Laïcité et discrimination

Rima Elkhouri argues that while Bill 21 is discriminatory, it is not racist and that all who support it are not racist or xenophobes. However, in its effects, it primarily targets Muslims and Sikhs, and thus has racist and xenophobic effects:

À entendre les hauts cris suscités par la question de la journaliste Althia Raj lors du débat des chefs diffusé par la CBC, il semblerait que oui. Certains réclament des excuses publiques et dénoncent ce qu’ils perçoivent comme du « militantisme » de la part de la cheffe du bureau parlementaire d’Ottawa pour le HuffPost Canada. Comme s’il fallait désormais s’excuser de mettre les politiciens devant leurs contradictions en posant des questions qui s’appuient sur des faits.

Rappelons d’abord quelques-uns de ces faits… Dans un segment du débat en anglais portant sur la polarisation, les droits de la personne et l’immigration, Althia Raj, qui était l’une des modératrices, a posé une question sur la loi 21 au chef du Nouveau Parti démocratique, Jagmeet Singh.

« Votre campagne est axée sur le courage, mais vous n’avez pas eu le courage de combattre la loi discriminatoire du Québec. [Cette loi] interdit aux personnes qui, comme vous, portent des symboles religieux d’occuper certains emplois dans la province. Si vous étiez premier ministre, resteriez-vous en retrait et laisseriez-vous une autre province pratiquer la discrimination à l’endroit de ses citoyens ? Ne faites-vous pas passer les intérêts de votre parti au Québec avant vos principes et les droits à l’égalité de tous les citoyens – vous et, franchement, tous les autres chefs sur la scène ? »

La question a suscité une levée de boucliers au Québec. On a accusé la journaliste d’avoir fait preuve de mépris et de laisser entendre que la majorité des Québécois qui appuient la Loi sur la laïcité sont « racistes » – alors qu’elle n’a jamais dit une telle chose. On l’a accusée d’être une vilaine anglo qui ne comprend pas le français et ne connaît rien à l’histoire du Québec – alors que le français est la langue maternelle d’Althia Raj et que sa mère est originaire de Victoriaville… (Ça peut encore paraître déroutant pour certains, mais ce n’est pas parce qu’on s’appelle Althia et qu’on a la peau foncée qu’on est nécessairement une étrangère allophone fraîchement débarquée du bateau.)

En qualifiant la Loi sur la laïcité de « discriminatoire », Althia Raj, qui a répondu à ses détracteurs sur Twitter, n’a pas tordu les faits. Elle énonce une évidence qui fait consensus dans la communauté juridique.

Que ceux qui en doutent ouvrent d’abord leur dictionnaire. Est discriminatoire ce qui « tend à opérer une discrimination entre des personnes, des groupes humains », nous dit le Larousse. Quant au mot « discrimination », c’est le « fait de distinguer et de traiter différemment (le plus souvent mal) quelqu’un ou un groupe par rapport au reste de la collectivité ou par rapport à une autre personne ».

La Loi sur la laïcité de l’État, qui interdit le port de signes religieux au travail à des employés de l’État en situation d’autorité, est discriminatoire dès lors qu’elle distingue et traite différemment des croyants qui portent un signe religieux et ceux qui n’en portent pas. La démonstration n’est pas très difficile à faire. Un Jagmeet Singh qui tient à garder son turban ne pourrait pas décrocher un emploi d’enseignant au Québec en vertu de cette loi, même s’il réussit brillamment son baccalauréat en éducation. Même chose pour une femme musulmane qui tient à porter le voile.

Par contre, le mari de cette enseignante, qui partage les mêmes convictions religieuses mais ne porte aucun signe religieux, peut enseigner sans problème. Tout comme l’enseignant ultra-catholique qui, sans porter une grande croix sur son torse, ne fait pas toujours preuve de neutralité dans son enseignement.

On peut considérer que la laïcité de l’État rend tout à fait justifiable cette discrimination pour les fonctionnaires en situation d’autorité. Mais on ne peut nier que la loi a des effets discriminatoires. Si ce n’était pas le cas, on n’aurait pas eu besoin de faire appel à la clause de dérogation, qui permet de la soustraire à l’application des chartes canadienne et québécoise des droits de la personne.

Autre précision importante : dire que la loi 21 est discriminatoire, ce n’est pas la même chose que de dire qu’elle est raciste ou que tous ceux qui l’appuient sont racistes. Je l’ai déjà dit et je le répète. Contrairement à certains commentateurs anglo-canadiens, je ne crois pas qu’il soit juste de dire que la Loi sur la laïcité est raciste ou xénophobe ou que ceux qui l’appuient le sont.

Et contrairement à certains défenseurs de la loi 21 au Québec, je ne crois pas qu’il soit juste non plus de dire que les opposants à cette loi sont contre la laïcité. En fait, c’est aussi injuste que de dire que la loi est raciste… La CAQ n’a pas le brevet de « LA » laïcité. D’autres conceptions existent. Et en passant, le Québec était déjà laïque avant l’adoption du projet de loi 21.

Bien sûr qu’il se trouve des xénophobes pour applaudir cette loi. Tout comme il se trouve des extrémistes religieux pour la décrier. Mais réduire le débat à une opposition entre racistes et non-racistes ou entre vertueux défenseurs de « LA » laïcité et vilains pourfendeurs des Lumières complices des extrémistes, c’est en faire une lecture pour le moins simpliste.

Source: Laïcité et discrimination

HASSAN: Yes, there are real problems with Bill 21

From Farzana Hassan:

The resurgent Bloc Quebecois is poised to perform well in the election under its articulate and pragmatic leader, Yves-Francois Blanchet. It has successfully pitched itself to younger voters by turning away from ageing entrenched separatists. Recent polls in Quebec put it behind only the Liberals, and first among Francophones.

Its broad mix of conservative and progressive policies makes it hard to pin down with standard left/right labels – which may be a virtue on polling day. Supporting climate change reform is very global and twenty-first century, but its demand for Quebec to have more say on immigration may be seen as traditional and isolationist. The same can be said for its support for the contentious Bill 21, the secularist ban on religious symbols for people in public office.

