New row erupts over the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public in France

Sigh… Hopefully Quebec politicians won’t pick up on this, applying a ban to mothers on school field trips:

The debate around women wearing the Islamic headscarf has divided French politicians again, with France’s right wing Senate leader Gérard Larcher calling for President Emmanuel Macron to revise the law when it comes to religious neutrality in schools.

“It’s without a doubt a difficult subject,” Larcher said in an interview with France 2 Televisionon Tuesday night.

“But it is an essential subject, and we expect the President to federate and to make people of Muslim origin and religion feel just as much as part of the Republic as atheists, Catholics and Jews,” he said.

A bill sponsored by Les Republicans on maintaining religious neutrality within staff in the public school sector is up for a vote in the Senate, as early as next week.

“There is a need to discuss neutrality in public schools, without hate, without weakness. The subject has not been dealt with sufficiently,” he stressed.

During question time on Tuesday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe addressed the National Assembly, rejecting accusations that the government had an ambiguous stance when it came to religion in schools.

Philippe said the government preferred to focus on avoiding radicalisation, and school absence because of religious community pressure.

He was attempting to head off a new controversy over the question of secularism and whether or not to allow mothers wearing the Islamic headscarf to accompany their children’s classes on school outings.

Ruling party divided on issue

The French state and church were officially separated by law in 1905 to give form to the concept of secularism rooted in the 1789 French Revolution.

In 2004, the government prohibited the wearing of conspicuous religions symbols in public schools and banned the hijab, a garment that covers a woman’s hair but leaves her face exposed, from classrooms and government offices.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer stressed on Sunday that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children”, referring to a state council ruling from 2013.

But he also indicated that “the headscarf itself is not desirable in our society” because of “what it says about the status of women, what it says about our values.”

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye also weighed in, saying it was important to allow space for exchanges between women who wear headscarves and those who do not, as this promoted “inclusivity”.

Minister suggests Islamist provocation

Two incidents in the past week have lead to a further revival of this debate.

Last Friday, far-right National Rally (RN) minister Julien Odoul provoked widespread outrage when he posted a video on Twitter of him confronting a woman who accompanied pupils last Friday to the regional parliament in Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in eastern France.

Citing “secular principles” in the wake of the killings in Paris this month of four police staff by a radicalised convert to Islam, he insisted the woman, whose son was among the group, remove her headscarf.

Members of the RN then walked out of the chamber before issuing a press statement denouncing “an Islamist provocation”.

Fatima E., speaking to the press for the first time since the incident told France Info on Tuesday that she thought it was a joke until she saw how the students were reacting.

“They were really shocked and traumatised,” she said, and even though she didn’t want to give in, she eventually realized it was better if she left the room, only to be confronted in the corridor by another former member of the National Rally party.

“I was shaking from head to toe,” she said, going on to say that she now has a bad opinion of “what is called the Republic”.

Regional parliament speaker Marie-Guite Dufay, criticised Odoul’s actions, saying neither the law of the country nor the rules of the chamber prohibited a member of the public wearing a headscarf.

Dufay denounced a “surge of hatred” and what she described as “undignified behaviour” on the part of a lawmaker.

Fire station refuses school visit

Then on Monday, a visit by a group of school students to the main fire station in Creil, north of Paris, was cancelled outright because two of the mothers accompanying the group were wearing an Islamic hijab.

The director of Regional Fire and rescue service (SDIS) said it was a simple case of misinterpretation on behalf of the fire station chief and that it was regrettable that it had happened.

“The women were wearing a simple headscarf, known as hijab,” Eric de Valroger President of the SDIS told AFP.

“I think the chief was just trying to do his job, and apply the law,” he went on.

One of the women made a complaint to the fire service, saying she was “shocked” over their refusal to allow her to enter the building.

Valroger, who is also the vice-president of the Republicans party in the Val d’Oise region later said the woman had since spoken to the fire station chief and he had apologized and things had calmed down.

Source: New row erupts over the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public in France

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

After Quebec’s secularism law, Muslim women gather to figure out, ‘What can we do now?’

Interesting vignettes:

The women hold one hand to their chest and the other to their stomach as they’re told to breathe in and then out.

The workshop started with a guided meditation and a short discussion about how to cope emotionally with Quebec’s new secularism law, which bars them from wearing religious symbols at certain jobs. But it’s clear the 20 or so Muslim women here aren’t ready to relax.

A short time later, they’re at the edge of their seats shooting questions at lawyer William Korbatly about the law’s ins and outs.

What they really want to know is how to fight it.

“What is this law? What can we do now?” one woman lets out, shaking her head. “It’s ridiculous. I want us to end this law. It’s unjust.”

