Trudeau should de­fend Que­bec’s mi­nor­ity faiths

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION -

There are com­pelling rea­sons for Justin Trudeau to steer clear of the bit­ter strug­gle be­tween the Que­bec gov­ern­ment and the prov­ince’s re­li­gious mi­nori­ties.

Que­bec’s no­to­ri­ous Bill 21 that bans the wear­ing of re­li­gious cloth­ing for many pub­lic sec­tor work­ers en­joys the solid sup­port of most Que­be­cers, many of whom helped Trudeau eke out his nar­row vic­tory in last month’s fed­eral elec­tion.

Should the prime min­is­ter op­pose this ugly piece of leg­is­la­tion, he would alien­ate many of these vot­ers. He would also ig­nite an open con­flict with Premier Fran­cois Le­gault’s Coali­tion Avenir Que­bec gov­ern­ment and the re­cently-re­vived Bloc Québé­cois in Ot­tawa which both cham­pion the law.

In ad­di­tion, an activist Trudeau might even boost the for­tunes of his Con­ser­va­tive, New Demo­crat and Green ri­vals who have shame­fully promised to let Le­gault have his way. So yes, there are many strong ar­gu­ments for Trudeau stay­ing out of this fight.

But there is one far greater and ul­ti­mately over­whelm­ing rea­son for him to step into the fray on the side of Que­bec’s re­li­gious mi­nori­ties.

The ba­sic hu­man rights of thou­sands of Cana­di­ans are now being vi­o­lated on a daily ba­sis. The ag­gres­sor is a pow­er­ful, nar­row-minded pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

Que­bec’s re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, in­clud­ing Mus­lims, Sikhs and Jews, need a de­fender. Trudeau’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment must as­sume this role. More than any­one, it speaks for this na­tion.

The harm­ful sta­tus quo must not stand. Bill 21 pro­hibits teach­ers, po­lice of­fi­cers, judges and prison guards, along with those in other pub­lic sec­tor oc­cu­pa­tions in Que­bec, from wear­ing re­li­gious at­tire such as a tur­ban, head scarf or kip­pah in their work­place.

That is a clear vi­o­la­tion of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Free­doms which pro­tects re­li­gious lib­er­ties. The Que­bec gov­ern­ment as much as ad­mit­ted this when it in­voked the charter’s notwith­stand­ing clause to in­su­late Bill 21 from any le­gal chal­lenge.

Even so, Bill 21 now faces sev­eral court chal­lenges, and no won­der. The vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights is real, not the­o­ret­i­cal.

Al­ready, Mus­lim women have turned down teach­ing po­si­tions for which they were hired in Que­bec, rather than re­move the hi­jab they con­sider an es­sen­tial part of their faith. Al­ready Mus­lim women have left Que­bec and moved to other parts of Canada where they will not be forced to com­pro­mise their be­liefs in or­der to earn a liv­ing.

This should not be hap­pen­ing in Canada in 2019. The ex­pe­ri­ence in other prov­inces where tur­bans and hi­jabs are rou­tinely worn by pub­lic sec­tor work­ers with­out any prob­lem proves Bill 21 is un­nec­es­sary.

It was ap­palling that in the re­cent fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign not one party or party leader would prom­ise to use the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s for­mi­da­ble pow­ers to de­fend Bill 21’s vic­tims. So hungry for Que­bec votes were these politi­cians that they turned blind eyes to the suf­fer­ing of Que­bec’s mi­nor­ity faith groups.

Trudeau, at least, left the door open for pos­si­ble ac­tion when he said in the English-lan­guage de­bate that he “might” do some­thing about Bill 21. “Might” should be­come “will.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment should be­come an in­ter­vener in the court chal­lenges and, in ad­di­tion, fund those le­gal ac­tions. Trudeau should also be able to count on the sup­port of the Con­ser­va­tives, NDP and Greens when he in­ter­venes. He should not have to act alone.

It’s easy to look back in anger at the long list of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions through­out Canada’s his­tory. It’s harder to have the men­tal clar­ity, moral con­vic­tion and po­lit­i­cal courage to call out a ma­jor hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion hap­pen­ing today.

We sin­cerely hope these virtues are plen­ti­ful in Canada’s newly-elected Par­lia­ment.

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