Khan: The downfall of Quebec’s Bill 21 could come thanks to women

We will see:

The notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter is no longer an obscure legal term. Thanks to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent use of Section 33 to prevent job action by education workers – he has invoked the clause, or threatened to do so, three times in four years – ordinary Canadians now know that their basic human rights can be suspended at any time. We aren’t talking about emergency measures here, nor are we discussing reasonable limits through democratic mechanisms; ours is the only constitutional democracy that potentially allows for the gutting of basic rights in the name of what a parliamentary majority deems a matter of governance.

Who could have foreseen the consequences of this clause?

Well, Canadian women, for one.

When the Charter was being drafted, women demanded equality rights – but they were derided at committee hearings for doing so. In 1980, Senator Harry Hays derisively countered by suggesting special rights for babies and children, since “all you girls will be out working and we’re not going to have anybody to look after them.” A year later, more than 1,300 women descended on Parliament Hill to assert equality rights in the Constitution, by affirming Section 15 on general equality and proposing Section 28, on gender equality rights.

Initially, the notwithstanding clause could have been used on Section 28, too. But women fought for its exclusion, having had the foresight to ensure that gender equality rights could not be denied by the potential whims of future governments. We owe them a great deal.

And yet, today, we see the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause leading to disproportionate damage to Muslim women in Quebec.

François Legault’s government has pre-emptively used the notwithstanding clause twice since 2019, to ensure the passage of two bills. One of them, Bill 21, bans some public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols, but lawyers have provided evidence at the Quebec Court of Appeal – which heard a legal challenge to the bill this month – that only Muslim women who wear the hijab have lost their jobs as a result of it.

Indeed, Quebec’s religious minorities have felt increased alienation and despair in recent years, according to the Association for Canadian Studies. Its survey found that the situation is particularly dire for Muslim women: 73 per cent of them said they’ve felt less safe in public since 2019, while 83 per cent said their confidence in their children’s future has worsened.

The Quebec government touted Bill 21 as a “feminist” law, but it has only reinforced prejudices, and given license to bigots. I know this firsthand: During a visit to Montreal, I was berated by a middle-aged francophone Uber driver for wearing the hijab. At the end of the ride, he asked me not to file a complaint. (Of course, I did the opposite.)

This all illustrates Bill 21′s egregious violation of Section 28 of the Charter – namely, that the law disproportionately affects women, and thus violates gender equality. Since the notwithstanding clause cannot override Section 28, Bill 21 could be seen by the courts as invalid – an argument that University of New Brunswick law professor Kerri Froc raised years ago, and is now gaining traction.

Quebec Muslim women are not wilting. They have protested alongside allies who believe in a Quebec where all individuals can thrive. Take, for example, Institut F, a Montreal-based organization that seeks to ensure Muslim women’s personal agency. Its programs provide resources so that each woman knows that she belongs, her voice matters and she is a valued member of society – even if the Quebec government thinks otherwise. At a recent Institut event, I met talented Muslim women in STEM fields such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and data science – talent that Quebec needs to remain economically competitive. Yet, many of those women expressed doubts about thriving in a society that overtly discriminates against religious minorities.

Something may have to give on this front, too. The labour shortage is so acute in Quebec that the town of Hérouxville – infamous for issuing a code of conduct for immigrants warning them not to stone or burn women alive – is now actively courting newcomers. Today, neighbouring towns are helping migrants find halal food. Economic reality will force the realization that attracting workers means making all feel welcome – not just a select few.

Bill 21’s damage has been done – abetted by the notwithstanding clause. The women who fought to exclude Section 28 from the clause knew its dangers. As Canadians, we must continue that fight to guarantee basic rights for all, be they religious and linguistic minorities in Quebec, education workers in Ontario, or anyone threatened by the notwithstanding clause.

Source: The downfall of Quebec’s Bill 21 could come thanks to women

How Quebec’s 1995 referendum was a turning point for racist comments in political discourse that’s still felt

Of note:

Standing on a stage in Montreal Wednesday night, singer Allison Russell recalled what it was like to live in the city after the Parti Québécois lost the referendum 27 years ago.

“I was spat on, called a monkey and told to go back to Africa,” Russell, who is Black and was born in Montreal, told the audience.

In defeat, former premier Jacques Parizeau had blamed the 1995 loss on “money and ethnic votes.”

Russell, who was 17 at the time, said the comments sparked racist acts in the streets and contributed to her decision to move away shortly afterward. She compared the remark to recent comments about immigration made by Coalition Avenir Québec candidate Jean Boulet and party leader François Legault.

The topic has dominated political discourse in the last days and weeks of the campaign.

In a local debate on Radio-Canada last week, Boulet — who serves as both the province’s labour and immigration minister —  said “80 per cent of immigrants go to Montreal, don’t work, don’t speak French or don’t adhere to the values of Quebec society.”

After Radio-Canada brought the comments to light this week, Boulet issued an apology on Twitter, saying he misspoke and that the statement about immigrants not working and not speaking French “does not reflect what I think.”

Legault said Boulet didn’t deserve to keep the immigration file if re-elected. But Legault himself said Monday that welcoming more than 50,000 immigrants per year would be “a bit suicidal,”referring to the protection of the French language.

Earlier this month, Legault apologized for citing the threat of “extremism” and “violence” as well as the need to preserve Quebec’s way of life as reasons to limit the number of immigrants to the province.

Aly Ndiaye, a Quebec-city based historian and rapper also known as Webster, said he sees the 1995 referendum loss and Parizeau’s remark as a turning point for Quebec nationalism that made way for the kind of things Boulet and Legault have said this election campaign.

From inclusive nationalism to a change in Quebec identity

In the 1960s and 70s, Quebec’s nationalist movement was intent on being progressive and inclusive, Ndiaye said. The movement was inspired by decolonization and revolutions happening across the world at the time — it was looking “outward,” he said.

“After Parizeau, there was a closure,” Ndiaye said. Quebec nationalism turned inward, he added.

“There started to be a more exclusive vision of Quebec identity… That’s what Legault represents.”

What worries Ndiaye is the fact that such comments are rarely labelled as racist, despite the fact that they stem from a vision of society that sees immigrants and their descendants as “second-class citizens.”

“The Legault government is a racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic government,” Ndiaye said. “It’s aberrant.”

