Quebec “Values Charter” Controversy

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Under the proposed Charter of Quebec Values, a dress like this would be forbidden in the public sector. /image: Arthur Ward

Under the proposed Charter of Quebec Values, a dress like this would be forbidden in the public sector. /image: Arthur Ward

Multiculturalism being tarnished

Article: Taylor Rattray – Contributor

Earlier this month, the Parti Québécois(PQ) , the minority government in Quebec, announced its proposal for a “Charter of Values.” This charter would prohibit anyone working in the public sector—for example, judges, teachers, police officers, and anyone in institutions that receive public funds—from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols. Additionally, anyone giving or receiving a public service must also uncover their faces. These restrictions would apply to all Quebecers, except elected officials. But while the PQ calls for a “religiously neutral state”, any historic symbols currently in Quebec will remain standing, including any objects that symbolize the Catholic Quebec.

This proposition has created an immense amount of controversy. Dr. Jim Farney, a Political Science professor at the University of Regina, sheds some light on the backlash of the issue. Farney claims, “If I was in Quebec, I would be opposed to the idea. I think it encroaches freedom of religion. I think it doesn’t recognize the diversity that is Quebec, and, this is the bit that’s kind of contextual, I don’t think it’s the place of state to build culture and identity”.

One of the prominent objections toward this charter has been its infringement on The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, specifically on the freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and equality rights against discrimination. To rebel against what has been an extremely important factor in Canadian identity raises questions as to the PQ’s purpose of such a charter. The Charter of Values is said to unify Quebecers.

“The obligation of religious people when they enter the political square is to make policies that all people of religious faiths could accept…in the Quebec model [of government]…the state itself needs to be free of religion, it’s part of the national identity and that means kind of a white-washing of religion in public spaces,” claims Farney.

In this context, it’s easy to sympathize with such an idea. Minister Drainville, member of the PQ, defined it to World Time “as the natural extension of a process that began in the 1960’s, when Quebec decided to move away from the Catholic Church and priests and nuns teaching in the new public school system accepted to give up their religious garb.”

It is also believed that eliminating religious symbols will reduce discrimination towards religious people. But instead of creating complete equality in the public sector and eliminating the ability of society to judge others on their religious affiliation, the PQ has created something that, what MP of the NDP party in Quebec, Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe states “[doesn’t] respect Quebec’s society values at all”. She clarifies, “I’ve talked to people who are scared for their job, for the future of their children, and it is really unfortunate that the individual rights are tracked by the charter and checked now by the government, so I am disappointed. The NDP express their disagreement, their disappointment about this charter, and that is our position about it.”

Additionally, she believes “we should rather try to find solutions and bring people together instead of bringing them into a divide of debate; we have to be careful and we have to make sure our Charter, and our human rights, are protected.”

Of course, not all Quebecers believe in this type of charter. Blanchette-Lamothe insists, “It is not Quebec that wants to implement that charter. We have to be very careful about the message we send outside Quebec to our fellows of Western Canada because there’s a lot of Quebecers who don’t agree at all with the that charter and actually, I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest numbers, but we see that the Charter is less and less popular. As of today, it is not Quebec that wants to go in that direction. I don’t think that charter of values really reflects the values of my province.”

According to the Montreal Gazette, 52 percent of respondents in a recent poll supported the PQ Charter and 36 percent opposed it.

Such opposition has sprung up all over the country and some even fear it could further separate Quebec from the rest of Canada.

Farney admits, “I’ve seen some people say that’s part of the point, that really what the PQ is looking for here is to trigger an English-Canadian backlash. I think there may be something to that.”

If this is the case, it’s hard to predict the outcome of such a proposition. But, as a minority government, the PQ will need the support of at least one of the two province’s opposition parties.

It has often been said that Canada is a mosaic of cultures, and this connotation describes a country which highlights all other cultures, which Canadians often strive to do. But the question is, if Canadians choose to eliminate the representation of religious affiliation in the public sector, are we really highlighting the importance of multiculturalism? Blanchette-Lamothe argued that multiculturalism is an important richness of our country that the charter does not respect. Canadian democracy should always reflect the views of Canadians. The question is, do Canadians believe equality lies in the exclusion of differences, or in its acceptance?

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