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Canada: Quebec Charter widely seen as divisive rather than creating religious harmony PDF Print E-mail

September 13 2013
Quebec ‘values charter’ is as stupid and divisive as we feared
By Chris Selley
An image released by the Quebec government showing "ostentatious" symbols that would be banned.

On the bright side, the Parti Québécois and its Minister for Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville, have laid their cards on the table. Some recent reports suggested they would release their proposals for a “Charter of Quebec Values” only in dribs and drabs over the autumn, the better to let opponents’ imaginations run wild and capitalize on outrage from the Rest of Canada that misunderstands and despises Quebec’s unique society. Perhaps the number of francophone and/or feminist voices inside Quebec deploring this initiative as pointless, or worse, forced their hand.

Whatever the case, here we finally are.

The government proposes to “entrench the religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of public institutions in [Quebec's] Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms,” and establish therein a sort of flowchart process for granting or denying religious accommodations. (Just one example: If you work for a small company and want to take a religious holiday off, you might be out of luck.)

And, perhaps most controversially, the government proposes to impose upon all public servants a duty of religious neutrality during their workdays ­ which means an end to “ostentatious religious symbols” (per the government press release) or “visible” religious symbols (per Mr. Drainville at this morning’s press conference in Quebec City) or some combination of those two adjectives, also according to Mr. Drainville, who produced an unbelievably creepy chart: A small but entirely visible crucifix, Star of David or Islamic crescent on a pendant, ring or earring is fine; a kippa, turban, burka or large cross is not.

And now, the bad news: I submit that it is impossible for anyone honestly to support this initiative as it has finally been presented.

You can pretend it’s about gender equality or cracking down on religions that subjugate women, or Islam specifically, but that involves (a) projecting said motivation onto Mr. Drainville and Premier Pauline Marois, neither of whom has articulated it; and (b) ignoring that it also cracks down on Sikh and Jewish men ­ and Christian men and women, for that matter ­ who feel a duty to wear certain symbols of their faith. (That’s all assuming that threatening women with termination ameliorates gender equality in the first place, which seems a quite dubious proposition.)

And you can pretend it’s about secularism, but it demonstrably is not. How could it be when public servants would still be allowed to wear religious symbols, albeit subject to a random determination of “ostentation.” What does a crucifix on a chain signify except ­ to some degree, anyway ­ “I’m Christian”? For all anyone knows it could mean “I’m culturally Christian but not much else,” or “I’m very Christian indeed and I think you should be too and here take this pamphlet” ­ and by the same token, neither a kippa nor a hijab nor a turban offers any useful insight into the level of its wearer’s devotion or evangelism. I could put on a kippa or crucifix right now and it wouldn’t mean a damn thing.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair finally promised Tuesday to stand “foursquare against” the new values charter

Come to think of it, I keep hearing from people on Mr. Drainville’s side of the issue that the hijab isn’t a religious symbol at all, but a cultural artifact people choose to wear. Mr. Drainville and Ms. Marois are very keen on “cultural history” when it comes to the crucifix in the National Assembly (installed by the not-so-secularist Maurice Duplessis in 1936) and the cross on Mont-Royal (donated to the city in 1929 by the not-so-secularist Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste), both of which will remain in place. Not so much for people whose ancestors didn’t inhabit New France, weirdly enough.

“Quebec is more and more multi-ethnic and multi-religious,” Mr. Drainville observed on Tuesday morning. “That is a great source of strength.” Just, you know, take off the damn turban.

Perhaps most laughably, when asked how managers might determine just what constituted religious ostentation and what did not, Mr. Drainville appealed to the “good old common sense” that Quebecers use to work out their problems every day. Which brings us back to the central absurdity of this entire exercise: Yes, a strong majority of Quebecers say they support what the Parti Québécois government is doing ­ but there is no evidence it was a top of mind issue until the PQ decided to make it one, again, all by itself, and for purposes that could hardly be more obviously, at best, duplicitous.

Mr. Drainville says he wants an earnest discussion among Quebecers about these proposals before he tables legislation. Having arrived at this odious situation, that’s as it should be. NDP leader Tom Mulcair finally promised Tuesday to stand “foursquare against” the notion, and he is exactly the sort of Quebec voice the “kill it with fire” camp needs onside. Let’s hope they’re ready for battle.
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September 13 2013
The secularism charter is about the Niqab. Turbans and crosses are merely collateral damage
By Jonathan Kay
(Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

Quebec’s PQ government has published a helpful set of comic panels showing Quebecers what sort of religious garb will be permitted, and not permitted, under its planned secularism charter. There are separate panels for Jews, Christians, Sikhs and Muslims. Teeny religious symbols are permis au personnel de l’état. Anything visible from across a room, on the other hand, ne seraient pas permis.

But if Pauline Marois and her supporters were being more honest with themselves, the comic would have had but a single panel: an image of a veiled woman with a line through it.

Face-covering is what this is really about. Turbans, crosses and Stars of David are all just collateral damage stuck in for the sake of ostensible religious neutrality. It simply wouldn’t do for Ms. Marois to single out one religious faith for censure. So she created a policy that goes after everyone.

An image released by the Quebec government showing, top three, "non-ostentatious" religious symbols that could be worn by public employees, and, bottom five images, "ostentatious" symbols that would be banned under the charter.

This morning, I happened to fall into conversation with a woman at my health club, a Quebec-born Toronto transplant. I’ve known her for years, and never heard her emit any political opinion that did not conform to the standard progressive, Hogtown, multi-culti take on things. But when I asked her about Quebec’s secularism charter, she paused, as if wondering whether or not she should chance offending me. “Uh, well, I’m French …” the woman said, as if she needed to provide me with some sort of an excuse for supporting Ms. Marois’ planned legislation.