This bill is anathema to Liberals in Ottawa, but it is popular in Quebec. This is unsurprising, because France has a long history of encouraging private piety but public secularism. Provincial premier Francois Legault’s warning for outsiders not to tamper with the provincial bill is having some effect. Justin Trudeau is treading lightly in his opposition for fear of alienating voters there, though he has admitted the federal government “is not going to close the door on intervening at a later date.”

Of course, that means after the election, assuming a Liberal victory. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has also been delicately non-committal, expressing support for provinces to have the right to determine some of their own policies.

Bill 21 would prevent public employees from wearing any religious regalia such as yarmulkas, hijabs or turbans during working hours. It is likely to apply to public servants such as police officers, prison guards and public school teachers. It has taken plenty of criticism. For example, Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi – who is Muslim – made no attempt to conceal his outrage. He said, “It’s terrifying. It is flagrantly unconstitutional. It’s violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in a really, really transparent way.” His city council concurred: it voted unanimously to back a motion condemning Quebec’s law.

Mayor Nenshi is partly right. I have expressed my abhorrence for certain kinds of religious garb in these pages many times. However, the only religious garments that should be banned are specifically those covering the face. In effect, these are just the niqab and burka, primarily for security reasons.

I am no fan of other religious regalia, because I would rather we proclaim ourselves simply to be human beings rather than Muslims or Jews or Sikhs, but this is surely a matter for individual preference rather than government interference – either from Ottawa or Montreal.

This bill could never be implemented in any equitable way, partly because of perceptions and definitions. Imagine that two government workers wear identical pendants. The first says she wears it because she likes the design, but the second wears it because it confirms her identity as a follower of the obscure faith the design symbolizes. Will only the second face a ban?

In any case, the bill’s future looks less than rosy. It is likely to be legal rather than legislative snags that prevent it from gaining traction any time soon. Quebec’s Court of Appeal is already hearing a challenge which claims the bill is unconstitutional, and others have been lodged. It seems nothing will come of Bill 21.

Source: HASSAN: Yes, there are real problems with Bill 21

Trudeau’s weasel words on Bill 21 are more than his opponents can say

Indeed. Sad:

Jagmeet Singh felt that it was so plain where he stood on the ban on turban- or hijab-wearers in Québec’s public-service, he used “obvious” twice in a span of seven words. “It’s probably pretty obvious to folks that I am obviously against Bill 21.” He laid out his personal hurt, his sadness, his channeled frustrations that a Muslim in hijab cannot teach, or a Jew in yarmulke can’t be a judge.

Which is why, Singh eventually declared, he will … address affordability by taking on powerful corporations. This was, it bears mentioning, in response to debate co-moderator Althia Raj’s question on why he lacked courage to act in any way against the religious symbol law that so saddened him.

It’s not quite accurate to call the section on Bill 21 the most passionate part of the debate, but it was the segment with the most protestations of passion. The vigorously shaking heads of the leaders said no to the law. The lips curled into disapproving frowns. But the eyes of the leaders—unwilling, worried or merely politically calculating—told a different story: they were cast downward, in resignation.

For those who think climate change is this election’s great intractable issue, the broadcast consortium presented you Monday with the leaders’ filibusters on Bill 21. Andrew Scheer spent many of his ticking-down seconds praising Jagmeet Singh’s poise in the wake of the Justin Trudeau brownface revelation, before reassuring Quebec voters who like Bill 21 that he won’t intervene—and, while Scheer knows nobody was seriously worried about this, Canadians can rest assured that a Conservative government won’t pass a federal version of the law. (He did not assure us that the Québec’s French-only legislation will sweep the nation either, so now maybe we should wonder.)

Green Leader Elizabeth May latched on to Scheer’s great time-eater by praising Singh herself, with an odd little riff on white privilege, then added she doesn’t want Ottawa to step  into the debate Québecers are having.

Singh used his rebuttals to talk about “polarization”—not a segue to Bill 21, somehow! Instead, that became a way for him to key on his canned lines about housing costs and corporations.

Bloc Québecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet channeled the absent Premier François Legault and mentioned the don’t tread-on-us popularity of Bill 21 in the province—65 to 70 per cent, and nearly half the population “strongly” backs it.

Trudeau, the only person on stage who seemed to want to handle a Bill 21 question, carved into Singh for sounding like all the leaders onstage who haven’t lived a full life with racial discrimination.

“It’s a question of yes, it’s awkward politically, because as Mr. Blanchet says it is very popular,” the Liberal leader began. “But I am the only one on the stage who has said yes,” he paused on yes, to build up his grand crescendo… “a federal government might have to intervene on this.” Might? That’s his big zinger to defend minority and women’s rights?

Trudeau loaded up again for what seemed like another attempted sock-o against the NDP leader: “So why not act on your convictions and leave the door open to challenging it.” One of those old-timey revolvers in cartoons that actually produced a daffodil, not anything harmful.

The Liberals triumphed in Québec last time as the one party taking a firm stand against a Harper measure on niqabs, when others were squishier in deference to sentiment among Québec voters and caucus members. The field is so much more mealy-mouthed on Canada’s most racist legislation in recent memory that even by standing for not much, Trudeau stands clearly on his own on this one—for non-Quebecers and the minority of people within the province who despise the law.

Trudeau managed to get out his mini-jab about Singh’s convictions while the two were cross-talking, and as the Liberal leader’s words ended, the NDPer finished his own point. To be sure, his final phrase wasn’t directed at Trudeau. Yet it seemed, in a strange way, to be Singh’s way of admitting that he has put political triangulation ahead of principle: “I want to be your prime minister.”  

Source: Trudeau’s weasel words on Bill 21 are more than his opponents can say

Quebec’s Bill 21 should also stir anti-racist outrage among party leaders

Good column by Jack Jedwab:

Somewhat unexpectedly, the issues of discrimination and racism have moved to the forefront in the federal election. At the start of the campaign, answering a journalist’s question about Quebec’s secularism Bill 21, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau left open the possibility of some eventual legal intervention on the legislation. Predictably, there was an almost immediate response from Quebec Premier François Legault, asking all federal leaders to make a pledge to stay out of the matter. With the exception of Trudeau, the other federal party leaders quickly complied. Bill 21 prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by Quebec public school teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and other public servants in positions of authority, as a way of enshrining the concept of state secularism.

