Finally, we Canadians face an issue about which all federal parties in Ottawa will concur. Even better, their consensus is morally, ethically and, quite likely, legally unassailable. The question is: What took them so long?
With its new “Charter of Values” – about which it has been hinting for weeks – the Quebec government seeks to expunge “overt and conspicuous” religious icons – such as hijabs, kippas and turbans – from its public service. No more veils. No more headdresses. No more ostentatious crucifixes dangling around teachers’ necks.
Big Brother’s foot soldier Bernard Drainville, the minister who is apparently responsible for conformity in La belle province, explains the new policy bluntly in news reports, to wit: “If the state is neutral, those working for the state should be equally neutral in their image.”
His boss, Premier Pauline Marois couldn’t agree more. In fact, she told Le Devoir last week, “In England, they get into fights and throw bombs at one another because of multiculturalism and people get lost in that type of a society.”
What a profoundly stupid thing to say, but no dumber, perhaps, than Mr. Drainville’s assertion that ensuing “neutrality” among civic workers is a simple matter of imposing a secular dress code, as if the Province were underwriting some outlandish episode of What Not to Wear.
Contrary to the Partis Quebecois’s insustence, absolutely nothing good can come of this unnecessary, provocative nonsense. And Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism, is right to question the constitutionality of the move.
“(We are) very concerned by any proposal that would limit the ability of any Canadians to participate in our society and that would affect the practice of their faith,” he told reporters this week. “We will ask the Department of Justice if these proposals become law to closely review them and if it’s determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections for freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously.”
Added NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, “We’re categorical in rejecting this approach. Human rights don’t have a best-before date, they’re not temporary and they’re not a popularity contest. To be told that a woman working in a day care centre, because she’s wearing a head scarf, will lose her job is to us intolerable in our society.”
Yet, despite the utter correctness of their points, it’s a shame that these two have come late to the contretemps.
In August, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was first and alone among federal politicians to denounce Quebec’s divisive scheme. “We sadly see that even today, as we speak, for example, of this idea of a Charter of Quebec Values, there are still those who believe that we have to choose between our religion and our Quebec identity, that there are people who are forced by the Quebec State to make irresponsible and inconceivable choices,” he told a group of his fellow Grits in Prince Edward Island.
The only official statements coming from the Conservative and NDP camps at that time were watery testimonials to civil rights and commitments to carefully review Quebec’s plans if and when they went public. Still, better late than never.
The values charter is not only a palpable jab at religious freedom; it infantilizes an entire society. It tells Quebecers that those who work for the public service can’t be trusted with the symbols and trappings of their faith and ethnicity while they are on the job; that the only way to prevent discrimination is, bizarrely, to embrace it.
Just as bad, it tells the world that the government of a sizable chunk of Canada is diametrically opposed to the principles of equity and diversity that have, for decades, burnished the country’s international reputation for fairness and inclusiveness.
The Partis Quebecois has taken a non-issue and turned it into a firestorm for no sensible reason other than cynically appealing to certain elements of its exclusionary base. This, alone, transports it beyond the realm of provincial partisanship and lands it squarely in the arena of federal politics.