Considering social media campaigns — or self-defence

The women begin pitching ideas. Can they go around the law? Are there different ways they can hide their hair, perhaps?

“You put a wig on top of your hijab,” says Mejda Mouaffak, an elementary school teacher, with a laugh.

A social media campaign uniting different faiths (Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity) in solidarity against the law is pitched. Another campaign, to make fun of the law, is suggested. Self-defence workshops are another idea, ones that also touch on verbal attacks and how to react.

The workshop in an empty community centre in a northwestern Montreal neighbourhood ends up lasting nearly two hours longer than planned. The discussions are as nuanced and diverse as its participants, who hail from different backgrounds and ages and practice a range of professions.

Most of them wear a hijab.

‘We can be Muslim and feminist’

The gathering was organized for Muslim women to regroup after Quebec’s new CAQ government pushed through two key pieces of legislation, both affecting people of colour in the province, during a marathon weekend in the National Assembly the week before.

The new secularism law forbids certain groups of public servants — including teachers, police officers and government lawyers — from wearing religious symbols on the job. Critics say it impedes people’s right to practice their religion, and disproportionately targets Muslim women who wear a headscarf.

Participant Sara Hassanien wants to connect with Quebec feminists, a group that has been vocal in favour of the law, particularly in French media.

“I’m trying to tell them that unlike what you’ve always thought … we can be Muslim and feminist,” she said, noting there are about as many reasons women wear the hijab as there are women who do.

‘I totally understand what Quebec has been through’

Hassanien says, on the other hand, it’s important for her community to know the history of Quebec’s difficult relationship with the Catholic church.

“I totally empathize with you,” Hassanien told CBC later, as if addressing Quebec feminists.

“I totally understand what Quebec has been through. I understand that your mothers, your grandmothers, fought so hard for women’s liberation and I support that. I am here to comfort them, to reassure them that we are not ever going to call for going back.”

At the same time, Hassanien says she is tired of feeling like she has to speak for her entire community in spaces where it is under-represented.

‘The consquences can only be absurd’

Korbatly agreed with the women pointing out contradictions they see in the law: that the definition of “religious symbol” is vague and applies more to the Christian cross than the hijab, which they say is more of a practice.

He explained how disrespecting the law could lead to people being fired.

“When you have an absurd law, the consequences can only be absurd,” Korbatly told the group.

He hopes the legal challenge to the law launched last week, which argues Quebec can’t bypass Canadians’ right to religious freedom, will be successful.

Law effectively prevents a teacher’s promotion

Afterward, he told CBC News though the law does not affect him directly — he is Muslim, but does not wear religious garb — he felt it was his duty “to be there, present and give moral and legal support to the community.”

During the discussion he called himself a feminist “through and through.”

Amina B., who wished to withhold her last name because of fear it would affect her employment, is a substitute teacher.

The law effectively prevents her from being promoted to any other public education role in the province. It includes a grandfather clause that protects people hired before March 28, but as soon as they are promoted or access another position covered by the law, it applies.

‘This is shaking me to the core’

Amina had signed up for a two-year online teacher program at the University of Ottawa, but she’s not sure she’ll complete it now.

“If that means I will always have to be a substitute teacher, and that I can’t evolve, what’s the point?”

She came to the workshop because “when you get involved, maybe, you can make things change.”

Hassanien is an ESL teacher for a private company. She says it was important for her to join, too, because “I started to feel helpless about what’s happening on a daily basis to me as a veiled woman in Montreal.”

She says her trips on public transit now fill her with anxiety and fear that she will be harassed. Even strange looks are a cause of stress.

“This is shaking me to the core,” she said.

Spike in public harassment

The event was organized by Hanadi Saad, who founded Justice Femme after the first attempt by a Quebec government to legislate religious garb, when it was led by the Parti Québécois in 2013, to offer legal and psychological support to Muslim women who face harassment.

Since Bill 21, the current law, was introduced in May, her group has seen a spike in the public harassment of Muslim women in Quebec.

“It’s like we opened the door: ‘Now, you can go ahead and discriminate,'” Saad said, calling the law “violent.”‘I feel like they are taking a part of me’

Saad immigrated to Canada with her family 30 years ago during the Lebanese Civil War and has lived in Quebec for 18 years. She says Quebec has been her true home ever since.

But she’ll be visiting Lebanon for the second time in those years this summer and wonders if it’ll feel more like home this time.

“I feel like they are taking a part of me, of my existence,” said Saad, who no longer wears a headscarf. She said it was a decision that took her months.

“To ask these women to take their hijab off, it’s like asking you to take your T-shirt off.”