And then, just as the campaign’s attention on Bill 21 waned, some very distasteful photos of a younger Trudeau in brownface and in blackface hit the national and international media. Trudeau apologized many times for his past behaviour and correctly acknowledged that it was highly offensive.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer insisted that the blackface pointed to Trudeau’s lack of judgment and as such raised questions about his ability to govern. During a September 20 campaign stop in PEI, Scheer said all levels of government need to address the types of issues raised by such conduct. He said that “Conservatives will always support measures that tackle discrimination…We’ll always promote policies that promote inclusiveness and equality throughout our society.” Ironically, that’s precisely what needs to be said in addressing Bill 21.

For his part, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made an impassioned plea to all Canadians who were offended by the images of Trudeau in blackface. He chose to speak to those people who have felt the pain of racism and urged them not to give up on themselves, adding that they have value and worth and that they are loved. But that message does not appear to apply to those persons affected by Bill 21. Singh seems unwilling to defend those Quebecers who wear a turban, hijab or kippah and want to teach at a public school in their home province. Paradoxically, while Singh can become prime minister of Canada, he would be unable to teach at a public school in Quebec under Bill 21. By insisting on the need to respect provincial jurisdiction, Singh implies that members of religious minorities need to give up their hope of seeking a career in public service.

Both Scheer’s and Singh’s criticisms of Trudeau and the related concerns about the spread of racism would be more credible if they denounced the discriminatory aspects of Bill 21 rather than bowing to the Quebec Premier’s demands and looking the other way on what Legault insists is a strictly provincial matter.

Perhaps, like many observers, the federal party leaders don’t see any connection between blackface and a state prohibition against educators wearing hijabs, turbans and kippahs in public institutions. Yet the case can surely be made that both arise from subconscious or overt feelings and/or expressions of prejudice that are, regrettably, deemed acceptable by far too many people. The difference is that Trudeau’s use of blackface occurred two decades ago, while the legislation banning religious symbols is the object of current debate.

In the aftermath of the Trudeau blackface incidents, there have been calls for a national conversation about racism. But the tone of this election campaign does not allow for a thoughtful discussion about the ongoing challenge of eliminating racism and discrimination. Ideally, all federal party leaders should work together to combat racism and discrimination, whether it appears in Quebec or anywhere else in the country.

Source: Quebec’s Bill 21 should also stir anti-racist outrage among party leaders

Andrew Coyne: Federal leaders have capitulated on Quebec’s Bill 21, and to our shame we let them

Hard to disagree:

Elections are defining moments for a nation: in deciding what it stands for, it also decides who and what it is. In the present election the issue on which we are being asked, most directly, to decide where we stand is Quebec’s Bill 21: the provincial law banning public servants “in positions of authority” from wearing religious symbols on the job.

For many observant persons, particularly Muslims, Sikhs and orthodox Jews, this amounts to a religious hiring bar: the wearing of the hijab, the turban and the kippa are key requirements of their faith, and as such core elements of their identity. To demand that they work uncovered is, in effect, to post a sign saying Muslims, Sikhs and Jews need not apply.

We should be clear on this. It’s not just a dress code, or an infringement of religious freedom, or religious discrimination, or those other abstract phrases you hear tossed about. We are talking about a law barring employment in much of the public sector — not just police and judges, but government lawyers and teachers — to certain religious minorities.

Existing workers may have been grandfathered, but only so long as they remain in their current jobs. Should they ever move, or seek a promotion, they will face the same restrictions. The signal to the province’s religious and, let’s say it, racial minorities, vulnerable as they will be feeling already after the mounting public vitriol to which they have been exposed in the name of the endless “reasonable accommodation” debate, is unmistakable: you are not wanted here. Not surprisingly, many are getting out — out of the public service, out of Quebec.

That this is actually happening, in 2019, in a province of Canada — members of religious minorities being driven from their jobs, and for no reason other than their religion — is sickening, and shameful. That shame is not reserved to Premier Francois Legault or his CAQ government, the people responsible for designing and implementing this disgraceful exercise in segregation, this manifestly cruel attempt to cleanse the province’s schools and courts of religious minorities. It is no less shaming to the rest of us, everywhere across Canada, so long as we permit it to continue.

That is, so far as we are capable of feeling it. But experience has taught us to look the other way when it comes to Quebec, to tell ourselves that it is none of our affair, that we must not raise a fuss when the province explicitly elevates the interests of its ethnic and linguistic majority over those of its minorities, or threatens the country’s life for long years at a time — the beloved “knife at the throat” strategy — to back its escalating fiscal and constitutional demands. We dare not. We cannot. For then Quebec would leave.

So shame does not come easily to us as a nation. We have so hollowed out our national conscience over the years that we think nothing now of selling out a persecuted minority, rather than take a stand in their defence. And the proof of that can be seen in the positions of our national party leaders.

It is a sign of how abjectly they have all capitulated to majority opinion in Quebec that Justin Trudeau’s craven wobbling about — “I won’t do anything about it now, but I don’t entirely rule out doing something sometime” is only a slight paraphrase — looks positively Churchillian among them.

All they have been asked to do, after all, is join in support of legal challenges of the legislation’s constitutionality already filed in Quebec’s courts by private groups — actions that, owing to the Legault government’s invocation of the notwithstanding clause, must be considered long shots at best, based on novel interpretations of those sections of the Charter not covered by the clause, or the division of powers, or the clause itself.

But even that, apparently is too much. Asked at the Maclean’s debate whether he would support such a challenge as prime minister, Andrew Scheer babbled his usual babble as to how his party would “always stand up for individual liberties” as if he were not already on the record that, in the matter of Bill 21, they would never do so. Jagmeet Singh, who would be among the first victims of the bill were he to attempt to find work in the Quebec judicial system, denounced the bill as “legislated discrimination,” without committing himself to do anything about it.

And Elizabeth May? Ah, Elizabeth May. Convinced that the bill was “an infringement on individual human rights” but concerned not to “fuel” separatism, the Green Party leader proposed a “solution” where “we leave Quebec alone, but we find jobs for anyone that Quebec has taken off of their payroll for working in a government job.” Moderator Paul Wells sought to clarify: she’d find jobs “for people who have to leave”? Yes, she replied.

