le­gault mak­ing things up as he goes along

Montreal Gazette - - NEWS - DON MACPHER­SON dmacpgaz@gmail.com Twit­ter: DMacpGaz

François Leg au lt’ s Coali­tion Avenir Québec gov­ern­ment-elect hasn’ t been sworn in yet, let alone faced the Na­tional As­sem­bly. And al­ready, its pro­posed hi jab-and-kip­pah ban is un­rav­el­ling like the prover­bial cheap sweater, ev­ery time some­body pick sat an­other loose thread.

The CAQ would for bid pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees in “po­si­tions of author­ity ,” in­clud­ing teach­ers, from wear­ing religious sym­bol sat work, such as the head scarf worn by some Mus­lim women and the skull cap worn by some Jewish men.

The pro­posal is pop­u­lar. In a poll by the An­gus Reid In­sti­tute be­fore the Oct .1 elec­tion ,70 per cent of Que­bec vot­ers sup­ported it, 47 per cent strongly.

But since the elec­tion, in an­other ex­am­ple of the im­pro­vi­sa­tion that char­ac­ter­ized Leg au lt’ s cam­paign, even the CAQ seems un­cer­tain as to whether its ban would ap­ply to present em­ploy­ees as well as new hires.

And the closer you look at the pro­posal, the more loose threads you see.

A La Pres se ed­i­to­rial help­fully sug­gested to the CAQ that it “ex­tend a ha nd” to religious mi­nori­ties with a“grand­fa­ther clause” en­sur­ing that present em­ploy­ees would not lose their jobs be­cause of the ban.

This would ben­e­fit the CAQ , by avoid­ing the bad“op­tics ”( ugh) of, say, tear­ful teach­ers be­ing fired. In­di­vid­u­als dis­cour­aged from ap­ply­ing for a job in the first place would be less vis­i­ble on the tele­vi­sion news.

But they would still be vic­tims of dis­crim­i­na­tion in hir­ing. Some ex­tended ha nd.

And the gov­ern­ment would still vi­o­late a fun­da­men­tal free­dom. The CAQ has con­ceded as much by say­ing it would in­voke the rarely used“not­with­stand­ing” clause in the con­sti­tu­tional Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms to over­ride pro­tec­tion of free­dom of re­li­gion if nec­es­sary, which it al­most cer­tainly would be.

So, Que­bec would be the first ju­ris­dic­tion in North Amer­ica to vi­o­late free­dom of re­li­gion by dis­crim­i­nat­ing in em­ploy­ment a ga inst mi­nori­ties. This might dam­age the province’ s rep­u­ta­tion in there st of this con­ti­nent.

And for what? The ban would not achieve the CAQ ’s stated ob­jec­tive of a“sec­u­lar” Que­bec.

The CAQ ha s vowed to keep the Catholic cru­ci­fix in its place of hon­our above the speaker’ s chair in the leg­isla­tive cham­ber where the province’ s laws are made.

To Humpty Dump ty in Alice in Won­der land, a word“means just what I choose it to mean .” The Que­bec vari­a­tion ap­plies to sym­bols.

Leg au lt this week re­peated the ar­gu­ment that the cru­ci­fix in the As­sem­bly is no longer a religious sym­bol, but now is a his­tor­i­cal one.

Again mak­ing it up as he goes along, Leg au lt added a new wrin­kle: the cru­ci­fix rep­re­sents the role of Bri­tish Protest ants as well as French Catholic sin the province’s his­tory.

That the cru­ci­fix is a Protes­tant sym­bol may have been a rev­e­la­tion to Protest ants. But if you ac­cept the Leg au lt doc­trine that a sym­bol means what­ever you find con­ve­nient, then gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees who wear religious sym­bols can sim­ply ar­gue, as the premier-des­ig­nate says of the cru­ci­fix, that they’ re not re­ally religious sym­bol sat all.

The ab­sur­dity doesn’t end there. If the CAQ ac­cepted the sug­ges­tion of a grand­fa­ther clause for the ban, it could take more than 40 years to elim­i­nate the wear­ing of religious sym­bols by gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, un­til the last of those who now wear them re­tired.

Nor would the ban achieve an­other CAQ ob­jec­tive, of fi­nally set­tling the“rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tions” de­bate in Que­bec af­ter more than a decade.

The ban would not af­fect the many other forms of religious ac­com­mo­da­tion. And it would in­evitably be chal­lenged in court.

Even if the courts up­held it, if the CAQ in­voked the not­with­stand­ing clause, it would prac­ti­cally guar­an­tee that the ban would bean is­sue in ev­ery gen­eral elec­tion as long as it re­mained in ef­fect. That’ s be­cause the Char­ter in­cludes a sun­set re­quire­ment that the in­vo­ca­tion of its not­with­stand­ing clause be re­newed ev­ery five yea rs.

That’ s one more thing of which Leg au lt, with his lazy school­boy’ s a ver­sion to do­ing his home­work, may have been ig­no­rant.

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