Saad sees a silver lining, though.

“Now what has to be done, it’s to stand up for our rights as women. We are appropriating our cause; it’s women’s cause. So I will thank this government for what he’s creating, because he’s forcing us to come together.”

Source: After Quebec’s secularism law, Muslim women gather to figure out, ‘What can we do now?’

Chris Selley: The debate over Quebec’s religious symbols bill nears its wretched end

Pointed commentary:

Better late than never, one supposes: Three days before Premier François Legault’s self-imposed deadline for passing Bill 21, which would prohibit certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job, his government proposed an amendment that would actually define “religious symbol.” (It had hitherto argued none was necessary.) If the amendment is adopted, teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and others deemed to be in positions of authority would be forbidden to display any “clothing, symbol, jewellery, ornament, accessory or headgear that is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief and can reasonably be considered as referring to a religious affiliation.”

Kudos to whichever reporter thought on Wednesday to ask whether wedding rings count. The question utterly stymied both Legault and his Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister — you read that correctly — Simon Jolin-Barrette, who’s in charge of this project. “The person who wears an object that for her constitutes a religious symbol, that constitutes a religious symbol,” Jolin-Barrette explained. “And the person who wears an object that in the eyes of a reasonable person represents a religious symbol, that constitutes a religious symbol.”

Many scoffed at the question. Reporters were just playing silly buggers, they said —  “f—ing the dog,” in Quebec parlance. The government quickly clarified that wedding rings would not be covered.

And indeed, there are many 100-per-cent non-religious wedding bands in the Quebec civil service. But many wedding rings are unambiguously religious symbols to the people wearing them. The standard Catholic marriage script suggests priests ask “the Lord (to) bless these rings” before giving them to the bride and groom. Each will ask the other to “receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Of course, who’s to know? The religious rings don’t glow a special colour. So long as devoutly religious police officers and public-school teachers do their jobs properly and professionally, without fear or favour, everything will be fine. Only that’s precisely what Bill 21’s opponents have been saying forever: A kippa or hijab is no evidence of a partial or biased civil servant, and the lack of a kippa or hijab is no evidence of an impartial or unbiased one. By definition, a law about religious symbols can’t do anything that’s not symbolic — only in this case, the symbolism involves trampling all over minority rights.

Legault has never shown any particular enthusiasm for this project; rather, he defends it on grounds that it has majority support and that it’s time to put the whole issue to bed. As Bill 21 nears passage, more and more voices have made it clear that won’t happen.

On Saturday Le Devoir ran a huge spread about how much religion is costing Quebecers in terms of tax breaks for churches and faith-based organizations. It gave ample voice to the view that faith itself, separated from the charitable works of faithful people, has no intrinsic value to society (or is even a net detriment). “It is difficult to understand how we can enshrine the secular status of the Québécois state in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, reaffirm the separation of the state and religion and the equality of all citizens, and give away hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year,” an editorial argued.

In fact it’s perfectly easy to understand: The government demonstrates its neutrality, and its respect for the equality of all citizens, by treating people the same way regardless of their private faith or lack thereof. If laïcité were incompatible with respecting religious faith and its contributions to society, it’s unlikely the French state would own and maintain so many churches.

Outright anti-religious sentiment is one thing Bill 21 won’t get rid of. It also won’t quiet people who think it should apply to daycare workers and teachers at state-subsidized religious schools — or indeed to the entire civil service, as was contemplated by Pauline Marois’ popular Values Charter. And Bill 21 certainly won’t dissuade bigots from taking out their inadequacies on Quebec’s minority populations. This week a Montreal woman who wears a niqab tracked down the driver of a bus that blew past her at a stop — deliberately, she alleges, based on anti-niqab sentiments the driver had previously expressed on Facebook. When the woman complained in the same medium, CBC reported, respondents included a Société de Transport de Montréal union rep who suggested “a normal Quebecer would have waited for the next bus.”

It’s one of many alarming incidents that Muslim Quebecers in particular insist have become more and more frequent as this interminable debate drags on. The government has proposed no solutions except to make the majority more comfortable — perhaps by banning women wearing niqabs from riding public buses. That particular question will have to wait for a while, tied up as it is in the courts. But Bill 21 will pass before MNAs break for the summer.

At least those affected will finally know where they stand (pending further restrictions). At least greener pastures await elsewhere in Canada if they decide, not unreasonably, that they are no long welcome.

Source: Chris Selley: The debate over Quebec’s religious symbols bill nears its wretched end

Québec définit ce qu’est un «signe religieux»

I have pity for the public servants who were tasked with the drafting what appears to be a fairly restrictive definition, given no mention of size (e.g., small pendants of the Cross, Star of David):

Le gouvernement Legault fait volte-face et consent finalement à définir ce que représente à ses yeux un « signe religieux » dans son projet de loi 21 sur la laïcité de l’État.

