTER he did what he did. You know, like following.

            And no, other parties do not HAVE to respond quickly. Frankly it makes Trudeau look better that he did not wait. Now the others are trying to play catch up.

          • How old are you? Seriously, how old are you?

            For people to believe that any leader who speaks out first is the one who gets the most credit, is simply laughable.

            You are so being taken for a fool! And you don’t even know it. That is the most interesting part.

          • In this case he did speak out first, he did not wait to speak to his caucus to bring them in line, and he spoke for his party as the party leader, instead of sending someone else out like Harper did.

            So yes, he looks like he is on top of things, and that he is leading the charge on this issue. It is not that hard to understand.

          • Haha! Pull the other one Gayle! Now you are going to suggest that all Conservatives are bigots. Why then, isn’t this little scenario playing out in our home province of Alberta, which overwhelmingly votes Conservative federally and provincially. No, it is taking place in the NDP strong hold of Quebec. Sorry, you can’t blame Harper for this blatant bigotry. If you haven’t noticed, there aren’t any enraged Quebecois marching in the streets over the values charter like they did for cheap post secondary education.
            As for Trudeau and Mulclair, of course they are embarrassed and disgusted about what is happening in their own home province. You are right though, Justin might not listen to anyone when it comes to political strategy.

          • He’s having no trouble with strategy that I have discerned.

          • Whatever did I say that suggests I blame Harper for this bigotry?

            In fact I have no idea what you are replying to.

          • “Whatever did I say that suggests I blame Harper for this bigotry?” Gee Gayle, you claimed that Conservatives are bigots and agree with Marois. Are you saying these aren’t your words:
            “The government was slow out of the gate because a lot of their base happens to agree with Marois.”

          • I said their base, not Harper. You do understand the difference, don’t you? Because they are not the same…

  3. Harper’s approach to Quebec has always been to try to lowball things and avoid stirring the separatist pot. I suspect Kenney’s job was to indicate they won’t tolerate a breach of the Charter rights (though he chose to use the word “constitutional” rather than voice what they consider the C-word) on religious freedom without giving the PQ too much to sink theitr teeth into.
    As long as they are willing to back their soft speech with a big stick, this actually isn’t a bad approach.

    • Yes, Marois wants to make this into a fight between Quebeckers and outsiders; French and English. She has tried to paint Trudeau and Mulclair as outsiders who have no right to interfere and they are elected representatives and citizens of the province. She would love nothing better than to make this into a fight between Quebec and English Canada so that she could claim the French were being attacked yet again by federalists.
      As for needing a big stick, hasn’t Marois already talked about a five year delay in implementing parts of her plan. She may not be around in five years.

      • Classic maintenance of a bunker mentality, eh what?

  4. It shouldn’t even be the federal government attacking this in court. It should be a citizen directly affected by the law once it comes into effect.

    Now that would be costly and time consuming, but there is a fund of money set up to aid those who are affected by such things and need to fight those battles.

    Oh, what’s that you say? Harper’s first chief of staff, based on the flawed scholarship of his University of Calgary Master’s thesis, cut that program because he thought minorities had it too darn good and they were using equality laws to get ahead?

    Hmmmm, maybe Kenney was terse for a whole bunch of reasons…

    • Yes, the Court Challenges Program was one of the first things Harper axed.

    • Just your opinion to say that the federal government should not attack in court.

      Your opinions are just your opinions.

      I suppose you have some link to substantiate that last part of your post.

      • There is a principle called “standing” which dictates that to bring a case in court you have to have a direct stake in its outcome. Reference decisions of the kind kenney suggests (which of course have their place) are an exception to this principle. The advantage of an actual plaintiff with standing is that decisions can be made from an actual fact basis rather than a hypothetical scenario.

        Furthermore, the Charter exists to give citizens legal protection from the government. It’s not about one government posturing in order to take a swipe at another. The fact kenney has politically attacked muslims and the CPC killed the court challenges program yet says it might act here is an uncomfortable dollop of “your rights will matter only when it is convenient for the government of the day, and will be exercised at our whim”, which is as antithetical to the Charter as you can get.

  5. Odd that Mulcair would reference Scott – who also happened to be Trudeau’s political mentor. All roads seem to lead back to the old guy as far as individual rights legislation goes in this country. The spectacle of both Kenney and Mulcair trying not to overtly acknowledge that fact is funny, in a sad and slightly pathetic way.

    • I am not sure that it is odd that Trudeau had a mentor that was more toward the left. Trudeau and Rene Leveque apparently were very close political allies at one time. As well, Harper was a young Liberal. People’s political alliances seem to evolve.

      • True. Scott ended up being disappointed with the charter, he thought Trudeau shouldn’t have caved on the issue of the NW clause. The reality though was no clause, no charter.

  6. What is Canadian politics coming to? Politicians stirring up needless controversies to justify their own existence, forgetting that their primary mandate was to improve the welfare of those who voted (as well as those who didn’t) into power. This is political corruption to the very core! We need a people movement to restore Canadian politics to its proper track.

    • I agree, except that it is the voters’ fault this happens. Harper comes to power in part on the rather unwise promise to lower the GST. He spends millions on tough on crime legislation we simply do not need. And yet these policies are extremely popular to an uninformed electorate.

      A people movement requires people to be informed, and they are not.

  7. What I don’t understand about this whole debate is why, for the sake of imposing a dress code to its civil service and to employees of state-funded schools, hospitals etc., why does this government propose a Charter? The Charte de la langue française, the Charte québécoises des droits et libertés de la personne apply to all citizens, and a Charter is viewed by most citizens as such.

    This is what will be blurring the line for many citizens on matters which beg for greater clarity. This is where it gets dangerous for the social climate. Why a Charter when a ‘directive’ would be sufficient?
    My guess is that in the eyes of the current PQ leadership this is but a first step. Eventually, they plan on banning all religious signs from the public sphere, as they say, except of course for the cross.

  8. Funny, I saw a clip of Trudeau on Question Period recently and when asked if he would bring a Charter Challenge if PM and he avoided the question basically saying that it wouldn’t be necessary b/c he trusted the people of Quebec would deal with it.

  9. The institution is meant to be secular – the employees of the institution need not be. An employee works at the institution – they are not the institution. This is the final push I needed to get out of Quebec. I will never be pur laine enough for these xenophobes and proud of it.

  10. I don’t care about anywhere else, but public schools and hospitals should be religion free. My atheist grandkids should not have someone else’s religion forced on them and I should not be exposed to a nosocomial (yes, I spelled it incorrectly) infection because some nurse insists she wears a hijab or niqab while looking after me

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