Hate calls

Fo Niemi, who founded the Montreal Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) in 1983, said he remembers the Parizeau moment clearly.

“I almost fell off my chair,” he said.

Niemi said the centre received hate calls in the days following the Oct. 30, 1995 vote and stopped answering the phone for two or three days as a result.

When it comes to racist comments made in this year’s provincial election, Niemi said that while there is a possibility they could lead to violence, or aggression against immigrants, they could also lead to an overall negative attitude in Quebec toward immigration and immigrants.

“Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about all immigrants. We’re talking about immigrants who are clearly identifiable, i.e. non-white immigrants.”

He agrees with Ndiaye about the hesitation to name racism.

“They don’t call a spade a spade,” Niemi said, calling the CAQ remarks “dog whistle politics,” which refers to the use of messages that convey a particular — usually racist — sentiment to a target audience.

Evelyn Calugay, who runs PINAY, a Filipino women’s rights group, said she remembers hearing about comments made to people in her community as well as to people of Chinese descent in 1995.

Stuff like, “You don’t know how to speak French? Go back to where you belong, where you came from,” Calugay said.

“They will always have somebody to blame and the people they have to blame are always the minorities, the marginalized — because they are a bunch of racists to me!” she said with a bit of a laugh.

Calugay came to Quebec in 1975 to work as a nurse. She is 76.

What happens after the election?

The CAQ isn’t the only party to have come under fire for anti-immigrant sentiments. Comments about Quebec Muslims from Parti Québécois candidates Lyne Jubinville, Suzanne Gagnon and Pierre Vanier and his wife Catherine Provost have surfaced in the past two weeks.

Vanier, the candidate for Rousseau, and Provost, the candidate for neighbouring L’Assomption, were both suspended by PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon Friday for posts they made on social media, one of which questioned the intelligence of Muslim women who wear head scarves.

Whatever the election result Monday, Niemi says his concern is what will happen afterward.

“Are we going to talk about the negative fallout of all of these, shall we say, hateful statements?” he said. “What credibility will the government have to address racism and xenophobia and any other negative consequence of these statements?”

As for Russell, the Quebec-born singer now lives in Nashville with her family and recently, after playing in well-known American folk bands, began a solo career with her album Outside Child.

Source: How Quebec’s 1995 referendum was a turning point for racist comments in political discourse that’s still felt

Raj: NDP puts minority rights aside as it courts Quebec

Of note:

The federal NDP and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May voted to endorse the use of the notwithstanding clause and Quebec’s controversial Bill 96 Wednesday, by supporting Bloc Québécois legislation that strips the rights of non-francophones in the province.

The Bloc sought to amend several pieces of federal legislation to impose French as the dominant language in the province and tried to prevent Ottawa from contesting Quebec’s contentious language moves.

Its bill C-238, which was defeated Wednesday, would have changed the Citizenship Act so that Quebec residents can only become citizens if they have “adequate knowledge of French.” Everywhere else in Canada, residents must only demonstrate they speak either French or English. 

The bill also amended the Canada Labour Code, the Official Languages Act, and the Canadian Business Corporations Act by subjecting them to Quebec’s French language charter. 

Whatever the government of Quebec put into its charter would tie Ottawa’s hands.

This is concerning when you consider the nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec — which is likely to be re-elected with a sweeping majority Monday — passed Bill 96 earlier this year. That legislation amended the French language charter to prevent many English speakers from speaking to each other in English at work (or in a language other than French); made it difficult for employers to require employees know any language other than French; and banned many people from accessing government services in English — even when they are available. It even gave the province the right to enter private businesses without a warrant to ensure emails, for example, are being sent in French and gave individuals the right to seek damages in court if their language rights are breached.

Quebec’s charter also imposes unnecessary hardship on newcomers, forcing them to learn French within six months of their arrival — after which the government only communicates with them in French. Expecting new arrivals to learn a language in six months is not only unrealistic but sets them up for failure.

And yet, this is what NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his MPs voted for Wednesday. This from a party that prides itself on standing up for minority rights.

Quebec Premier François Legault has pre-emptively used the notwithstanding clause twice now to avoid legal challenges arising from obvious reaches of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, most recently with Bill 96 and previously with Bill 21, a law that prevents Quebecers employed in certain professions such as teachers, judges, and police officers from wearing religious symbols. Just last year, an elementary teacher in Chelsea, Que., was removed from her classroom for wearing a head scarf.

It’s hard to believe this is the kind of behaviour the NDP — or Elizabeth May, now a candidate for the leadership of the Green Party — wants to be associated with.

The decline of French in Quebec is a real concern. It is one shared by many allophones and anglophones in Quebec too. But subjecting federal laws to a provincial government, especially one that has questioned publicly why it should be subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is another thing altogether.

And while the NDP wants to have it both ways — by claiming it is standing up for the protection of the French language and respecting anglophone minority rights — its actions this week show it isn’t doing both. It also raises questions about whether the party is ready to contest for power if it is unwilling to assert Ottawa’s jurisdiction.

New Democrats note that they’ve always supported the idea that federal institutions operating in Quebec should be subject to the province’s language charter. The NDP’s only Quebec MP, Alexandre Boulerice, noted last spring that it made little sense for credit unions in the province to operate under different laws than federally-regulated banks. Bill 96, however, has changed that conversation.

Language is touchy in Quebec. The vast majority of Quebecers support Bill 96. Most of the province’s political parties do too. In fact, Quebec Liberals are polling in the single digits with francophones, likely due to their opposition to Bill 96 and Bill 21. 

For nearly two decades now, the NDP has embraced asymmetrical federalism with Quebec, including supporting the principle that 50 per cent plus one vote is enough to split the country. That position is credited for the party’s big win in 2011. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that yet again the NDP places chasing francophone support in Quebec above all else.

Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who helped convince his own caucus and lobbied opposition MPs to vote against the bill, said he was “very relieved” by its defeat. “Using the notwithstanding clause to deny people rights … is just very alarming,” he told the Star.

The silver lining in Wednesday’s vote came from the Liberals and notably Conservative MPs who unanimously stood opposed. Just 18 months ago, on a similar motion, all but one Conservative voted with the Bloc.

A new leader and a 2021 election that saw the Conservatives’ hopes for a big win in Quebec dashed seem to have contributed to an epiphany. That or Pierre Poilievre realized there are more votes to be had fighting the notwithstanding clause outside Quebec than endorsing it inside the province.