Depuis le dépôt du projet de loi controversé, le ministre responsable, Simon Jolin-Barrette, avait toujours refusé jusqu’à maintenant, malgré les pressions venant de toutes parts, de définir ce qu’il entendait par l’expression « signe religieux », qui est au coeur du document.

Mardi, en soirée, coup de théâtre à l’Assemblée nationale où son projet de loi est passé au peigne fin : le ministre Jolin-Barrette a déposé un amendement précisant aux nombreux employés de l’État visés par la loi ce qu’ils n’auront plus le droit de porter dans l’exercice de leurs fonctions.

Le libellé de l’amendement à l’article 6 démontre l’intention du gouvernement de ratisser large.

Ainsi, aux yeux du gouvernement, « tout objet, notamment un vêtement, un symbole, un bijou, une parure, un accessoire ou un couvre-chef » sera considéré comme étant un « signe religieux », s’il est porté « en lien avec une conviction ou une croyance religieuse » ou s’il est « raisonnablement considéré comme référant à une appartenance religieuse ».

Il n’y a aucune mention visant la taille de l’objet en question : minuscule ou ostentatoire, le signe religieux sera donc prohibé.

Le gouvernement Legault tient mordicus à faire adopter deux de ses projets de loi avant l’ajournement des travaux, prévu ce vendredi 14 juin : le projet de loi 9 sur l’immigration et le projet de loi 21 sur la laïcité de l’État.

Les deux législations sont pilotées par le ministre Jolin-Barrette.

Le projet de loi 21 en est rendu à l’étape de l’étude détaillée article par article.

Il prévoit interdire à plusieurs catégories d’employés de l’État – policiers, gardiens de prison, procureurs de la Couronne, enseignants et directeurs d’école des niveaux primaire et secondaire du secteur public, notamment – de porter tout signe religieux dans l’exercice de leurs fonctions.

Les employés actuels auraient un droit acquis (« clause grand-père »).

Durant la consultation menée sur le projet de loi, certains des témoins entendus avaient fait valoir que le document était beaucoup trop vague, sans définition précise de ce qui serait interdit ou pas, donc difficile à appliquer.

Source: Québec définit ce qu’est un «signe religieux»

UN human rights observers warn Quebec about secularism bill

While I agree with the concerns, not sure how credible it will appear given the significant UN members who do not respect religious freedoms and have rigid dress codes that apply to women in particular:

High-ranking human rights monitors with the United Nations are concerned the Quebec government will violate fundamental freedoms if it moves ahead with legislation to limit where religious symbols can be worn.

Three UN legal experts, known as rapporteurs, signed and sent a letter written in French last week to the Canadian mission in Geneva. They asked the diplomats to share the letter with Quebec’s Legislature.

The letter says the province’s so-called secularism bill, which the Coalition Avenir Québec government is rushing to pass by next month, threatens freedoms protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“We are particularly concerned … about consequences for those people susceptible to being disadvantaged or excluded from a job or public position because of the potential effects of the proposed law,” the letter reads.

Tabled in March, Bill 21 will bar public teachers, government lawyers and police officers from wearing religious symbols at work. It will also require government services to be received without religious garments covering the face.)

The bill has already attracted widespread criticism from minority groups and anti-racism advocates in Quebec, who fear it will, among other things, significantly limit work opportunities for Muslim women.

The Quebec government maintains the legislation is moderate and represents the desires of a majority in the province.

But according to the UN observers, if passed, the bill could violate rights to freedom of conscience and religion, as well as a number of equality guarantees contained in the covenant.

‘Extremely inappropriate’

The letter also notes the bill doesn’t define what a religious symbol is, adding that it would be “extremely inappropriate” for a government to decide whether a symbol is religious or not.

Critics of the bill, including several teachers unions, highlighted this point repeatedly during the six days of legislative hearings that wrapped up last week.

It is unclear, for instance, whether the Star of David is a religious or political symbol.)

The letter goes on to take issue with the requirement that government services be received with an uncovered face, a measure that singles out Muslim women who wear the niqab.

“The bill constitutes a restriction, or limitation, of the freedom to express religion or belief,” the letter reads.

At multiple points, the letter reminds the Canadian government that it is bound by various human rights instruments, including the covenant on civil and political rights, which it signed in 1976. Quebec is also bound by these agreements.

