ARPA Note: Watch a CTV interview with André on the same topic here. It has also been covered by Newstalk1010 in Toronto, the National Post, and replublished in the Calgary Herald.
By André Schutten, Ottawa Citizen, Sept 12 2013: While picking up a couple of cigars from the local smoke shop in Gatineau, I got into a short but lively conversation about the new Charter of Quebec Values introduced by the Parti Québécois that morning. The friendly tobacconist assisting me was supportive of the new charter, as are two thirds of Quebecers if recent polls are to be believed.
I disagreed with the tobacco salesman, and was bold enough to tell him why. However, my friend across the counter did point out one thing that has been missed in the commentary to date, a point that I had to concede. Referring to the negative response coming from the “Rest of Canada”, he scoffed, “Look at the pot calling the kettle black.”
As I lit my cigar later that evening, I was surprised to be able to recall example after example of exactly what my friend had called “hypocritical outrage.”
Let me just give one for each province west of Québec. In each case of state intrusion on religious rights, the majority of the mainstream media, federal politicians and society in general didn’t bat an eye.
During the Alberta election campaign in 2012, the Wildrose Party supported the freedom of conscience for doctors to refuse to perform abortions. This “frightened” Premier Alison Redford. She said, “I certainly respect people’s personal beliefs [but] all of the unique families in this province have the opportunity to know that when they’re accessing services, they can trust those services can be provided. And when [doctors] take on professional responsibilities, I expect them to be able to meet those professional responsibilities.”
That sounds a whole lot like what Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is saying. If you work for the government in Alberta, you leave your religion at the door. You say your religion forbids you to abort pre-born children? Too bad! Do it or quit.
The same approach was used in Saskatchewan in relation to marriage commissioners. The province employs a large cohort of commissioners of whom only three objected (on religious grounds) to marrying gay couples after the marriage law changed in 2005.
Rather than find a solution that accommodates the competing rights of both parties, the province abandoned religious civil servants after a Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decision in 2011. The three commissioners were told to either violate their conscience or quit.
Never mind the fact that in both provinces there were plenty and sufficient numbers of doctors and marriage commissioners who were happy to perform these tasks. No, all doctors and all commissioners had to adapt or leave. In both cases, the religious rights of a few civil servants were tossed with absolutely no consideration to accommodate them.
In similar fashion, the Canadian Council of Law Deans condemned plans for a Christian law school in British Columbia simply because its students choose to govern themselves according to tenets of the Christian moral code. And we’re not even talking about civil servants here — these are just professionals-in-training. Religion apparently must be left outside the law office too.
We saw more of this type of “accommodation” in the Ontario legislature last year during the debates over the contentious bullying law, Bill 13. The then-minister for colleges and universities, Glen Murray, (now transport minister) stood in the house and, after reading from a Roman Catholic pastoral guideline on a scriptural interpretation of sexuality, said, “I have to say to the [Catholic] bishops: ‘You’re not allowed to do that anymore.'”
Not to be outdone, the then-minister for education, Laurel Broten, explained that Christian schools couldn’t teach that abortion is wrong because that would be “one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.” These are shocking statements to make. We’re not talking about wearing a certain piece of religious garb here — these are fundamental moral teachings.
Manitoba is working on its own version of a bully law, Bill 18. This bill would also apply to religious independent schools. Yet the education minister, Nancy Allan, seems quite intent on forcing a certain humanist world view on independent religious schools, with no regard for religious accommodation. Here, too, we’re not talking about civil servants — these impositions are on private religious institutions.
As the state grows, the discrimination in employment practices by the state becomes all the more alarming. But the lack of accommodation for religious clothing and symbols, religious practices and rituals, and religious doctrines and teachings spills out well beyond the public service.
I hope that the Rest of Canada can do some introspection. Are we guilty, even just a little, of hypocritically trying to take the speck out of Quebec’s eye when we’re blind to the plank in our own? Admittedly, Quebec’s speck is looking a whole lot more like a plank, but the only real difference between Quebec and the Rest of Canada, on this issue, is that Quebec is being bold and forthright about its intentions.
André Schutten, Hon. B.A., LL.B., is a lawyer with ARPA Canada. This summer he completed the work for his master of laws degree focusing on freedom of religion.