But our political leaders are what we make of them. If the leader of the Green Party can declare on national television that she will stand up for Quebec’s religious minorities by giving them bus tickets, and face no political consequences for it whatever, it is because our own moral and intellectual defences against such nonsense have atrophied.

Even today it is possible to read, on the CBC’s website, an explanation of Quebec’s “new” nationalism, with its familiar appeals to fears of immigration and multiculturalism, as being based not on crude prejudice or majoritarian intolerance, but “on a holistic conception of Quebec society that prioritizes the historical experience of francophones.”

It is only in this context that Legault could issue his extraordinary demand that all of the federal party leaders pledge “never” to intervene in any court case regarding Bill 21. There’s no point to this; he knows they won’t dare. He just wants to watch them grovel. But it’s not just their shame he’s rubbing their faces in. It’s ours.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Federal leaders have capitulated on Quebec’s Bill 21, and to our shame we let them

An introduction to the new Quebec nationalism and the tricks it plays on federal leaders

To watch:

Quebec’s Bill 21 was a dominant theme in the first week of the campaign. Here’s why

The opening days of the 2019 election campaign have been marked, above all, by the attempts of federal leaders to navigate the new Quebec nationalism and its most potent expression, a law on secularism.

The main proponent of this resurgent nationalism is the provincial government led by Premier François Legault and his centre-right party, the Coalition Avenir Québec.

And Legault didn’t wait long before giving the federal leaders a taste.

The campaign was barely a few hours old when he demanded they renounce support for legal challenges to the secularism law his government passed in June — not just “for the moment,” as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he would, but forever.

It was a warning to steer well clear of a matter he considers to be solely within his jurisdiction, even though the law has raised constitutional concerns across the country, not to mention within Quebec itself.

“It’s up to Quebecers to choose and Quebecers have chosen,” Legault said Wednesday of a law that bans religious symbols in parts of the civil service.

But the roots of the new Quebec nationalism go well beyond Legault’s sweeping election victory last year.

It’s a political mindset that has displaced sovereignty as the main alternative to federalism and, as the first week of the campaign has already made clear, will define how the leaders court votes in the province this fall.

Civic vs ethnic nationalism

The nationalism that currently holds sway is conservative. It is based on a holistic conception of Quebec society that prioritizes the historical experience of francophones.

It’s mainly worried that the combination of immigration and official multiculturalism will make francophone Quebec culture more vulnerable in an increasingly interconnected world where English is the lingua franca.

No surprise then that cutting immigration levels and protecting Quebec’s secular identity were the chief highlights of Legault’s first year in office.

He has sworn off sovereignty since his days in the Parti Québécois, but the origins of the conservative nationalism that his government espouses can nevertheless be traced to the movement’s most decisive moment: the night of the second referendum.

That night, Jacques Parizeau, the PQ premier, opted to improvise his concession speech. “We are beaten, it is true,” he said. “But by what, basically? By money and ethnic votes.”

Already in crisis following the narrow defeat, the sovereignty movement was split in its reaction to Parizeau’s comments.

There were those who were horrified and spent the ensuing years trying to expunge the movement of any hint of ethnic nationalism; trying to promote a more inclusive, civic-style nationalism instead.

And there were those who believed Parizeau was right, and sought to emphasize the history of French-Canadians in their version of Quebec nationalism.

At the outset, the civic nationalists had the upper-hand.

“After 1995, because of Mr. Parizeau’s comments, there was a tendency within the sovereigntist milieu to adhere to a Trudeauist conception of society,” said Éric Bédard, a prominent Quebec historian whose writings helped spark the revival of conservative nationalism.

“Why claim a special status, maybe even Quebec sovereignty, if fundamentally we adhere to the spirit of Canadian multiculturalism?”

But the reasonable accommodation crisis, which lasted roughly between 2006 and 2008, tipped the scales in the other direction.

The rise of the conservative nationalists

As debate raged in the province about whether minority cultural practices represented a threat to Quebec’s secular society, conservative nationalists mounted a fierce attack on multiculturalism.

Bédard and others argued the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its application by federally appointed judges, was too accommodating of minorities, at the expense of a historically rooted Québécois culture.

According to a conservative nationalist reading of the past, this culture is defined by the solidarity forged among francophones fighting for their survival. And the legacy of this solidarity is a willingness to value collective rights over individual ones.

That, they said, is what a secularism law could do: protect the collective rights of Quebecers to live in a secular society against individuals who use the charter to carve out space for their religious practices.

This argument eventually found a sympathetic ear in PQ leader Pauline Marois, who was desperate to restore her party’s fortunes after a disastrous performance in the 2007 election.

Marois brought several conservative nationalists, including Bédard, into her inner circle.

It was a collaboration that ultimately produced the Charter of Values, a proposed secularism law that would have banned religious symbols from large parts of the civil service.

The charter died on the order paper when the PQ lost the 2014 election. But conservative nationalists didn’t blame the charter for the loss. They blamed Marois’s focus on sovereignty.

The CAQ’s successful 2018 election campaign was based on a similar reading of the political climate in the province.

“The CAQ is in the process of fostering a nationalism without sovereignty. And that’s the winning formula at the moment,” said Jacques Beauchemin, a sociologist and former adviser to Marois whose writings also played a big role in the nationalist revival.

“They are proposing a nationalism that suits Quebec of today; a nationalism that is not afraid of affirming things, like with Bill 21 (the secularism law).”

Of obstacles and opportunities

The federal election campaign thus opens in Quebec at a moment of deep suspicion about federal institutions.

Legault, and other defenders of Bill 21, have actively sought to delegitimize the charter and the court system charged with upholding it, fearing their power to strike down the law.

His government, moreover, seeks not simply to defend provincial jurisdiction, but expand it in key areas, like immigration.

In the meantime, multiculturalism, as both a policy and a value, is cast in ever darker terms by government officials and popular columnists.

The grid laid down by the new Quebec nationalism offers different opportunities and obstacles to the three main contenders in the province.