Source: NDP puts minority rights aside as it courts Quebec

How a Quebec student’s hijab became the target of a political and cultural storm

Groundhog Day…

The photograph on the Montreal business school’s website was intended to demonstrate a young woman’s possibility and her academic success.

“A rewarding international presence,” reads the blurb beside the photo, written in a black font to match the black cloth hijab wrapped around the head and neck of the woman’s smiling face.

There is not much more that would stand out as unusual in the promotional image of the Algerian exchange student at the HEC Montréal — an image the school uses to tout its international programs, a deep and important revenue stream for the institution, as it is for most other Canadian universities.

But when Jean-François Lisée, a prominent Quebec academic, writer and former politician, viewed the image last weekend, he saw it not as a ploy by a public institution in search of private funds.

Instead, the former leader of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois flared at what he took to be a breach of the secular codes that Quebec governments have been trying to establish over the past two decades to separate religion and the state.

Those efforts culminated in 2019 with the passage into law of Bill 21, which enshrines state secularism, mainly by banning public-sector workers from wearing items of religious clothing or decoration, including crucifixes, turbans and hijabs, while at work.

“University students can display their convictions, religious or not,” Lisée wrote on Twitter. “But for a public institution that is by definition secular, pro-science and pro-gender equality to normalize a misogynistic religious sign in an ad is unacceptable.”

The rebuke from a man who has straddled Quebec’s media and political realms for more than 40 years cast the province back into a fraught debate that it cannot seem to resolve.

Increasingly present in the form of turbans, hijabs and kippahs, at least in part due to immigration patterns in the province, many of Quebec’s white, francophone majority would apparently prefer that religion be neither seen nor heard from in the public sphere.

But each instance of religion rearing its head, reigniting the debate over the place of religious expression in a secular society, is like a freshly formed scab over a cut that is pulled away, exposing the wound to the sting of fresh air.

Kimberley Manning calls them “moments of punctuation” that revive the frequently noxious debate that, in her opinion, risks revictimizing religious minorities in Quebec.

“They contribute to and exacerbate an ever-present experience of not being fully Quebeckers,” says the associate professor of political science at Montreal’s Concordia University. “This is what seems to be coming through in the polling and the research.”

Manning has done her own work, notably a March study of students that found feelings of discrimination that respondents linked to the province’s secularism law.

A more extensive study of Bill 21’s impacts in Quebec, released this week, contends that the law has created a frightening, oppressive and grim environment for religious minorities.

In surveys, Jews, Sikhs and Muslims reported a deterioration in their likelihood to participate in social and political life in the province, in their sense of personal safety, and in their confidence for future prospects.

“(The law) promises all kinds of very noble values, and when we measured those up against the results in the study, we see that it doesn’t achieve those values of neutrality, equality and social harmony,” says Miriam Taylor, director of publications and partnerships with the Association of Canadian Studies.

What the law — most any law — does do is normalize and concretize the biases which underpin it, Taylor says.

Survey respondents said they had experienced a rise in verbal abuse, threats and physical confrontations since the law was adopted.

This jibes with anecdotal evidence and a general sense of uncertainty and anxiety in Quebec’s Muslim communities, says Lina El Bakir, Quebec Advocacy Officer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“When you set out a law that is discriminatory, you allow that to permeate society and people’s views,” she says.

“It affects mental health, it affects security, it affects the ability to just be, you know?”

Lisée, who declined an interview request, said in his criticisms that his beef was not with the Algerian exchange student in the hijab, but with the business school.

The website content in question does not breach any aspects of the provincial law, but he said it sends a message to young Algerians standing up to the pressure of imams and fundamentalists that the school “is not your ally.”

An HEC Montréal spokesperson says the only goal of the image was to show off the diversity of its student body, which includes 3,746 international students from 142 countries. The image will come down from the site next week — not because of Lisée’s indignation but because that’s when its previously scheduled two-week publication run ends.

That may come as a relief to the student, who came to Montreal to obtain a business degree and now finds herself in a debate that is part polisci, part sociology — one that has been going on so long that at least part of it belongs to the annals of history.

Speaking to La Presse columnist Rima Elkouri, the 22-year-old, who declined the Star’s interview request, explained she was initially nervous about coming to study in Canada. She had heard about the killing of four members of the Afzaal family of London, Ont., who were run down by the driver of a pickup truck on June 6, 2021, in what police allege was a hate-motivated attack.

But, Nouha, who was identified only by her first name, said she quickly warmed to her new home in Montreal.

“I have never suffered from discrimination or a lack of respect,” she told the Montreal newspaper.

She said that wearing the hijab was a personal decision, not one forced upon her by her family, though she acknowledged the women who have no choice in the matter.

“I’m against that,” she said, adding that she considers herself a feminist.

“I’ve never found (the hijab) to be a symbol that diminishes the value of a woman. Personally, I consider myself to be a very strong woman. In a few years, I’ll be managing a team of workers. I can’t afford to see myself as a weak person.”

She also said she acknowledges and understands the principles of secularism in Quebec.

“I understand that the school must be truly neutral. But from my point of view, it’s also important to display people from minority groups because those minorities look for a place where they feel at peace.”

The issues on display are not going away.

Before the end of the month, Quebec will be into a provincial election campaign and parties have often fallen back on identity issues to stir up the passions of their voters.

Taylor said she worried about the negative consequences of a campaign in which religion and secularism, majority views and minority rights were “instrumentalized for political gain.”

Before the end of the year, Quebec’s court of appeal is expected to hear a legal challenge to Bill 21. And in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has already promised to challenge the provincial secularism law at the Supreme Court.

Taylor’s study found that support for the law among Quebeckers would drop considerably if the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the Constitution.

This bolsters El Bakir’s contention that Quebeckers, like other Canadians, value human rights, despise discrimination and strive for equality.

But she reverts to her native French, and invokes the most Quebecois of expressions, to explain that an older segment of the Quebec population support secularism because they remember when the Catholic Church exerted strict control over all aspects of the province —from schools to hospitals to politics to family life.

“It doesn’t take the head of Papineau!” she says, in reference to Louis-Joseph Papineau, a leader of the rebel Patriote movement in 19th century Lower Canada who was reputed for his intelligence.

“I do understand where older generations are coming from, however societies evolve and we need to understand that realities do change, and one narrative doesn’t always apply.”