The letter is signed by the rapporteur for minority relations, Fernand de Varennes; the rapporteur for racism, E. Tendayi Achiume; and the rapporteur for religious freedom, Ahmed Shaheed.

It closes with a series of questions about how minority rights will be protected once the legislation is passed. The rapporteur also wants to know how minority groups will be consulted in the legislative process.

Of the 36 groups and individuals who were invited by the Quebec government to take part in the legislative hearings for the bill, only two represented religious communities in the province.

Rules broken, lawyer says

Pearl Eliadis, a Montreal human rights lawyer with extensive experience working with the UN, said it is noteworthy the letter was written in French.

“The United Nations is signalling … that majority will is constrained or bound by or limited by rules about how you treat minorities,” she told CBC News after consulting the letter.

“And those rules have been broken in this case. They have manifestly been broken in this case.”)

Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, the bill’s sponsor, has received the letter and is “analyzing it in detail,” a spokesperson for the minister said in a brief written statement Tuesday.

“The government of Quebec is proud of Bill 21,” the statement said. “It is pragmatic, applicable and moderate. It reflects the consensus of the majority of Quebecers.”

But Hélène David, the provincial Liberal critic for secularism issues, says the UN letter “underscores once again the attack on fundamental rights and the lack of justification for such a measure.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Minister Pablo Rodriguez did not comment on the UN letter but said the federal government’s position is clear: “It’s not up to politicians to tell people what to wear or what not to wear. Canada is a secular and neutral state, and that is reflected in our institutions.”

“The Quebec government’s bill has raised numerous questions. We will continue to follow it very closely.”

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticized the bill (as have the federal NDP and Conservatives), he hasn’t indicated whether the federal government will intervene if it is passed.

The letter itself carries no legal weight. But it could provide ammunition to groups who will seek to challenge the law before the UN’s Human Rights Committee, Eliadis said.

Such challenges can take several years before the committee offers a decision (known as a “view”). When they are delivered, though, the federal government comes under considerable pressure to comply.

But beyond its possible legal ramifications, the UN letter indicates that what is at stake with Bill 21 is Quebec’s reputation as a tolerant society, Eliadis said.

“I think the average person should care,” she added.

“I think many people in Quebec do care because they understand that what the Quebec government is setting aside are our most fundamental values as a nation.”

Source: UN human rights observers warn Quebec about secularism bill

Laïcité: «On est en train de légiférer un plafond de verre», dénonce la FFQ

Bill 21 gender based analysis concerns:

La Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ) dénonce le caractère « sexiste » du projet de loi sur la laïcité de l’État, qui est selon elle « une forme d’oppression envers les femmes » qui se traduit par l’instauration d’un « plafond de verre ».

« On est en train de légiférer un nouveau plafond de verre qui empêcheront [certaines] femmes musulmanes d’atteindre des postes d’autorité ou d’enseignantes », a dénoncé jeudi Idil Issa, une jeune Québécoise noire de confession musulmane qui porte le voile.

« J’ai l’intention de briser ce plafond de verre que vous êtes en train de construire. […] J’aurai une position d’autorité et je serai plus juste que vous. Je ne nuirai pas aux intérêts d’une minorité déjà vulnérable dans l’exercice de mes fonctions », a-t-elle ajouté en regardant le ministre Simon Jolin-Barrette.

Mme Issa était accompagnée jeudi de la présidente de la FFQ, Gabrielle Bouchard, en cette dernière journée de consultations du projet de loi 21 à l’Assemblée nationale. Dans son mémoire, publié sur son site internet, la Fédération affirme que le projet de loi du gouvernement Legault est « discriminatoire » et qu’il repose sur « une série de confusions ».

Selon la FFQ, « l’État n’a pas à émanciper de force les femmes ».

« Au Québec, il y a des féministes croyantes, tout comme il y a des athées réactionnaires. Combien de féministes croyantes ont activement participé aux mouvements féministes au Québec ? Pensons par exemple à ces féministes chrétiennes qui luttent pour le droit à l’avortement libre et gratuit. Pensons à toutes ces féministes musulmanes qui, en tant que membres de la FFQ, se battent avec nous pour les droits de toutes les femmes au quotidien », affirme la Fédération des femmes.

« Il n’y a aucune raison de croire que de réprimer une femme croyante est un acte féministe et émancipatoire », poursuit-on.

Beaucoup d’autres batailles

Pour la FFQ, « il reste beaucoup de batailles à mener pour garantir l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes » au Québec, bien avant les restrictions prévues par le projet de loi 21 pour interdire le port de signes religieux à certaines catégories d’emploi.