It helps explain why, when launching his campaign, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet began with a paean to the nationalism of the CAQ government. Sovereignty received only a second-order mention.

It also provides an explanation for why Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been more timid than Justin Trudeau in his criticism of Bill 21.

Now that conservative nationalism has been shorn of its sovereigntist trappings, the Tories are trying to win over voters who once backed the Bloc.

There is, however, only so much Scheer can offer without departing from his federalist bedrock and alienating supporters in the West.

Of the three then, the Liberals would seem to have the most to lose from the present configuration.

Trudeau is seeking a delicate balance with his position on Bill 21, trying to present his pro-charter federalism as no immediate threat to the law without forsaking a document that’s at the core of his party’s identity.

But the Liberals, it bears recalling, have maintained a healthy lead in Quebec polls since the last election. Conservative nationalism may be ascendant in the province; it’s not yet hegemonic.

Source: An introduction to the new Quebec nationalism and the tricks it plays on federal leaders

And PM Trudeau’s carefully worded not closing the door on challenging the Bill 21 in court:

Pour sa première journée de campagne en sol québécois, le chef du Parti libéral, Justin Trudeau, est allé un peu plus loin au sujet d’une possible contestation judiciaire de la Loi 21 sur la laïcité de l’État en affirmant qu’il serait « irresponsable » pour un gouvernement fédéral de « fermer à tout jamais la porte » sur la question.

« Nous ne fermons pas la porte à une intervention éventuelle parce que ce serait irresponsable qu’un gouvernement ferme la porte à tout jamais sur une question de droits fondamentaux », a admis le premier ministre sortant, talonné par les journalistes après avoir annoncé une série d’incitatifs pour les entrepreneurs, à Trois-Rivières.

Justin Trudeau, quelques minutes après le coup d’envoi de la 43e élection générale fédérale mercredi, avait affirmé qu’il jugeait qu’il serait « contre-productif » de s’engager « pour l’instant » dans une démarche judiciaire pour contester la Loi 21.

Sa position a rapidement été entendue à l’Assemblée nationale alors que le premier ministre, François Legault, a bien averti les chefs politiques fédéraux de ne pas s’aventurer dans cette voie. Le chef du Parti conservateur, Andrew Scheer, a déjà fait savoir qu’il n’a pas l’intention d’intervenir dans le débat et qu’il ne contesterait pas la loi.

Loi 21 : Justin Trudeau persiste et signe

 

Jean-François Lisée: The inconvenient truth about Quebec’s secularism law Trudeau doesn’t want to face: it’s popular

Two main points regarding other inconvenient truths:

  • Popular opinion was against the death penalty, LGBTQ rights, same sex marriage and earlier on, gender equality. So would Lisée support rolling back some of these changes on the basis of “popularity?”
  • Europe as a model? Europe has one of the weakest record on integration of its immigrants compared to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even the USA as the OECD reports on integration with their extensive analysis of economic and social outcomes.
  • Substantively, there is little difference between multiculturalism and interculturalism as both are policies that aim at civic integration. The major difference is that interculturalism makes a reference to Quebec francophone society versus multiculturalism speaks of integration in terms on linguistic integration into English or French.

It is valid to ask all federal leaders their plans re Bill 21 but none of them is likely to state their plans during an election campaign.

“Unthinkable.” That’s how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacted when Quebec tabled a law that would ban religious symbols and clothing for its teachers, judges, police officers and other public sector workers.

He pledged to “defend the rights of Canadians” against the proposed ban. His minister of justice repeatedly called the bill “unacceptable” and alluded to “next steps” once it became law.

One should not doubt Trudeau’s inherent repulsion for the Quebec law and everything it embodies. This is the man who heralded a woman’s right to wear a niqab — the starkest symbol of oppression of women — to a citizenship ceremony at which she would pledge to adhere to a Constitution that specifically defends gender equality.

Trudeau the father only paid lip service to multiculturalism and the veneration of differences. Trudeau the son embodies it in his bones. It is certain that, if re-elected, he will act. How? More on this later.

But the bill became law in late June, and no action has been taken since. On the contrary, the Liberal government has evaded and procrastinated on the issue. Why?

There is an inconvenient bump on the road to squashing the Quebec law: public opinion. Quebec public opinion, certainly, but Canadian public opinion also. It can — and will — no doubt be disregarded the morning after the election, but not the mornings before.

Ban has support outside Quebec

In April, Léger Marketing carried out a country-wide online poll asking if voters would support the ban of religious symbols for teachers, police officers and judges in their province. The poll also asked respondents who they would vote for in the federal election.

Outside Quebec, fully 40 per cent of Canadians approved of such a ban in their own province. Except in Alberta, 50 per cent or more of Conservative voters were in favour.

Case closed.

Problem is, a sizable chunk of Liberal voters also embraced the ban. Here are the numbers: Atlantic Canada, 28 per cent; Alberta, 31 per cent; Ontario, 32 per cent; B.C., 34 per cent; Prairies (Manitoba and Saskatchewan), 62 per cent. (Would you believe that the numbers are even higher for NDP voters!)

Liberal pollsters have seen these or similar numbers. And they know that 50 per cent of their Quebec voters support the ban, according to the Léger poll. Were they to make this one of the pivotal issues of the campaign, they would have to turn their backs on a third of their base — and give up any chance of forming a majority.

Tough luck.

An election is precisely the moment when truths must be told.

If Trudeau really thinks the ban is “unthinkable,” and I’m sure he does, he must tell voters exactly what he plans to do about it if re-elected.

Trudeau should reveal what he plans to do about the ban

Three options are available to him. The most extreme, let’s call it the nuclear option, is to use the old disallowance clause of the Constitution to simply squash the legislation. This option, promoted by pundits such as columnist Andrew Coyne, was last used in 1943 against an Alberta law that restricted the property rights of Hutterite colonies.

There is a deadline on that option: it can only be used within 12 months of the law being sanctioned by the governor general, thus, no later than late June 2020.

The mid-range option is to refer the question of whether or not the law is constitutional directly to the Supreme Court. Constitutional scholars meeting in Toronto last April concluded that recent jurisprudence would lead the court to declare the law invalid — on its merits and despite the use of the notwithstanding clause. They said the court could also severely curtail the use of the notwithstanding clause itself and declare that Quebec really had no right to use it pre-emptively.