Yet when I pushed her on the issue, she quickly admitted that she didn’t actually care about turbans or Stars of David, or even headscarves. All that was beside the point. For her, it was all about the face.

“When I talk to someone, I want to see their facial expression,” she told me. “I need to know if they’re happy, if they’re angry. It’s basic. If I can’t see that, they’re not really there.”

She’s right. There’s really no politically correct way of saying it, but the truth of it is that the niqab (“a cloth which covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab,” is how Wikipedia describes it) is fundamentally creepy. Human beings are social creatures who become apprehensive and alienated in environments in which they cannot read social cues. The act of donning the niqab is a hostile gesture for this reason. It creates a sense of defensiveness among strangers, because it sends the implicit message that we are either too disgusting or threatening to interact with in a normal human manner.

No one employed by the state, except for entirely solitary tasks, should be permitted to remain masked during work hours

I don’t have a problem with Islam. But I do have a problem with being pre-emptively shunned. And I am in total agreement with Ms. Marois on this single prong of her secularism initiative. No one employed by the state, except for those engaged in entirely solitary tasks, should be permitted to remain masked during work hours.

There are some who say that this attitude is Islamophobic. And indeed, it is true that in the months and years immediately after 9/11, reactionaries said all sorts of phobic things about hijabs and headscarves (often confusing the various terms in the process). But please note that even as attitudes toward Muslims have become more enlightened in Western societies over the last 12 years, there has been absolutely zero change in the instinctive Western repulsion at the Niqab and Burka, which suggests that dealing with masked people taps into a fundamental and well-founded source of anxiety that cannot be made to disappear with sensitivity training.

It is only a tiny slice of Canadian Muslims who support the wearing of the niqab: Most of this country’s Islamic community, no doubt, finds face-covering as alienating as the rest of us. Yet Ms. Marois’ legislation shows how the minority of Muslims who don the niqab is threatening religious freedom for everyone else: Because it is unseemly to crack down on just one religious or cultural tradition, the anti-niqab backlash in Quebec has taken the form of incipient legislation that targets all religious communities. If the niqab, then the turban. If the turban, then the Star of David. If the Star of David, then the Christian Cross. And if the Christian Cross, well then, even non-face-covering Muslim headscarves are outré, as well.

In Quebec, devout followers of many faiths may soon pay the price for the few who follow this one especially unfortunate, anti-social and backwards custom.
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September 13 2013
Quebec releases controversial ‘values charter,’ proposes that anyone giving, receiving public services would need face uncovered
By Philip Authier, Postmedia News

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois receives the tables Charter of Quebec values from Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship Bernard Drainville Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City  (Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press)

• The proposal would ban “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols by government employees
• Would make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered while providing or receiving a state service
• Quebec will entrench the concept of religious neutrality in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms
• A bill will be tabled this fall
• Marois’ minority government would require opposition support to pass the bill
• The Conservative government says it would mount a legal challenge against the new charter of Quebec values if it was deemed to violate religious freedoms
• “We’re categorical in rejecting this approach,” NDP leader Thomas Mulcair says
• Justin Trudeau accuses Marois of playing “divisive identity politics”

QUEBEC ­ A tiny crucifix around the neck is fine and so is a small ring with the star of David or a little earring with a religious symbol.

But the Quebec government of Premier Pauline Marois proposes to prohibit the wearing of “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols by government employees ­ from judges right down to a day care worker.

And it wants to make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered while providing or receiving a state service.

Quebec will also try to shield its new Charter of Quebec Values from legal challenges by entrenching the concept of religious neutrality in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The whole package will be included in a bill to be tabled this fall in the National Assembly, Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville said Tuesday, tabling the Parti Québécois government’s long-awaited proposal to create Quebec’s first-ever Charter of Values.

“The time has come to rally around our common values,” Drainville said at a news conference Tuesday.

“They define who we are. Let’s be proud of them.”

Long-awaited and the subject of several leaks, Drainville’s proposal was surprisingly detailed, including graphics showing the kinds of religious symbols the government will allow for its employees.

Defining what is conspicuous could rapidly become a problem but the government plan does not include a formal measuring system.

For example, regulations to apply Quebec’s French Language Charter include a definition of what Quebec considers “marked predominance” on letters on signs.

But while the package does not address that question, the measures are, however, sweeping. If adopted, Quebec will “limit” the wearing of conspicuous symbols by state employees from the top down.

That includes personnel with power to impose sanctions, such as judges, prosecutors, police officers and correctional agents. Public and private daycare workers would have the same restrictions as would school board personnel in the elementary and high school system, plus in CEGEPs and universities.

The same goes in the public health and social services networks.

But as foreseen, Quebec plans to proceed softly down the path of state secularism by allowing for opting out.

In the case of CEGEPs, universities and municipalities, the board of directors or municipal council could adopt a resolution allowing its personnel to wear religious symbols.

“This authorization would be valid for a period of up to five years and renewable,” the government’s documents state. “It would not apply to the obligation of having one’s face uncovered.”

Making the pitch for the measures, Drainville said the package is based on fundamental Quebec values, including the equality of men and women.

“The time has come for us to rally around clear rules and common values which will put an end to tensions and misunderstandings,” Drainville said in a statement.

“Our proposals will be a source of better understanding, harmony and cohesion for all Quebecers, regardless of their religion or origin.”

Not all forms of secularism would be equal, however.