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Parti Quebecois promises “Charter of Secularism” if elected

FocusInsights.org, By Subby Szterszky, August 28, 2012: As a provincial election looms in Quebec, the Parti Quebecois has decided to court votes by promising to enact a so-called “Charter of Secularism.” This legislation would prohibit public employees from wearing religious symbols or items of clothing – hijabs, turbans, kippahs – while on the job. An exception would be made for crucifixes, as long as they’re small and inconspicuous, however that’s defined. Also, the crucifix in the Quebec National Assembly would be allowed to remain, despite being neither small nor inconspicuous.

PQ leader Pauline Marois claims the purpose of the bill is to uphold Quebec culture and traditions as well as the rights of women in the province. How the latter is to be accomplished by permitting some women to wear a “discreet” crucifix while forbidding others from wearing a hijab is difficult to ascertain.

What’s easier to ascertain is the unabashedly aggressive and arbitrary nature of this proposal. It flies in the face of multiculturalism and freedom of religious expression that are hallmarks of Canadian constitutional law. Indeed, it appears Marois and her party are intent on defining secularism, Quebec culture and tradition according to their own subjective preferences. “We don’t have to apologize for who we are,” the PQ leader asserted, presuming to speak on behalf of Quebecers.

But in reality Marois does not speak for all, or even most, Quebecers. Religious leaders have voiced their justifiable concerns regarding the proposed legislation. Liberal intellectuals who once supported the PQ have jumped ship as the party has veered to the right. And legal experts have pointed out that the bill would never stand before Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

No matter. Marois and the PQ have affirmed they’re ready and willing to invoke the notwithstanding clause in a constitutional fight. They’ve stated their intention to use the issue as a catalyst to renew their push for Quebec independence. “Our boss is not the Supreme Court of Canada – our boss is the will of the people of Quebec,” stated Jean-Francois Lisee, a PQ adviser. “We do not want to legislate while taking into account Canadian judges. We will legislate considering the interests of Quebecers.”

In point of fact, it seems the PQ is only considering the interests of a certain segment of Quebecers, those who share its particular vision for Quebec nationalism.

Quebec occupies a unique place in Canadian society. It’s impossible to imagine any party in any other province proposing a similar piece of legislation without committing political suicide. Nevertheless, the warning occasioned by this “Charter of Secularism” should not be lost on the rest of Canada. When any party, provincial or federal, threatens to restrict religious expression – or perhaps more ominously, select forms of religious expression – we would do well to take notice.

Selected sources:

Freedom of Religion, Quebec Email Us 

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