New premier, same old story: Québec’s long­time anti-niqab ef­forts

Sherbrooke Record - - EDITORIAL - By Han­nah Dick As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor, School of Jour­nal­ism and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Car­leton Uni­ver­sity

One day af­ter the sur­prise vic­tory of the Coali­tion Avenir Québec (CAQ) in the re­cent Québec elec­tion, Premier-elect François Le­gault told a news con­fer­ence that he plans to in­voke the not­with­stand­ing clause to fi­nally pass leg­is­la­tion that will ban re­li­gious sym­bols for em­ploy­ees in “po­si­tions of au­thor­ity” through­out the prov­ince.

But even though the Québec elec­tion is be­ing de­scribed as a land­mark shift in po­lit­i­cal power, the threat to ban re­li­gious sym­bols through­out the prov­ince’s pub­lic ser­vice sec­tor is noth­ing new.

Politi­cians in the prov­ince have been try­ing to pass var­i­ous re­li­gious sym­bols bans for the past decade, in­clud­ing the Parti Québe­cois’s sweep­ing Val­ues Char­ter from 2013 out­law­ing “con­spic­u­ous” re­li­gious sym­bols for any­one giv­ing or re­ceiv­ing pub­lic ser­vices.

Un­der the lead­er­ship of Philippe Couil­lard, the Lib­er­als passed more mod­est leg­is­la­tion: Bill 62, which sin­gled out full-face cov­er­ings in the pub­lic ser­vice sec­tor, was passed in Oc­to­ber 2017. But the law was quickly stayed by a pro­vin­cial judge.

Chal­lenged by civil lib­erty groups

Each of these at­tempts has been chal­lenged by groups like the Na­tional Coun­cil of Cana­dian Mus­lims, the Cana­dian Coun­cil of Mus­lim Women and the Cana­dian Civil Lib­er­ties As­so­ci­a­tion.

These or­ga­ni­za­tions point out that much of the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion has sin­gled out a small num­ber of Mus­lim women who choose to wear the full-face cov­er­ing niqab rather than ap­ply­ing broadly to all re­li­gious sym­bols.

The Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms has played a key role in prevent­ing the wide­spread adop­tion of these laws, which ap­pear only to cir­cum­scribe the re­li­gious sym­bols of mi­nor­ity groups.

In­deed, since the 2013 Val­ues Char­ter, leg­is­la­tion ban­ning re­li­gious sym­bols has in­cluded ex­emp­tions for “the em­blem­atic and to­ponymic el­e­ments of Québec’s cul­tural her­itage, in par­tic­u­lar its re­li­gious cul­tural her­itage, that tes­tify to its his­tory.”

This clause ef­fec­tively ex­empts Catholics from the sec­u­lar­iza­tion man­date by redefin­ing their re­li­gious sym­bols as “cul­tural” and “his­tor­i­cal” rather than re­li­gious (and, no­tably, cre­ates an ex­cep­tion for the large cru­ci­fix that hangs at the head of the Na­tional Assem­bly). It is yet un­clear whether the CAQ’S at­tempt will in­clude a sim­i­lar ex­emp­tion.

Mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment

PQ Premier Pauline Marois also made threats about her party in­vok­ing the not­with­stand­ing clause to pass the Val­ues Char­ter in 2013.

But the PQ had a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment at the time, and Marois un­suc­cess­fully risked an elec­tion to get a broader vote of con­fi­dence.

Le­gault’s com­ments, in com­par­i­son, come on the heels of Premier Doug Ford’s threat to use the not­with­stand­ing clause for the first time in On­tario, sug­gest­ing that the Char­ter has be­come some­thing of a pawn in the strug­gle be­tween right-of-cen­tre pro­vin­cial pop­ulists and the fed­eral Lib­er­als.

That Le­gault’s com­ments also come be­fore he en­ters the premier’s of­fice — and backed by a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment — sig­nals that his at­tempt to pass a “sec­u­lar­iza­tion” bill might be suc­cess­ful.

If that’s the case, the CAQ’S suc­cess where other par­ties have failed will come at the cost of both civil rights in the prov­ince and the pro­tec­tive ca­pac­ity of the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms.

Han­nah Dick does not work for, con­sult, own shares in or re­ceive fund­ing from any com­pany or or­gan­i­sa­tion that would ben­e­fit from this ar­ti­cle, and has dis­closed no rel­e­vant af­fil­i­a­tions beyond their aca­demic ap­point­ment.

The end of the elec­toral cam­paign means the be­gin­ning of the ne­go­ti­a­tion of a new fis­cal pact. If the com­mit­ment to trans­fer a point of the Que­bec sales tax arouses in­ter­est, the pos­si­ble terms of ap­pli­ca­tion, how­ever, cre­ate sev­eral con­cerns. The FQM will there­fore work to en­sure that all com­mu­ni­ties ben­e­fit from the re­form, so that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly small and medium-sized ones, are not pe­nal­ized by a new shar­ing regime that would fa­vor larger cities.

Im­mi­gra­tion and the short­age of man­power

It is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore the very wor­ry­ing is­sues of la­bor short­ages and ag­ing pop­u­la­tions that are af­fect­ing the re­gions. The so­lu­tion to this sit­u­a­tion nec­es­sar­ily in­volves a re­gion­al­iza­tion of im­mi­gra­tion and the ac­tive in­volve­ment of the MRCS in this area would al­low both the rapid in­tro­duc­tion of mea­sures to wel­come and in­te­grate Que­bec im­mi­grants and gen­uine sup­port from the com­mu­ni­ties and busi­nesses lo­cated in the re­gions. High Speed In­ter­net and Cell Phone Ser­vices

Ac­cess to high-speed In­ter­net and qual­ity cel­lu­lar cov­er­age has been the fo­cus of po­lit­i­cal party com­mit­ments for the com­ing man­date, in­clud­ing those of the new gov­ern­ment. In this we are de­lighted. It is in­con­ceiv­able that 340,000 Que­bec house­holds still do not have ac­cess to a con­nec­tion wor­thy of the 21st cen­tury. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties there­fore ex­pect quick an­nounce­ments. Sev­eral MRCS and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that are mem­bers of the FQM have al­ready demon­strated lead­er­ship in this area and we also ex­pect sig­nif­i­cant gov­ern­ment sup­port in this area, par­tic­u­larly in our re­la­tions with sup­pli­ers and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies.

The new gov­ern­ment has been elected by the re­gions and we look for­ward to sup­port­ing it in ful­fill­ing its com­mit­ments.

JAC­QUES DE­MERS, PRES­I­DENT, FÉDÉRA­TION QUÉBÉ­COISE DES MU­NIC­I­PAL­ITÉS

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