Source: How a Quebec student’s hijab became the target of a political and cultural storm

Nicolas: Les mythes et réalités de la loi 21

Good analysis and observations regarding this ACS/Leger study (see earlier New research shows Bill 21 having ‘devastating’ impact on religious minorities in Quebec [particularly Muslim women]):

Pendant qu’on débat pour la millionième fois sur le port du hidjab au Québec — cette semaine à cause de réactions à une publicité de HEC Montréal —, une nouvelle étude sur la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État vient d’être publiée.

Produite par l’Association des études canadiennes, en collaboration avec SurveyMonkey et la firme de sondage Léger, cette étude a été menée auprès de 1828 adultes québécois, dont 632 musulmans, 165 juifs et 54 sikhs. Léger a utilisé les données de Statistique Canada pour que l’échantillon sondé soit représentatif de la population étudiée.

L’étude confirme que la majorité de la population (63,7 %) appuie la « loi 21 ». Ce chiffre tombe à 60 % si on inclut l’option « je ne sais pas », et à 57 % si l’on spécifie « telle qu’elle s’applique aux enseignants ».

Mais l’étude innove en comparant les arguments souvent entendus pour défendre la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État avec les données amassées. L’effet de contraste est saisissant.

D’abord, on avance souvent que la « loi 21 » est « neutre » — c’est-à-dire qu’elle ne vise aucune religion en particulier — et que ses appuis ne sont pas liés à une animosité particulière envers une religion ou une autre. Or, l’étude calcule que 75 % des partisans convaincus du texte législatif ont une opinion négative de l’islam ; 66 % du sikhisme ; 49 % du judaïsme ; 36,5 % du christianisme.

Il se dégage donc ici, selon la chercheuse principale de l’étude, Miriam Taylor, une « hiérarchie de négativité » envers les religions particulièrement marquée.

Parallèlement, la proportion des opposants convaincus à la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État qui ont une opinion négative de ces quatre mêmes religions oscille entre 18 % et 20 %, sans conviction que certaines valent mieux que d’autres.

Ensuite, on dit souvent que les appuis à « loi 21 » sont motivés par une méfiance particulière envers la religion en général ; l’étude a par conséquent voulu mesurer si les personnes elles-mêmes peu religieuses étaient plus nombreuses à soutenir cette législation. Or, on n’a trouvé aucun lien majeur entre la religiosité des répondants et leur appui ou opposition à la loi. Même qu’au contraire, les Québécois qui s’identifient comme catholiques seraient « légèrement plus favorables » à la loi que ceux qui se disent athées.

Fossé hommes-femmes

Par ailleurs, on entend souvent que la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État québécois est profondément féministe, et que c’est au nom de l’égalité hommes-femmes qu’elle a été mise en avant. L’enquête s’est donc intéressée à l’écart dans les appuis à la loi selon le genre.

On a calculé que 68,5 % des hommes et 59 % des femmes au Québec appuieraient la loi, un écart de près de 10 points de pourcentage. Chez les plus jeunes, l’écart est encore plus marqué : 51,7 % des hommes de 18 à 24 ans appuient la loi, alors que seulement 31,5 % de leurs consoeurs font de même. Seules les femmes de 75 ans et plus sont plus favorables à la loi que les hommes de leur groupe d’âge.

L’étude avance également que les femmes québécoises sont plus nombreuses à trouver que « la loi est discriminatoire envers les femmes », que les femmes sont « plus touchées » par cette mesure législative, et que la loi « divise les Québécois ». Les femmes seraient aussi moins nombreuses à trouver que les Québécois qui s’opposent à la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État sont « déloyaux » et à souhaiter qu’une personne qui ne s’y conforme pas perde son emploi.

Existe-t-il une seule autre politique publique dite « féministe » moins appuyée par les femmes que par les hommes ? Ou serait-ce que, dans ce cas-ci, les femmes savent moins bien discerner que les hommes ce qui est bon pour elles ?

Vivre-ensemble

De plus, on répète souvent que la « loi 21 » exprime une volonté collective, et donc que les tribunaux ne devraient pas se « mêler » des décisions de l’Assemblée nationale sur la question.

Pourtant, 64,5 % des Québécois sondés croient qu’il serait important « que la Cour suprême émette un avis sur la question de savoir si la loi 21 est discriminatoire », et seuls 46,7 % des répondants continueraient à l’appuyer si les tribunaux « confirment » qu’elle « viole les chartes des droits et libertés ». On parlerait donc ici d’une chute de 18 points de pourcentage dans les appuis en cas d’une décision négative des tribunaux sur la question.

Finalement, la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État est souvent présentée comme un outil favorisant l’harmonie sociale et le vivre-ensemble.

Or, en sondant spécifiquement les Québécois musulmans, juifs et sikhs, l’étude a trouvé qu’une majorité dans les trois groupes rapporte « un déclin dans leur sentiment d’acceptation en tant que membres à part entière de la société québécoise » depuis l’adoption du texte législatif. Quelque 64 % des femmes musulmanes, 67 % des hommes sikhs et 87,5 % des femmes sikhs qui ont participé à l’étude ont dit avoir senti leur capacité à participer à la vie sociale et politique du Québec se détériorer depuis 2019. Et 67 % des femmes musulmanes, 50 % des hommes juifs et 67 % hommes sikhs ont aussi déclaré avoir été exposés à des incidents et à des crimes haineux.

Cette portion de l’étude inclut d’ailleurs des témoignages qui donnent froid dans le dos. Bien qu’il s’agisse de la plus vaste enquête sur cette question conduite auprès des minorités religieuses québécoises depuis l’adoption de la loi, l’échantillon total reste modeste.

Espérons que d’autres recherches encore plus ambitieuses seront mises en avant pour faire la lumière sur ces enjeux cruciaux.

Source: Les mythes et réalités de la loi 21

New research shows Bill 21 having ‘devastating’ impact on religious minorities in Quebec [particularly Muslim women]

Would be interesting to see the breakdown between Montreal and the rest of Quebec, where immigration is low as is the number of visible and religious minorities:

New research shows that three years after Quebec’s secularism law — commonly known as Bill 21 — was adopted, religious minorities in the province are feeling increasingly alienated and hopeless.  

