The charter may be gone, but Quebecs identify crisis remains – Patriquin

Foreshadowing the fall debates? Managing this will be challenging. What will be interesting to see is whether the PQ tries again to use this as a wedge issue (despite limited traction during the election) or try to build back the more inclusive PQ of the past):

Having returned to power, the Liberals will soon unveil new legislation regarding the wearing of religious garb in the public sector. As with all issues relating to identity, the party will do so begrudgingly, if only to stave off another “reasonable accommodations” debacle it can only lose, and to starve the opposition PQ of a potent talking point. In all likelihood, that legislation will be some version of Bill 94.

And that could well be a problem.Any legislation of this nature stands a good chance of provoking another divisive spleen-venting within Quebec society—if not a court challenge. Flashpoints are easy to come by. Among them were the frosted windows at a Montreal YMCA. In 2007, the community centre agreed to partially cover their street-level windows, so that little Jewish boys would be spared the sight of naked, sweaty flesh.

Fanned by the Journal’s tabloidy outrage, this agreement made between a group of citizens and a private enterprise was quickly and wrongly spun into a cautionary tale of “immigrants” the Hasidim have actually been here for over half a century asking too much of the state. Then there was the outrage over the cabane à sucre that dared offer its Muslim clients a prayer space and pork-free baked beans.

A reaction to this faux-debate, Bill 94 was cursed with some decidedly flighty language. The bit about having one’s face uncovered while giving or receiving a government service wasn’t actually a rule but a “practice.” It made no mention of what would happen if someone deviated from this practice by, say, wearing a niqab to school. Further, any requested exemption from the “practice” would be denied if it meant compromising “security, communication or identification”—a broad stroke far too open to interpretation.

“Bill 94, sensibly interpreted, did not lead to a general prohibition against having a covered face,” McGill constitutional law professor Robert Leckey points out. “What I worry about, though, is that even adopting such legislation, passing into law the ‘practice’ of showing the face, might lead some officials to think that they should refuse accommodations as a matter of course.”

Finally, there’s the matter of the media, the Journal in particular, which will probably frame Liberal legislation as “Bill 60 lite,” as Leckey says. It’s an uncomfortable truth: wretched as it may have been, the Charter was popular in Quebec—particularly amongst the vote-rich Baby Boomer generation. The Liberals know this. In trying to appease Quebecers’ insecurity, one can only hope even pray the government doesn’t stoke their irrational fears once again.

The charter may be gone, but Quebecs identify crisis remains –

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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