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