The milder option would be for Ottawa to join the ongoing legal challenge of the ban by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and National Council of Canadian Muslims and help bring it before the Supreme Court.

Are any of these options off the table for Trudeau? The election campaign should not end without a clear answer to that question.

Look to Europe, not Ottawa

Those who think Canadian multiculturalism is the only possible answer to the challenges of diverse societies will keep pushing hard against the ban. As did CBC’s Robyn Urback, who wrote recently that the Quebec law was a “national disgrace,” nothing short of “state-sponsored, systemic oppression” and called on Trudeau to denounce it as he had other “policy wrongs of the past,” such as the hanging of First Nations chiefs in the 19th century.

Proponents of this point of view are also present in the NDP — and to a lesser extent in the Conservative Party — and will want to know why their leaders seem indifferent in the face of Quebec’s perceived assault on equality rights.

Quebecers, on the other hand, know that the cradle of rights and freedoms is not in Ottawa but Europe. And that European courts have ruled that states have legitimate grounds to demand a clear separation of Church and state — including when it comes to the attire of civil servants — and to promote the rights of women by prohibiting misogynist religious garb.

So the question is, really, about tolerance. Will the Liberals and other federal parties tolerate the existence within Canada of a nation that disagrees with their brand of multiculturalism?

Trudeau claims he accepts the existence of Quebec as a nation within Canada. Will he say that doesn’t mean a thing when that nation veers from the Canadian norm?

He knows that no Quebec government to date has signed the current Constitution, and each one has rejected multiculturalism as a policy. Will he nonetheless use this unsigned Constitution as a hammer against a very popular Quebec law?

The Quebec government of François Legault played by the rules when it passed the law in June by invoking the notwithstanding clause to forestall any potential charter challenge. Will Ottawa now ask the Supreme Court to change the rules once the game is already underway?

Quebecers want to know; Canadians, too.

Source: The inconvenient truth about Quebec’s secularism law Trudeau doesn’t want to face: it’s popular

Laïcité: une campagne contre la loi 21 est lancée

Of note:

Le lancement a eu lieu à Montréal dans un lieu de culte protestant, soit l’église unie Saint-James.

Ehab Lotayef, l’un des coordonnateurs de la campagne, qui est de confession musulmane, avait une kippa sur la tête, une calotte portée traditionnellement par les juifs.

« Je vais la porter tout le mois de septembre », a-t-il affirmé.

Cette loi a peut-être été adoptée, mais c’est une loi injuste, a-t-il lancé près de l’autel de l’église. Pour les opposants, elle viole la Charte des droits et libertés et limite les possibilités d’emploi de personnes sur la base de leur religion. « On ne va pas juste l’accepter. »

La Loi sur la laïcité de l’État — connue avant son adoption comme le projet de loi 21 — interdit le port de signes religieux à certains employés de l’État lorsqu’ils sont dans l’exercice de leurs fonctions, dont les policiers, procureurs de la Couronne et gardiens de prison, ainsi qu’aux enseignants des écoles publiques du primaire et du secondaire.

Une enseignante d’origine tunisienne portant le voile, qui n’a révélé que son prénom, Ola, a témoigné qu’après une année extraordinaire dans une école primaire publique de Montréal, elle a frappé un mur pour l’année scolaire en cours. Comme elle n’est pas une employée permanente, si elle accepte un contrat pour cette année, elle devra signer une clause selon laquelle elle s’engage à ne pas porter de signe religieux dans la salle de classe, a-t-elle déclaré. Pour elle, cela signifie enlever son voile.

« Cette loi vient me priver de mes droits, d’être une femme libre, capable de décider où travailler, que porter. Personnellement, je ne vois pas ce que cette loi va apporter de plus ou de mieux à la société québécoise », a-t-elle dit.

« Sauf la tension sociale que je sens et que je vois. Et que je vis. »

Elle a souligné qu’il lui a été difficile de témoigner, se disant déstabilisée par les commentaires « inacceptables » qu’elle voit sur les réseaux sociaux.

Selon le rabbin Michael Whitman, « les effets négatifs de cette loi iront bien au-delà des personnes qui sont directement touchées […]. Elle a donné la permission à l’incivilité. »

Les membres du groupe de citoyens invitent les Québécois à porter les macarons qu’ils ont fait produire en grande quantité et qu’ils distribuent librement. Sur ceux-ci, on peut voir les mots « Loi 21 », barrés d’une ligne rouge. Porter le macaron montre publiquement son opposition à la mesure législative du gouvernement caquiste et le soutien à ceux « dont les droits sont niés par cette loi discriminatoire », font-ils valoir.

Leur but est de rassembler d’ici le 6 octobre quelque 50 000 personnes portant le macaron et le signe religieux de leur choix, qui participeront ce jour-là à une journée d’action publique. Ils veulent aussi générer une discussion sur la loi et changer l’avis de ceux qui la soutiennent.

Lors du lancement jeudi, des représentants de différentes communautés religieuses étaient présents.

La Loi sur la laïcité de l’État a été adoptée en juin dernier par l’Assemblée nationale.

Ce fut un jour très triste, selon Manjit Singh, de confession sikhe, qui a été dans le passé l’aumônier de l’Université McGill à Montréal.

« Nous sommes venus ici légalement, et soudainement, parce que nous avons quelque chose sur la tête, ce n’est plus acceptable désormais », a-t-il déploré.

Et cela ruine la vie des gens, a ajouté l’homme.

Leur opposition civile à la loi se fait de façon parallèle à la contestation judiciaire qui est en cours, ont-ils affirmé.

À la mi-juillet, un juge de la Cour supérieure a rejeté la demande de groupes de défense des libertés civiles et religieuses qui réclamaient la suspension de la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État. Le juge Michel Yergeau avait alors tranché que la loi continuerait de s’appliquer jusqu’à ce qu’un tribunal se prononce sur le fond de l’affaire. Car le but ultime de ces groupes est de faire invalider cette mesure législative. En août, la Cour d’appel du Québec a accepté de se pencher sur la demande d’injonction.

