Quebec religious symbols law ‘dangerous and un-Canadian,’ says Manitoba premier

Can’t get much stronger than that:

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he will be seeking a joint response to Quebec’s new religious symbols law when western and northern premiers meet on Thursday in Edmonton.

“That is, certainly to my mind, dangerous and un-Canadian and deserves to be opposed,” Pallister said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“We are not a two-tier-rights country.

“We’re not a country that celebrates sameness. We celebrate diversity, and we need to make sure that we don’t restrict people’s freedoms, whether it’s speech or movement or religion.”

The Quebec law prohibits teachers, police officers and other public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, and critics say it unfairly targets Muslims, Sikhs and other religious minorities.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it’s not government’s responsibility, or in its interest, to legislate on what people should be wearing. But he did not specify what action his government would take to protect minority rights.

Pallister said response from federal politicians has probably been muted in part because of the looming national election in October.

“They don’t wish to irritate the province of Quebec, but Quebec is one province in a beautiful country,” he said.

“Canada is a beacon around the world for supporting freedoms, not suppressing them.”

Source: Quebec religious symbols law ‘dangerous and un-Canadian,’ says Manitoba premier

And Jack Jedwab’s called for stronger messaging from federal leaders:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of the federal opposition parties were cautious in their reaction to Quebec’s legislative ban on religious symbols, Bill 21. That’s probably because of the popularity of the ban amongst Quebec francophone voters who may have an important impact on each party’s political fortunes.

With the exception of the Bloc Québécois, it seems that the preferred approach of the federal party leaders is to reaffirm their respective disagreement with the ban while staying silent about taking action. This stand will not work as we near the start of the federal election campaign in September.

Some party leaders will be tempted to voice their disapproval of the ban while allowing their candidates in Quebec to insist that the provincial government was perfectly within its rights to adopt the legislation. But many Canadians will see this ambiguous line of reasoning for what it is: a cynical excuse for inaction. Voters in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada deserve to know what, if anything, the political parties plan to do about Bill 21. Whatever choice(s) the parties make will certainly have political ramifications both within and outside Quebec.

What should the parties do? It is safe to assume that none of the party leaders will consider recourse to the federal power to disallow the legislation. They would be wise to hold back, as disallowance would delegitimize the democratically elected government of Quebec. The much better alternative is to support court challenge(s) to the law. All federalist parties should take this position regardless of the electoral cost for them in Quebec. Thus far, the Canadian Council of Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have launched a judicial challenge to Bill 21. They deserve support from the federal government.

Despite considerable support for the bill amongst Quebec francophones, a May Leger Marketing survey revealed that a majority of Quebecers weren’t automatically opposed to the idea of submitting it to the courts for an opinion (specifically, 46 per cent of Quebecers didn’t approve of a court reference; 41 per cent were in favour of securing an opinion; and the rest didn’t know or refused to respond). The same survey revealed that important majorities in Quebec and Canada greatly valued the Charter of Rights – which is the basis on which the bill would be challenged.

Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette will likely describe federal intervention as an unacceptable encroachment on an exclusively Quebec matter. But Bill 21 states that the ban on religious symbols applies “despite certain provisions of the (Canadian) Charter of human rights and freedoms and the Constitution Act, 1982.” This provision justifies intervention on the part of the federal government so as to ensure that constitutional commitments enshrined in the Charter are upheld, regardless of the province in which a citizen resides. To act otherwise would not only weaken freedom of religion but also commitments to other key freedoms in the Charter. If a provincial government outside of Quebec decided to suspend certain rights and freedoms for minority francophones, there would rightly be multiple calls on the federal government to act. The same principle should apply to Bill 21.

Quebecers have been given the impression that the use of the “notwithstanding clause” in Bill 21 means that the issue of fundamental rights is no longer in question. But the clause seeks to dismiss recourse to rights protection, and in no way dismisses the idea that rights are being violated. Minister Jolin-Barrette and Premier François Legault have insisted that the bill does not violate the Quebec or Canadian Charter of Rights. There is good reason to be skeptical. But if they truly believe that, they should have nothing to fear from a court challenge.

Who knows? Maybe the court decision will vindicate them. Either way, the government of Canada and the opposition should give Quebecers and other Canadians an opportunity to find out and make clear their intention to support a court challenge sooner rather than later.

Source: Jedwab: Canadians deserve to know what federal parties will do about Quebec’s Bill 21

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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