Amnesty In­ter­na­tional slams Que­bec’s char­ter

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NEWS CANADA I WORLD - By Ben­jamin Shin­gler

MON­TREAL — Amnesty In­ter­na­tional is wad­ing into the de­bate over Que­bec’s con­tro­ver­sial char­ter of val­ues, ar­gu­ing the plan would limit “fun­da­men­tal rights” and fur­ther stig­ma­tize vul­ner­a­ble women.

The Cana­dian branch of the hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion says the Parti Québé­cois pro­posal would vi­o­late Cana­dian and in­ter­na­tional law for in­fring­ing on freedom of ex­pres­sion and re­li­gion.

The PQ plan an­nounced ear­lier this month would pro­hibit pub­lic em­ploy­ees from wear­ing ob­vi­ous re­li­gious sym­bols, in­clud­ing the hi­jab.

Amnesty took par­tic­u­lar is­sue with one of the stated goals of the pro­posed char­ter — that it would pro­mote equal­ity be­tween the sexes.

“For peo­ple, and par­tic­u­larly for women, who might be co­erced into wear­ing a re­li­gious sym­bol, pro­hibit­ing them from wear­ing it will not solve the prob­lem,” the group said in a state­ment.

“The peo­ple who had co­erced them will still go un­pun­ished, while the peo­ple who have been co­erced will be pun­ished in a num­ber of ways, such as los­ing their jobs and hence their right to work and risk­ing be­com­ing iso­lated and stig­ma­tized in their com­mu­ni­ties.”

The group has voiced con­cern over Que­bec poli­cies be­fore.

In April 2012, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional de­nounced for­mer pre­mier Jean Charest’s govern­ment for its han­dling of the stu­dent protests over tuition fees. The group called for a ton­ing- down of po­lice mea­sures, which it deemed un­nec­es­sar­ily ag­gres­sive.

This time, the group said it sup­ports the PQ’s ef­forts to pro­mote equal­ity be­tween men and women, but takes is­sue with its pro­posed ap­proach.

“Women must not be forced to wear a scarf or a veil, nei­ther by the govern­ment nor by in­di­vid­u­als. But it is no more ac­cept­able for a law to pre­vent them from wear­ing such garb,” said Beatrice Vau­grante, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian branch’s fran­co­phone wing.

The mi­nor­ity PQ govern­ment is ex­pected to ta­ble the char­ter this fall and has sug­gested it might ne­go­ti­ate with op­po­si­tion par­ties af­ter­ward.

For now, Pre­mier Pauline Marois ap­pears con­tent to let the de­bate rage on.

Que­bec re­mains bit­terly di­vided over the is­sue, with du­elling protests over the char­ter’s mer­its planned for this week­end.

A march against the char­ter was planned for Satur­day in Que­bec City, while a pro- char­ter march is set for to­day in Mon­treal.

Mean­while, a coali­tion of com­mu­nity groups and prom­i­nent Que­be­cers, in­clud­ing for­mer Supreme Court jus­tice Claire l’Heureux Dubé, is plan­ning to hold a news con­fer­ence Tues­day in sup­port of the pro­posal, ac­cord­ing to Mon­treal’s Le Devoir news­pa­per.

A new poll re­leased Satur­day found more than half of those sur­veyed— 52 per cent — were in favour of the plan. But 56 per cent felt the char­ter’s con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity should be tested in court.

The Leger- Mar­ket­ing sur­vey, con­ducted for the Mon­treal Gazette, ques­tioned 1,001 Que­be­cers for the web panel poll be­tween Sept. 17 and Sept. 19. Re­sults are con­sid­ered ac­cu­rate within 2.9 per­cent­age points, 19 times out of 20.

— The Cana­dian Press

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