Source: Laïcité: une campagne contre la loi 21 est lancée

Why isn’t ‘unthinkable’ Quebec’s religious symbols ban a federal election issue? Selley and Urback

Two very similar columnists raise the same question and criticize the answer. Starting with Chris Selley:

Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans civil servants in certain positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job, passed in the National Assembly in June. And Quebecers are now gradually getting to know the victims of their pseudo-secularist misadventure — and what they intend to do about it.

Amrit Kaur, a 28-year-old recent teachers’ college graduate who wears a turban, has been in the news recently after picking up stakes for Surrey, B.C. Chahira Battou, a 29-year-old teacher who wears a hijab, was the subject of a similar news cycle back in April, telling various outlets she would rather be fired than obey the law — “If I submit to the law, and I remove my scarf when I go to teach, that is when I become a submissive woman,” she told the Washington Postand rilingnationalist commentators when she suggested to TVA host Denis Lévesque that Quebec cannot be a country of laïcité, because it isn’t a country at all. Nadia Naqvi, another teacher who wears the hijab, told the Post she wouldn’t take off her hijab out of respect for her students: “We’re supposed to teach them to stand up for their beliefs.” (Already-employed civil servants are not officially affected by Bill 21 unless they are so presumptuous as to want a promotion.)

Most of those affected will be teachers, most women, and most — not by accident — Muslim. But not all. Sondos Lamrhari is reportedly the first hijab-wearing Quebecer to study police tech, and hopes to apply to the Montreal or Laval police force in the near future. Not far behind her is 15-year-old Sukhman Singh Shergill, who has dreamed his whole life of being a police officer. His cousin, Gurvinder Singh, was part of a successful campaign at the New York City Police Department to allow officers to wear turbans and beards on the job, and Shergill has already started his own campaign in Montreal.

We will meet more and more of these people in coming months and years, and it will quickly demonstrate that Premier François Legault’s stated goal in passing Bill 21 — to put the issue to bed — will not be achieved.

In the meantime, every federal party leader has strongly opposed the law. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the restrictions “unthinkable.” “A society based on fundamental freedoms and openness must always protect fundamental individual rights and should not in any way impede people from expressing themselves,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer told reporters in Quebec City in March. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, a criminal lawyer who could not work as a Crown attorney in Quebec by dint of his turban, has correctly argued that “there are a lot of people in Quebec who don’t feel this is the right way to go,” and is gamely auditioning to “be their champion.”

That being the case, it’s no surprise the issue has been totally absent from federal election discussions. All three major parties agree the ban is wrong; all of them want the votes of people who support the ban; and no one wants the Bloc Québécois to leverage federalist/non-francophone opposition into renewed relevance.

A braver person than me might call this a victory for federalism. As consumed as Quebec has been for 15 years in the reasonable accommodations debate, Éric Grenier’s poll tracker at CBC has the Bloc at just 18.5 per cent, the Conservatives at 23 per cent, and the Liberals — led by Canada’s most ardent multiculturalist, son of the fiend who foisted multiculturalism upon Quebec in the first place — leading at 35 per cent.

The poor NDP, which under Jack Layton squashed the Bloc in 2011, languishes at 11 per cent, not even two points clear of the Greens. But the other parties have in essence adopted the Sherbrooke Declaration principles that helped Layton appeal to soft Quebec nationalists: In exchange for abandoning separatism Quebec gets, if not every single thing it wants, then very asymmetrical treatment indeed — not just in substance, but in political rhetoric.

Bill 21 is stretching that compromise right to the breaking point, however. The idea that Quebec’s restrictions on minority rights are a “provincial issue,” and that this explains their absence from the federal scene, is rather belied by the fact that Trudeau is running his campaign as much against Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his various budget cuts as he is against Scheer. If Alberta had instituted Bill 21 — which it wouldn’t, but if it had — we would be looking at a very different federal campaign. Liberals would hold it up as evidence of shameful, intolerable intolerance, and they would have a point.

Can it really be a purely “provincial issue” when a government uses Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to impose restrictions on minority rights that the prime minister considers “unthinkable”? What’s the point of national unity if it means keeping shtum on such a fundamental question of individual rights and freedoms? Federal leaders utterly deplore the restrictions — fine. Voters should ask them what exactly they intend to do about them.

Source: Chris Selley: Why isn’t ‘unthinkable’ Quebec’s religious symbols ban a federal election issue?

From Urback:

What’s happening in Quebec is a national disgrace.

It’s the type of thing for which a future government will apologize, much in the same way the prime minister of present has taken to apologizing for policy wrongs of the past.

Indeed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown no reservation in apologizing to the LGBT community for discrimination in the civil service decades ago; to Jews for Canada’s refusal to accept German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution; to Indigenous communities for the hanging of chiefs in the 19th century.

Trudeau appropriately called these policies “unfair, unequal treatment” and “state-sponsored, systemic oppression.” Of course, it’s easy to call out injustice when you’ve had no hand in its propagation.

Forced secularism

Discrimination is currently enshrined in law in Quebec. As of June, public servants in the province who work in so-called positions of authority — teachers, judges, police officers and so on — are prohibited from wearing religious symbols. Those who flout the ban are effectively shackled to their spots thanks to a grandfather clause that says they can’t be promoted or moved. Those who wear kippahs, turbans, crosses or hijabs need not apply.

This too is state-sponsored, systemic oppression, an affront to religious freedom that ought to outrage anyone who believes in equal opportunity and freedom from state interference.

It is not merely a “dress code,” as some who have tried to defend the law have insisted; wearing open-toed shoes or spaghetti straps at work is not a deeply held religious conviction. Nor is it simply a “Quebec issue.” When state-sponsored discrimination becomes the law anywhere in Canada, it is everyone’s business, and our national shame.

2015 Niqab controversy

This should be a major election issue. Back in 2015, the question of whether a new Canadian should be allowed to wear the niqab while swearing a citizenship oath was fodder for a national discussion, and the Liberals, to their credit, took the position of freedom and tolerance.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, huffed about the symbolism of taking an oath of citizenship while wearing a niqab, as if feelings should have any bearing on a state’s infringement on an individual’s rights. You don’t have to like the niqab to believe that — except in situations where security and identification are tantamount — a country shouldn’t tell a woman what to wear.