“Religious minority communities are encountering — at levels that are disturbing — a reflection of disdain, hate, mistrust and aggression,” Miriam Taylor, lead researcher and the director of publications and partnerships at the Association for Canadian Studies, told CBC in an interview.

“We even saw threats and physical violence,” Taylor said.

Bill 21, which passed in 2019, bars public school teachers, police officers, judges and government lawyers, among other civil servants in positions of authority, from wearing religious symbols — such as hijabs, crucifixes or turbans — while at work.

Taylor and her colleagues at the association worked with polling firm Leger to gather a unique portrait of attitudes toward Bill 21 in Quebec.

The association surveyed members of certain religious minority communities including 632 Muslims, 165 Jews and 56 Sikhs.

Those results were folded into a Leger survey of the Quebec population as whole, and then weighted to ensure the sample was representative of the entire population.

That allowed Taylor to compare and contrast the attitudes toward Bill 21 of Quebecers who are religious minorities with the attitudes of Quebecers as a whole.

In total 1,828 people were questioned in the online survey.

Taylor shared an advance copy of her final report, which is being released today, with CBC.

Muslim women most affected

Although all three religious minority groups surveyed said they’ve experienced negative impacts due to Bill 21, the effects are being most acutely felt by Muslims and, in particular, Muslim women.

“We saw severe social stigmatisation of Muslim women, marginalization of Muslim women and very disturbing declines in their sense of well-being, their ability to fulfil their aspirations, sense of safety, but also hope for the future,”  Taylor said.

Of the Muslim women surveyed, 78 per cent said their feeling of being accepted as a full-fledged member of Quebec society had worsened over the last three years.

Fifty-three per cent said they’d heard prejudicial remarks about Muslims from family, friends or colleagues.

People surveyed were given the opportunity to share examples of comments they’d heard or behaviours they’d experienced.

One reported hearing: ”These Muslim women with rags on their heads, if they are not able to integrate, let them return to their country.”

Forty-seven per cent of Muslim women said they’d been treated unfairly by a person in a position of authority. 

One person reported being called a “dirty immigrant” by a police officer in Quebec City.  Another reported that a teacher told disparaging anecdotes about Islam in class.

Two thirds of Muslim women said they’d been a victim of and/or a witness to a hate crime. Seventy-three per cent said their feeling of being safe in public had worsened.

Taylor found that nearly three quarters of Muslim women surveyed felt their comfort about safety in public had worsened in the three years since Bill 21 was adopted. (Association for Canadian Studies)

People surveyed offered examples ranging from racist remarks to death threats, having hijabs ripped off and being spat on. One person reported that a man deliberately tried to run over them and their three-year-old daughter with a pickup truck.

A majority of Muslims also reported feeling less hopeful, less free to express themselves in public and less likely to participate in social and political life.

“For a law that’s supposed to be very moderate and only touch a very small number of people, we were shocked at the responses,” Taylor said.

She said the response she found most upsetting was that 83 per cent of Muslim women surveyed said their confidence in their children’s future had worsened since Bill 21 passed.

Taylor said the figure that most upset her was the lack of hope Quebec Muslims have for their children’s future. (Association for Canadian Studies)

“It’s one thing to say: ‘you know what, I’m experiencing a lot of unfair treatment because I’m not understood,'” Taylor said. “It’s another thing to project forward and have no hope for your children.”

Law reinforces existing prejudices

Taylor believes Bill 21 alone isn’t responsible for the feelings of alienation and insecurity Quebec Muslims and other religious minorities feel.

She said prejudicial attitudes have been gestating in Quebec for nearly 20 years, when the debate over so-called “reasonable accommodations” for religious minorities first took hold.

“Malaise, fear and anxieties get provoked over time,” Taylor said.

She said often those anxieties are based on ignorance.

“By their own admission, Quebecers in general have very little contact with members of religious minorities,” Taylor said. “All of these negative opinions are based on lack of knowledge.”

Taylor said Bill 21 has enabled those prejudices — rooted in ignorance — to become the norm.

“We end up with a situation where the malaise of the observer trumps the deep convictions of the person actually wearing the religious symbols,” Taylor said.

“We’re validating and reinforcing those opinions, and then we’re politicizing the symbols. Those symbols are lightning rods,” she said.

“And so we end up dehumanizing the people wearing the symbols,” Taylor said.

Women generally less supportive of Bill 21

Taylor said that Bill 21 has consistently maintained the support of about two thirds of Quebecers since it was adopted, with a dip last January after the high-profile case of a hijab-wearing teacher in Chelsea who was removed from the classroom and reassigned.

But she said that support is nuanced and full of contradictions.

Women in Quebec, for example, are generally less supportive of Bill 21 than men. Sixty-eight per cent of men support the law compared to 58 per cent of women.

Taylor said the research showed that women, and in particular young women, are less supportive of Bill 21 than men. (Association for Canadian Studies)

And the younger women are, the less likely they are to support the law.  Just 31 per cent of women aged 18-24 support Bill 21.

Taylor said that raised questions for her.

“It’s touted as a feminist law by the people who support it. So why is it that particularly the younger women of Quebec are so much less in favour of it when one would expect the reverse proportion?” she said.

Support for the law but not for enforcement

Another statistic that surprised Taylor: even Quebecers who support the law don’t necessarily want to see it enforced.

Only 40 per cent of people surveyed believe a public servant who does not comply with the law should lose their job. 

“The law is supported and liked by Quebecers. But they seem much less keen to see it actually applied,” Taylor said.

“I think that we’re a human society and we care about people. We all need income to survive and I think people are aware of what a heavy price that would be to pay,” she said.

Quebecers care about what courts say about Bill 21

Taylor was also surprised that the survey showed that Quebecers care deeply about what courts have to say about Bill 21.

When drafting the law, the Quebec government, recognizing that it would likely violate both the Canadian and the Quebec charters of rights, pre-emptively invoked the constitutional notwithstanding clause, and altered the Quebec charter to try to shut down court challenges.

But those challenges came anyway, and now both the government and groups that oppose the bill are challenging a 2021 Quebec Superior Court ruling that upheld most of the law before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

It’s widely expected the law will eventually be challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada.

The bill’s architect, Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, has argued that it’s up to elected politicians in the National Assembly — and not the courts — to decide how they want to organize relations between the state and religion.

But Quebecers seem to feel differently.

Sixty-four per cent, roughly the same percentage that support the bill, also feel it’s important for the Supreme Court to issue an opinion on whether Bill 21 is discriminatory.

