Quebec’s divisive secular charter draws the pushback it deserves
Has it come to this? Municipal employees in upscale Hampstead, in Montreal, have never been known to wear their religious beliefs on their sleeves. But Mayor William Steinberg tells the Montreal Gazette that some want to start sporting banned religious symbols if Bill 60, Quebec’s odious charter of “state secularism,” becomes law.
The message? Whoever we may be — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews — we won’t be denied our constitutionally protected religious identities because Premier Pauline Marois and her Parti Québécois need a wedge issue to carry into the next election. The pushback to Bill 60, put before the National Assembly this week, has begun.
Marois has split Quebecers with her cynically divisive gambit to enshrine “secularism” in government affairs, managing to alienate even fellow nationalists. Past PQ premiers Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, both iconic figures, have denounced it as a small-minded attack on minorities. And Françoise David of the Québec Solidaire party is disgusted. “As a sovereigntist I think this is a sad day, because people are being told, ‘Our sovereignty project, well, it’s not an inclusive project’,” she says.
As drafted, Bill 60 is even harsher than advertised. It prohibits judges, police, bureaucrats, teachers, doctors, nurses and others on the public payroll from wearing “conspicuous” religious gear such as Muslim head scarves, Sikh turbans, large crosses and Jewish kippas while on the job. But it also extends to private sector workers on contract to government. It takes aim at Muslim, Jewish and other dietary practices, even in daycare centres. And it offers fewer opt-out provisions than expected.
Given the PQ’s minority status, the bill’s chances of making it into law without being watered down seem remote. Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard has rightly denounced it as “a frontal assault” on civil liberties, and “unworkable, unlawful, unconstitutional.” Montreal’s mayor-elect, Denis Coderre, and fellow mayors representing 2 million people have denounced it as embarrassing, divisive and illegal. Jacques Frémont, who heads the Quebec Human Rights Commission, predicts the courts will “rip it to shreds.”
Still, the PQ seems eager to campaign on it in the next election, hoping to galvanize their base and capitalize on some voters’ fears that minorities are undermining their ill-defined values.
Having failed to peddle independence, the PQ is now reduced to stirring a furor over a nonproblem to regain traction. It is cynical, manipulative politics. People are right to push back.