Public opinion polling at the time found that Canadians overwhelmingly supported a niqab ban, just as public opinion polls now show that Quebecers overwhelmingly support a religious symbols ban.

That’s why federal leaders (with the exception of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who pretty much has no prospects in Quebec) have been loath to bring up the topic and tepid in response to questions about it. No one wants to risk alienating Quebecers ahead of the fall election.

But majority opinion in this case is merely that; it certainly doesn’t mean the law is righteous or good. In fact, we have laws that protect individual freedoms and minority rights precisely because the majority can’t be counted on to uphold them — which of course is why Quebec has pre-emptively invoked the notwithstanding clause to avoid a Charter challenge.

But the federal government’s hands are hardly tied just because of the notwithstanding clause. It can put pressure on the Quebec government through economic means. It can support the legal challenge currently underway by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. And it can speak out, forcefully and repeatedly, about an unjust policy that should not be on the books in Canada in 2019.

(Some have claimed this would be “political interference” akin to the SNC-Lavalin affair, which is a laboured and ridiculous comparison. This would not be a prime minister waging a clandestine operation to influence the attorney general to prevent a criminal trial for a major corporation, but a prime minister openly standing up for minority rights against a clearly unconstitutional law.)

Trudeau recently made a campaign-style trip to Quebec, where he made an announcement about transit, talked about protecting the environment, visited small businesses and boasted about the middle class. He did not talk about how the province is discriminating against its own residents.

In fact, all the prime minister has offered by way of critique so far is a few milquetoast comments akin to what he said back in June: “We do not feel it is a government’s responsibility or in a government’s interest to legislate on what people should be wearing.” It’s hardly the full-court press he and his ministers have assembled to speak out against other issues, such as efforts to quash the carbon tax or Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s record on gay marriage or even Canada’s Food Guide.

In another universe, with a different electoral map (or if, say, this was an Ontario law under Premier Doug Ford), Trudeau would be harping on it at every opportunity, with every minister on board, and with the fury this sort of state-sponsored intolerance demands. And Scheer, for whom freedom from religious discrimination is surely a most important priority, would be too. We cannot look down our noses at the societal divisions in the United States while people in Canada can’t get jobs because of what they wear out of faith.

There’s no question that any sort of intervention would be abysmally received by Quebec and within Quebec, and could very well decide the election. But it would also be a true demonstration of putting principles above political interest — which is probably too much to ask. Doing the right thing often comes with an enormous cost, and it’s quite evident that whoever becomes our next prime minister will not be willing to pay it.

Source: Quebec’s secularism law is a national disgrace — and yet barely an election issue: Robyn Urback

Opinion: Interculturalism reconciles a common culture, diversity

Apart from the usual tired misunderstandings of multiculturalism (again, multiculturalism is about integration, whether it be Quebec and French, or elsewhere in English or French.

Does one really believe that an “interculturalism” law would solve all the accommodation debates and avoid a Bill 21?

Recent calls for the adoption of a law on interculturalism, including by the Quebec Liberal Party’s youth wing, have given rise to fears that such a law would restrict minority rights in Quebec.

Such fears are unfounded. Interculturalism does not restrict minority rights, but rather reaffirms them. It reaffirms, for example, the right of the English-speaking community to maintain its culture and institutions, in particular its universities, hospitals and, especially, its school boards. It is a well thought-out, comprehensive policy framework that is inclusive of all Quebecers.

This policy, which has been promoted by every Quebec government in some form since 1971 and was given new impetus by the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, rests on two pillars.

The first is a common francophone culture, shared political institutions — notably the National Assembly — a common history that started with French exploration of the New World and continued with the development of a modern society that is in good part characterized by cultural diversity.

The second pillar, cultural diversity, recognizes a multiplicity of cultural communities and also accords special status to First Nations, the Inuit and the English-speaking community.

Interculturalism implies the recognition both of the francophone majority and of minorities. It is Quebec’s policy model for integration and the management of diversity.

What is the difference between interculturalism and multiculturalism? The former tries to reconcile a common culture with cultural diversity, while the latter restricts itself to the promotion of cultural diversity. For a national minority like Quebec, which naturally fears marginalization, multiculturalism is not a sufficient guarantee of its survival.

In my view, if the Quebec government were to restrict itself to the promotion of cultural diversity, it would actually hamper its ability to defend the special status of English-speaking Quebecers as a founding minority. The English-speaking community would be seen as one minority among others.

Interculturalism also promotes the social and economic integration of immigrants in French, which is not the case for multiculturalism. As the only francophone society in North America, it is reasonable for Quebec to implement legislation in defence of its language and culture.

Interculturalism places an onus on both institutions and citizens to resolve issues related to cultural differences by engaging with each other rather than through recourse to the courts.

It also informs the way in which we teach history and good citizenship, as it takes into account both the common culture and cultural diversity. It seeks to promote intercultural exchanges, the contribution of cultural diversity to Quebec and the fight against all forms of discrimination.

Some believe that a law on interculturalism is unnecessary, as it is already Quebec’s policy. However, like Canada’s Multiculturalism Act, legislation would allow the affirmation of Quebec’s model, the respect of diversity and the recognition of its founding minorities, and oblige the Quebec government to take into account not only the common culture, but also cultural diversity and the respect of minority rights.

Had Quebec already adopted a law on interculturalism, I believe it would have been much more difficult for the Coalition Avenir Québec government to adopt populist and discriminatory laws such as Bill 21 on secularism and Bill 9 on immigration. An interculturalism law would have established the foundational principles concerning integration and the management of diversity, and would have posed, both legally and logically, an additional obstacle to the CAQ’s policies.

Some believe that the recognition of the francophone majority and minorities is divisive. However, this reflects reality and the government cannot govern only for the francophone majority, nor can it govern only for minorities. It must address both groups’ legitimate interests. What is divisive is the absence of recognition of both groups’ legitimate interests.

This is why we need legislation that strikes a balance between the majority and minorities. We need to affirm a common culture that includes all Quebecers. This is the goal of interculturalism.

Source: Opinion: Interculturalism reconciles a common culture, diversity