And if the courts were to confirm the law is discriminatory, support for the bill would plummet.

Only 46 per cent of people surveyed — less than half — said they would continue to support the law if the courts confirmed it violates the Charter of Rights.

Debate not over

Jolin-Barrette has portrayed Quebecers as united in support of the bill, and has accused detractors of trying to divide Quebecers.

But Taylor’s survey shows that a majority of Quebecers — 56 per cent — believe the law itself is divisive.

When Bill 21 was adopted, Jolin-Barrette said it would “permit a harmonious transition toward secularism” for Quebec.

Taylor said that clearly hasn’t been the case.

“The debate is very far from closed,” she said. “Bill 21 is having devastating impacts on citizens in our province. It’s tearing apart our social fabric and I think it’s undermining our democracy.”

“If national unity is achieved at the expense of labelling minorities as in some way harmful or a threat, these are signs of the degeneration of democracy,” she said. 

Taylor said as a Quebecer, she finds this distressing.

“We live in a very distinct province. We’re different. It’s an experiment that on some level should never have succeeded: a thriving French society on an English continent,” she said.

“In all my years, I associate that distinct nature with a humanity, with understanding how important identity is,” Taylor said.

She said Bill 21 threatens that.

“I feel like we’re doing major harm to those values that we hold dear and that make us special,” Taylor said.

Source: New research shows Bill 21 having ‘devastating’ impact on religious minorities in Quebec

QS permettrait les signes religieux « pour tout le monde »

Welcome position:

« On va permettre le port de signes religieux pour que tout le monde puisse travailler au Québec, peu importe ses croyances. On va ajouter des dispositions à la loi pour que la laïcité au Québec soit rassembleuse et cohérente », affirme le chef parlementaire de QS en entrevue avec La Presse.

À l’heure actuelle, la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État (« loi 21 »), que le gouvernement Legault a fait adopter sous bâillon en juin 2019, prévoit que les enseignants, les directeurs des écoles primaires et secondaires publiques, les agents de la paix, les procureurs de la Couronne, les juges de nomination québécoise ainsi que le président et les vice-présidents de l’Assemblée nationale ne peuvent porter de signes religieux dans l’exercice de leurs fonctions. Le Parti québécois (PQ) a appuyé la loi, mais le Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ) et QS ont voté contre.

« Un signe religieux est tout objet, notamment un vêtement, un symbole, un bijou, une parure, un accessoire ou un couvre-chef, qui est soit porté en lien avec une conviction ou une croyance religieuse ou qui est raisonnablement considéré comme référant à une appartenance religieuse », selon la définition du gouvernement du Québec.

De nouvelles balises

M. Nadeau-Dubois propose de modifier la loi pour y ajouter des balises « simples, claires et faciles à interpréter » afin d’encadrer le port de signes religieux, en conformité avec les dispositions prévues par la Charte québécoise des droits et libertés de la personne. Sous un gouvernement solidaire, il serait uniquement permis d’interdire le port d’un signe religieux à un employé de l’État pour des raisons de sécurité, promet-il, ou s’il l’empêche de bien faire son travail.

« Pour prendre un exemple très simple, une personne qui souhaite enseigner au Québec ne peut pas le faire pleinement et ne peut pas le faire convenablement si elle a un signe religieux qui couvre son visage. C’est un élément élémentaire et important. Même chose pour un policier qui interpelle quelqu’un dans la rue. Les citoyens s’attendent à pouvoir identifier l’agent qui les interpelle », explique le chef parlementaire de QS.

Ainsi, Québec solidaire appuie les parties du texte législatif en vigueur qui disent que « tout membre du personnel d’un organisme [public] doit exercer ses fonctions à visage découvert » lorsqu’il rend un service.

« Il faut en avoir le cœur net »

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois propose également de demander à la Cour d’appel du Québec — le plus haut tribunal de la province – d’indiquer si les dispositions actuellement prévues par la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État respectent la Charte québécoise des droits et libertés de la personne. Cette charte a été adoptée à l’unanimité par l’Assemblée nationale en 1975 et ne relève pas du gouvernement fédéral.

« Il faut tourner la page sur ce débat-là. Il faut en avoir le cœur net. Il faut, une bonne fois pour toutes, savoir si interdire à une jeune femme d’enseigner parce qu’elle porte un foulard [comme l’a fait la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ)] respecte notre Charte québécoise des droits et libertés de la personne », estime M. Nadeau-Dubois.

« Il y a en ce moment une contestation judiciaire et François Legault vient de recruter le rédacteur de la charte des valeurs pour faire partie de sa prochaine équipe gouvernementale », poursuit-il en faisant référence à l’ex-chroniqueur et ancien ténor souverainiste Bernard Drainville, qui se présente pour la CAQ dans la circonscription de Lévis.

« Une femme qui enseigne à l’école, si on voit bien son visage et qu’elle respecte les normes professionnelles de son emploi, il n’y a pas de raisons d’interdire qu’elle enseigne. […] Ce sont les mêmes critères pour tout le monde. Ce qu’on veut, c’est de revoir la loi 21 pour permettre de manière générale le port de signes religieux tout en affirmant des balises pour encadrer la question du visage couvert », dit-il.

Les groupes religieux visés

Dans son projet de réforme de la loi 21, Québec solidaire propose également de mettre fin au financement public des écoles religieuses et aux exemptions fiscales pour les organisations religieuses.

Face au premier ministre caquiste qui affirme que la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État définit une valeur québécoise, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois réplique qu’il ne comprend pas « le lien que fait François Legault entre la loi 21 et la fierté québécoise ».

« Des lois sur la laïcité, il y en a dans plusieurs pays. Ce qui me rend fier, c’est notre langue, notre culture, notre territoire, pas le fait qu’on encadre des signes religieux pour quelques employés de l’État », dit-il.

Source: QS permettrait les signes religieux « pour tout le monde » 

Tom Mulcair on Legault’s multiculturalism remarks

Of note:

The weather is getting better, the Canada Day long weekend is just around the corner and we could all use a break…so Francois Legault decided it’s the perfect time to attack multiculturalism!

Last weekend, the Quebec premier had this to say: “It’s important that we don’t put all cultures on the same level; that’s why we oppose multiculturalism…We prefer to concentrate on what we call interculturalism, where we have one culture, the Quebec culture…”

Legault, of course, is just repeating something that has become commonplace in Quebec: the notion that multiculturalism is a threat.

