A new report suggests the separatist Government of Quebec is listening to some of the criticisms of its proposed Charter of Values.
Supposedly the Parti Quebecois will now include a provision to remove the crucifix that has been hanging in the National Assembly since 1936 and “a previous exemption for lawmakers will also be struck from the charter, which would presumably make it against the law for Muslim, Sikh and Jewish politicians to sit in the legislature while sporting clothing and symbols important to their faith.”
One month ago, I wrote about the proposed charter, criticizing its hypocrisy for singling out some religious symbols while enshrining Catholic privilege. I also decried the antagonistic approach of the Quebec government, stating: “If you have to pass laws banning religious iconography, you’re doing secularism wrong.”
I stand by those words today.
It’s promising to see the government recognize the criticisms it received over the 1936 Crucifix but the insistence on uniformly banning religious symbols, now including elected representatives, is unconscionable. Our political representatives should be that – representative. The culture of Quebec is no longer homogenous, white, male, and quasi-secular Catholic.
Presumably candidates for Quebec’s National Assembly will be campaigning while wearing whatever religious attire they believe they are compelled to wear. If the citizens of their riding then choose to elect that person to office, why should they be forced to then remove it?
Clothing has no rational ability to affect one’s ability to draft laws.
We should enact no limits to the free practice of religion where:
- it has no impact on one’s ability to do their job,
- they are able to offer services without discrimination,
- it harm no one else,
- or it will not be viewed as state endorsement.
Debates over clothing are generally little more than attempts to dictate what is acceptable within your existing culture. As Muslim feminist Shelina Zahra Janmohamed writes, “stop fighting over what I wear, and start addressing who I am. I am neither burqa nor bikini. I am woman.”
Meanwhile, the small leftist-separatist Quebec Solidaire (with two seats) is proposing an amendment to the Charter to promote both secularism and reasonable accommodation. I’m not sure if this is the best answer (I haven’t read their bill yet), but it’s definitely a better approach then the attempt to blanket ban religious symbols of minority faiths. Unfortunately, the PQ is unlikely to listen to these arguments and will likely push forward with its hardline Charter with support from the right-leaning Coalition Avenir Quebec.
The debate will continue and ultimately this Charter, in the extreme PQ format, will land it in the Supreme Court of Canada. I see little chance of the clothing bans standing against the protected freedom of religion based on precedents protecting reasonable religious accommodations.
The separatists will then get to fight their favourite battle against the rest of Canada as they decide whether to enact the notwithstanding clause to preserve their Charter.
At the very least, at least this revised Charter will remove some religious privilege in Quebec, although it will be obscured by the battle over what minorities are allowed to wear to work.