« Salaire minimum à 15  $, accès aux services obstétricaux, réinvestissement massif dans les services publics, lutte au racisme systémique, accès au logement, accueil des femmes migrantes, lutte contre les violences sexuelles et domestiques, proximité des services en régions rurales et dans les petits centres, fin du temps supplémentaire obligatoire, conditions de travail des aides domestiques, enjeux socio-économiques liés à un capitalisme sauvage : voilà quelques-unes des batailles qui touchent les femmes dans leur quotidien », écrit notamment la Fédération dans son mémoire.

Les consultations du projet de loi 21 sur la laïcité de l’État prendront fin jeudi après deux semaines de travaux. En plus de la FFQ, la Coalition Inclusion Québec, la Ligue des droits et libertés de même que le Rassemblement pour la laïcité seront entendus en cours de journée par les parlementaires.

Québec utilisera-t-il le bâillon ?

Le gouvernement Legault procédera ensuite à l’étude détaillée du projet de loi en commission parlementaire au cours des prochaines semaines. Depuis son dépôt au Salon bleu, Québec a toujours répété qu’il souhaitait l’adopter avant l’ajournement des travaux parlementaires, le vendredi 14 juin prochain.

Lors de la période des questions, jeudi, le Parti libéral a dénoncé que le gouvernement de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) utiliserait le bâillon pour adopter son projet de loi avant la fin de la session, même si l’étude celui-ci n’est pas terminé.

« Je crois qu’on est arrivé à une situation de consensus », a répondu le ministre Simon Jolin-Barrette.

Le député libéral Marc Tanguay a pour sa part lancé un « avis de recherche » afin que la ministre de la Justice, Sonia LeBel, se prononce sur l’utilisation d’une clause de dérogation pour protéger le projet de loi 21 de certaines contestations judiciaires.

Lorsqu’elle était questionnée en chambre, jeudi, c’est plutôt Simon Jolin-Barrette qui se levait pour répondre aux questions.

Source: Laïcité: «On est en train de légiférer un plafond de verre», dénonce la FFQ

Le Conseil du statut de la femme (CSF) demande au gouvernement Legault de réaliser des études afin de « convenir collectivement de la pertinence [d’interdire le port de signes religieux aux] personnes qui participent à l’éducation des enfants » dans le cadre du projet de loi sur la laïcité de l’État.

Contrairement à la Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), qui a dénoncé jeudi que Québec créait « un plafond de verre » aux femmes mulsumanes qui portent le voile, le CSF appuie sans réserve l’interdiction du port de signes religieux pour les employés de l’État ayant un pouvoir coercitif (comme le recommandait en 2008 le rapport Bouchard-Taylor).

Mais le Conseil – dont le mandat est de conseiller le gouvernement « sur tout sujet lié à l’égalité, au respect des droits et au statut de la femme » – considère qu’il manque de données pour appuyer avec le même enthousiasme les dispositions du projet de loi 21 qui visent les enseignantes.

« Aux yeux du Conseil, s’il s’avérait que le port d’un signe religieux par le personnel enseignant véhicule une conception des femmes comme étant inférieures ou soumises aux hommes, son interdiction serait impérieuse. Il en irait de même s’il s’avérait que ce port brime la liberté de conscience des élèves et nuit à leur épanouissement ou encore porte atteinte au respect des convictions des parents », écrit le CSF dans son mémoire qui a été remis aux députés.

« Par souci de cohérence, l’interdiction devrait alors être étendue à toutes les catégories de personnel que côtoient les enfants à l’école », ajoute-t-on.

« Il [est donc] impératif que soient menées des études et consultations afin de mieux comprendre les effets du port de signes religieux par le personnel scolaire. De tels travaux permettraient […] de convenir collectivement de la pertinence de l’interdire ou non pour l’ensemble des personnes qui participent à l’éducation des enfants au sein des écoles ou dans d’autres milieux éducatifs », poursuit enfin le Conseil.

Plus tôt en journée, la Ligue des droits et libertés a pour sa part dénoncé le projet de loi 21 en affirmant que l’argumentaire élaboré par le ministre Simon Jolin-Barrette était basé sur des préjugés. Les consultations du projet de loi 21 se terminent jeudi.

Opinion: Quebec’s religious-symbol bill hearings have gone exactly as François Legault’s CAQ planned

Konrad Yakabuski’s take although I don’t share his conclusion that it made the CAQ proposals appear reasonable:

Eleven years ago this month, Quebec wise men Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor tabled their report on religious accommodation in Canada’s once “priest-ridden province.”