That’s one of the reasons why Legault has been fighting for full jurisdiction over the choice of immigrants to his province, especially the family-reunification category.

LANGUAGES SPOKEN AT HOME

Not content to just tell people what language they should speak at work, he’s taken to musing about the language people should speak at home. He apparently doesn’t want families reuniting if they are going to be speaking a language other than French in their own house!

For forty years, Canada has had constitutionally guaranteed official bilingualism within a framework of multiculturalism.

The old “two founding peoples” vision (English and French) was replaced by a view that Canada is enriched by the vibrant diversity of all cultures present, and that irrespective of national origin, certain rights to services in both official languages were to be protected.

Things like access to official language minority schools have been guaranteed. That means, in turn, that the English-speaking community of Quebec and the French-speaking minority of, say, Manitoba both have the constitutional right to control and manage the Boards that oversee the schools their kids can attend.

Other language rights are protected by the Canadian constitution. For example, English and French must be used at all steps of the legislative process in Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick (the only officially bilingual province) and the right to use both languages is guaranteed in pleadings before the courts of those provinces.

In order to change the constitution in a way that affects guaranteed language rights, the 1982 Constitution Act says explicitly that you need a joint resolution of the House of Commons and the Senate. That’s what Quebec did when it replaced religion-based school boards with language-based institutions. Lucien Bouchard was the premier, I was in the Liberal opposition and both parties worked together to modernize the system.

Resolutions were obtained in both houses of the Canadian Parliament authorizing the change and It has gone into effect and worked since. Problem is, Legault has also attacked (with Bill 40) the right of the English-speaking community to control and manage its own school boards. The courts have had to intervene to enforce the constitution and stop him.

Since that rebuke, Legault seems to have resolved to never again let the Canadian constitution interfere with his plans to remove minority language rights. With Bill 96, Legault is now claiming to have unilaterally changed the B.N.A. Act, the founding constitutional law from 1867, to remove language guarantees for equality of English and French in official legal documents and before the courts.

No resolution of Parliament was required, in his view, and neither Justin Trudeau nor his Justice Minister David Lametti have stood up to defend the Canadian constitution or the citizens whose rights are being removed.

Those rights have been reinforced through a series of Supreme Court decisions and the bilingual nature of the courts and legislation in Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick are constitutionally sacrosanct. Lametti seems to be unaware.

After Bill 96 was enacted at the end of the legislative session in Quebec City, anglophone Quebecers woke up to the fact that they could no longer get a marriage certificate in English and an English birth certificate from B.C. may as well have be from the other end of the world. You need to have both officially translated – at your own expense! Of course this flies in the face of the constitution. But Trudeau and Lametti don’t want to make waves in the province where they both get elected, so they do nothing.

I was working in the legislative branch of the Quebec Justice Department in the late ‘70s when the Supreme Court ruled that the failure to respect the B.N.A. Act’s bilingualism obligations meant that all Quebec legislation could be struck down. A mad scramble ensued and the legislation was all reenacted, in both official languages, the next day.

Manitoba stonewalled but was eventually compelled to produce a full bilingual version of all of its legislation and the forms that come with it. I also worked in Manitoba for a couple of years to oversee that translation.

Imagine for one second that a Manitoba government would claim to be able to unilaterally amend the Manitoba Act, that mandates this official bilingualism! That was in fact a key argument the Manitoba government has tried in the past and it was rejected conclusively by the Supreme Court. If it were tried again, the Federal government wouldn’t waste a second challenging it.

Why then won’t the feds lift their little finger to protect the same right to use English in the courts in Quebec?

WHY THIS INERTIA IN OTTAWA?

When the constitution allows for a difference for one province, it does so explicitly. For example, there is a different rule for access to English school in Quebec which is baked right into s. 23 of the 1982 constitution. There is, however, no difference allowed when it comes to the requirement to enact legislation, every step of the way, in both languages in Quebec. The use of both languages in legal documents before the courts is also guaranteed. So why this inertia in Ottawa?

To find an answer, it’s good to start with Bill 21, the Quebec law that openly discriminates against religious minorities generally and Muslim women in particular.

That law, like Bill 96, is so patently unconstitutional that Legault has preemptively used the notwithstanding clause to say that it applies despite the Charter of Rights.

Since that law was enacted, we’ve had various degrees of dithering from the different Federal parties, including Trudeau’s Liberals. But Trudeau is the Prime minister. Only he can refer these issues directly to the Supreme Court. Problem is, he won’t, because he’s terrified of Legault. As a result, the first time in our history, we have a federal government that refuses to defend the Canadian constitution.

In the meantime, religious and linguistic minorities are being left to fight the discriminatory and unconstitutional Bills 21 and 96 on their own. It’s a shameful abdication of responsibility by Trudeau and Lametti but such is the state of play when it comes to defending the rights of Canadians who happen to live in Quebec.

Against that backdrop, the Trudeau government has introduced language legislation to shore up the ageing Official Languages Act. Quebec has taken to sending in missives to the Feds telling them what changes have to be made to their law to harmonize it with Quebec’s language laws. This is very complex and detailed handiwork that appears to be beyond the grasp of the team Trudeau has tasked with shepherding the file through Parliament.

As a result, the fall session in Ottawa will no doubt see more than its fair share of debates on language.

For now, whether at the lake or in a local park, let’s just give ourselves that break and enjoy this weekend’s celebration of our fabulous country where, despite these ups and downs, we’re all so lucky to live together. Happy Canada Day!

Source: Tom Mulcair on Legault’s multiculturalism remarks

Khan: I thought the Charter protected Canadians’ fundamental rights, but I was wrong

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

Like you, there have been many times I have felt proud to be Canadian. For example, our government’s principled refusal to join the immoral invasion of Iraq. Attending citizenship ceremonies, where new Canadians remind us of the deeper meaning of citizenship. Being told by one of my Harvard professors that Canadian students were the best prepared – a testament to our excellent public education system. And of course, the 1995 Unity Rally in Montreal, on the eve of the Quebec referendum, where Canadians joined hands peacefully to express our heartfelt love for Canada and Quebec.