The two intellectual giants chosen by then-premier Jean Charest to extricate his Liberal government from the quagmire in which it found itself – it had been reduced to a slim minority after an election campaign that largely focused on religious accommodation – went to great lengths to insist that secular Quebec was not experiencing a clash of values. The apparent “crisis” involving the demands of religious minorities for recognition was largely, to use a term now in vogue, fake news. Some media organizations, they concluded, had been making mountains out of molehills, creating a false sense of urgency and collective insecurity.

And yet, Prof. Bouchard and Prof. Taylor went on to lay out in 310 dense pages how Quebec was different from the rest of Canada and North America, and how it was incumbent upon the provincial government to lay down the parameters for secularism. Rejecting the Canadian policy of multiculturalism as “poorly adapted to Quebec’s reality,” their report called for legislation establishing “interculturalism” as the model for managing diversity in the province.

”It is in the interests of any community to maintain a minimum of cohesion,” the Bouchard-Taylor report concluded. “For a small nation like Quebec, always preoccupied with its future as a cultural minority, integration represents a condition of its development, indeed its survival.”

The report presented its ideas for how to help an insecure minority – in this case, French-speaking Quebeckers – feel more secure. After spending decades seeking to eliminate the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church in public institutions, they sympathized with the desire of Quebeckers to prevent other religions from taking its place.

It was hence that Prof. Bouchard and Prof. Taylor recommended that state employees exercising “coercive powers” – such as police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and judges – be prohibited from wearing conspicuous religious symbols. It was not a recommendation they made lightly; their report makes clear that such a prohibition would deprive some religious minorities of the ability to exercise certain state functions. But they concluded that it nevertheless constituted the “right balance for Quebec society today.”

It was obvious then that, in implementing such a ban, Quebec would put itself on a collision course with the rest of Canada. Indeed, by 2008, it had already been 18 years since the RCMP first began allowing Sikh officers to wear turbans as part of their official uniform. Whether they intended it to or not, their recommendation soon took on a life of its own, as proponents of Quebec secularism seized on the imprimatur of Bouchard-Taylor to legitimize their cause.

Appearing last week before the National Assembly commission studying Bill 21, Prof. Taylor, now 85, pleaded that he had been “naive” about the monster he helped create in tabling this recommendation. “Just promoting this kind of program starts to provoke incidents of hate,” he insisted, explaining why he no longer supports a recommendation he previously defended.

In Saturday’s Journal de Montréal, Quebec’s most-read newspaper, three columns were devoted to discrediting the McGill University philosopher. One compared him to the washed-up drunk Calvero in Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 film Limelight. “There is only one word to qualify this 180-degree turn – pathetic,” former Parti Québécois minister Joseph Facal wrote.

It might be going too far to say Prof. Taylor had been set up by Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who has meticulously stage-managed the parliamentary hearings on Bill 21, which end on Thursday. But the distinguished professor did not do himself any favours by effectively likening supporters of the bill that would implement the principal recommendation from his report (while adding teachers into the mix of state employees prohibited from wearing religious symbols) to hatemongers. He played into caricatures of himself.

That’s exactly how Mr. Jolin-Barrette wanted the hearings to unfold. “In the course of the past 15 years, previous governments have not succeeded in translating and implementing the will of the Quebec people to establish a secular framework for the state,” the minister said. “Quebeckers can be proud of this bill because it allows us to turn the page on this issue.”

By giving so much airtime to those who hold extreme opinions – former Liberal senator Céline Hervieux-Payette warned that “behind” the Islamic veil lay genital mutilation and forced marriages, while several intervenors called on the government to extend the religious-symbols ban to all state employees – the hearings aimed to ensure that the Coalition Avenir Québec’s Bill 21 came out looking like a reasonable compromise.

For Mr. Jolin-Barrette and his boss, Premier François Legault, it was mission accomplished.

Source: Opinion: Quebec’s religious-symbol bill hearings have gone exactly as François Legault’s CAQ planned

Laïcité: le SFPQ veut élargir l’interdiction des signes religieux

Regressive position for a union to take:

Le Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ) demande au gouvernement Legault d’étendre l’interdiction du port de signes religieux « ostentatoires » à l’ensemble des employés de l’État qui ont des contacts avec les citoyens.

« Les symboles religieux ostentatoires n’ont pas leur place dans la fonction publique puisqu’ils sont contraires au principe de neutralité », a affirmé le SFPQ, jeudi, de passage à Québec pour la troisième journée de consultations du projet de loi 21 sur la laïcité de l’État.

Le syndicat, qui représente quelque 30 000 employés de la fonction publique québécoise, ramène ainsi des dispositions qui étaient prévues dans la défunte Charte des valeurs présentée par le gouvernement péquiste de Pauline Marois.