The contentment has been punctuated by instances of profound doubt, when I wonder what we really stand for. For example, the longstanding Canadian project to inflict cultural genocide on Indigenous communities. Just read the summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report to get a shocking glimpse into the depravity of our country’s official policy: Last year’s gut-wrenching announcements about the unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the grounds of former residential schools. And let’s not forget the complicity on the part of government agencies in the rendition of Maher Arar to torture in Syria.

Post 9/11, our courts served as a check on government overreach on basic civil liberties. I grew to love our Constitution, which replaced hockey as a central feature of my Canadian identity.

I am not a historian. Nor am I a lawyer. I am, simply, a Canadian citizen who cherishes our Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a safeguard for fundamental rights and freedoms.

Imagine, then, the gut-punch upon discovering that the highest law of the land – to which new citizens pledge allegiance – makes no such guarantees of fundamental rights and freedoms whatsoever. All owing to the notwithstanding clause, which is enshrined in the Charter.

For years, I saw the “notwithstanding clause” as a polysyllabic legal term, bandied about by constitutional experts. I didn’t know what it meant. Mainstream media clarified it as a right, given to provincial and federal governments, to suspend Sections 2 and 7 to 15 of the Charter. All of this still seemed abstract. Until it wasn’t, after reading those sections.

In a nutshell, the Charter grants governments the right to suspend basic individual freedoms that we all take for granted. Namely, freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, as well as freedom of the press, peaceful assembly and freedom of association. We aren’t talking about emergency measures, nor reasonable limits that are justified in a democracy. No, we are talking about a constitution that makes it perfectly legal to suspend basic human rights, as a matter of governance.

It does not stop there.

A number of basic legal rights can be suspended. These include the right to life, liberty and security (barring some exceptions, such as the prison system); requirement of warrants for search and seizure; the right to be informed why one is being detained; the right to a lawyer upon arrest; the right against unlawful imprisonment; presumption of innocence until proven guilty; and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The clause allows suspension of the right of every individual to be equal before, and under the law; and suspends the right to equal protection of the law without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, colour, religion, sex, age or disability.

This needs to be spelled out: our Charter makes it perfectly legal to gut basic rights. There is no need for a coup, no need to politicize selection of judges, no need to gerrymander, no need to use a loophole. The potential for abuse is encoded into law. There is no other constitutional democracy that allows for the gutting of basic rights as a matter of governance.

Much has been written about the history of how the notwithstanding clause came to be: a compromise between federal and provincial powers; a balance between elected representatives and unelected judges. Yet, this does not explain how basic human rights were used as a bargaining chip, rendering our Charter of Rights and Freedoms hollow.

When it was introduced, the thought was that it would be rarely used. Some termed it the “nuclear button.” For decades, that was the case. However, within the past three years, it has been used twice by Quebec and once by Ontario. Quebec Bills 21 and 96 unequivocally suspend individual and legal rights of minorities. Conservative Party leadership candidates Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre and Patrick Brown have promised to strike down the recent Supreme Court decision on sentencing, using the clause.

It’s time for each Canadian to engage in a conversation about who we are as a country, given that our Charter allows for cancellation of basic civil liberties.

Source: I thought the Charter protected Canadians’ fundamental rights, but I was wrong

Harder: Three years on, Quebec’s law on religious symbols hampers our ability to defend global human rights

Of note:

Shortly after I retired as deputy minister of foreign affairs, a senior Canadian diplomat told me of a spat he overheard between a French reporter and an Iranian official on the issue of religious face-coverings.

The Iranian official was condemning a French law prohibiting Muslim women from wearing the niqab in public when the reporter shot back that Iran’s restrictive dress codes for women amounted to much the same thing.

“Yes,” the Iranian official agreed. “The difference is that we have never promised anyone liberté, égalité, or fraternité.”

The hypocrisy alleged by the Iranian came back to me recently in advance of Thursday’s third anniversary of Quebec’s law on laïcité, Bill 21, which prohibits Quebec public servants such as teachers from wearing religious symbols while performing their duties.

The enactment of the law unsettled many Canadians in 2019, not least because Quebec overrode the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms through use of the notwithstanding clause. But the law has also had a knock-on effect by undercutting Canada’s international standing as a defender of pluralism — an obstacle which gets worse the longer the law is in place.

In a world where civil liberties become ever more restricted, the global community needs every credible proponent and protector of pluralism that there is, and Canada should be at the top of that list. But we degrade our position when we tolerate within our borders two classes of citizens: those who enjoy the full liberty to express their religion in their dress, and those who do not.

Consider the position of Canadian diplomats who might want to press Russia for its arrest of demonstrators protesting the invasion of Ukraine, or protest the crackdown on freedom of expression in Hong Kong or censure the treatment of Uyghurs in China? Will we have maximum credibility when we speak?

Not unless we clean up our own house.

One place to start is to guard against becoming so accustomed to measures such as the Quebec law that we no longer speak out against them. That means making our voices heard not only on anniversaries, but regularly and in as many forums as are available to us.

A compromise of any civil liberty becomes more offensive the longer it remains place. At all costs, we must refuse to become desensitized to rights’ violations simply because they have been with us for an extended period of time.

Second, our leaders must stop shying away from criticizing the actions of other jurisdictions in the hope that staying silent will lead to acquiescence when and if they decide to abridge rights in their home jurisdiction.

Provincial premiers muse far too often these days about using the notwithstanding clause, a habit that will over time erode Canadians’ resistance to its use. Since the day three years ago when Quebec invoked the clause on religious symbols, Ontario has done the same on third-party advertising laws. Quebec also invoked it pre-emptively in the passage of Bill 96 recently, the bill designed to reform the Charter of the French Language.

To be sure, the law on the wearing of religious symbols is not the only example where Canada has fallen short on the protection of rights, and our opponents will remind us of those historic deficiencies when we try to shine a light on wrongdoing outside our nation. Witness the treatment of Indigenous Canadians in residential schools, which has already been the subject of a request by China and its allies for an independent investigation.

We can’t change the past. What we must do now is take every effort possible to clean up our act in the present. If we don’t, we will end up with a patchwork quilt in our own country, without a leg to stand on when advocating for equality in other parts of the globe.

In failing to get tough with ourselves, we will do a disservice to those millions of people fighting the good fight against authoritarian regimes in their own countries.

Peter Harder is a former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and former government representative in the Senate.

Source: Harder: Three years on, Quebec’s law on religious symbols hampers our ability to defend global human rights