« Ces symboles, qui revêtent une signification importante pour les personnes qui les portent, peuvent être perçus comme très dérangeants par les citoyens et citoyennes qui entrent en interaction avec ces personnes », affirme le SFPQ dans son mémoire, qui fait un parallèle entre le devoir de neutralité politique des fonctionnaires à la volonté d’imposer une neutralité face à une appartenance religieuse.

Le projet de loi 21 présenté par le gouvernement de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) interdit le port de signes religieux (qu’ils soient « ostentatoires » ou non) aux employés de l’État en position d’autorité, incluant les enseignants et les directions scolaires.

Québec prévoit une clause grand-père pour les employés du secteur public qui sont visés par la loi, mais qui sont déjà à l’emploi de l’État en portant un signe religieux. Le SFPQ souhaite que ce droit acquis soit préservé tout au long de leur carrière. À l’heure actuelle, la loi prévoit qu’un employé visé perd son droit s’il change de poste ou d’employeur au sein de la fonction publique.

Stigmatisations des gais et des croyants

Lors de la période des questions, jeudi, la cheffe de Québec solidaire, Manon Massé, a fait un lien entre les droits des homosexuels qui ont été protégés en 1977 dans la Charte des droits et libertés de la personne et les droits que Québec souhaite désormais restreindre à certains employés de l’État qui portent un signe religieux.

« Le premier ministre répète à qui veut l’entendre que c’est parce que c’est comme ça qu’on vit au Québec [qu’il veut interdire les signes religieux aux employés de l’État en position d’autorité, incluant les enseignants]. Comme si, lorsque nos prédécesseurs ont adopté [la Charte des droits et libertés], tous partis confondus avaient erré, en 1975. Et pourtant, en 1977, lorsque les droits des personnes homosexuelles ont été inclus dans la charte québécoise, ce n’était pas comme ça qu’on vivait au Québec », a dit Mme Massé.

« À l’époque, une large partie de la population était convaincue que nous, les gais et lesbiennes, on ne pouvait pas enseigner ou s’occuper des enfants, parce que, dans les faits, on allait les contaminer avec notre différence. Une chance que les politiciens de l’époque, puis ceux qui ont suivi, n’ont pas appuyé leur seul jugement sur les qu’en-dira-t-on, parce qu’aujourd’hui il manquerait bien des profs à l’école », a-t-elle ajouté.

« Personne ne peut nous reprocher de ne pas avoir été clairs durant la campagne électorale. […] On en parle depuis des années. Je comprends que la cheffe de Québec solidaire n’est pas d’accord, je comprends aussi que certains députés libéraux ne sont pas d’accord […], mais je pense qu’on doit avoir ce débat de façon calme, sans s’accuser de gros mots. Il faut être capable de débattre au Québec de façon respectueuse. Je pense que notre projet de loi est modéré, justement pour essayer de rassembler […]. Je pense qu’on a le droit au Québec de faire ce choix », a répondu le premier ministre François Legault.

Que prévoit le projet de loi 21  ?

Le projet de loi 21 sur la laïcité de l’État, déposé en mars dernier par le gouvernement Legault, prévoit l’interdiction du port de signes religieux aux employés de l’État en position d’autorité, y compris les enseignants et les directions d’écoles publiques. Les policiers, les agents correctionnels, les agents de la faune, les constables spéciaux, les procureurs de la Couronne et tous les avocats du gouvernement sont également visés. Idem pour le président de l’Assemblée nationale et ses vice-présidents, alors que les députés pourront continuer de porter leurs signes religieux. Une clause de droit acquis est également prévue pour les employés de l’État actuellement en poste et qui portent un signe religieux, tant et aussi longtemps qu’ils ne changent pas de poste ou d’employeur. Tous les signes religieux sont visés par le projet de loi : tant le hijab que la kippa et la croix catholique. Québec a également inclus une disposition de dérogation aux chartes des droits afin que sa loi ne soit pas contestée devant les tribunaux.

Source: Laïcité: le SFPQ veut élargir l’interdiction des signes religieux

Laïcité: la consultation qualifiée de mascarade par des groupes religieux

Valid points by the groups not being invited to testify:

Le refus du gouvernement Legault d’entendre les groupes religieux directement visés par le projet de loi sur la laïcité démontre, selon ceux-ci, que son lit est déjà fait et que les consultations l’entourant ne sont qu’une mascarade.

Des représentants d’organisations juives, musulmanes, sikhes et même de l’Église unie du Canada ont vivement dénoncé, mardi à Montréal, le mutisme du gouvernement caquiste qui, à leurs demandes d’être entendus aux audiences de la commission parlementaire sur le projet de loi 21, n’a répondu que par des accusés de réception sans invitation.

«Le gouvernement voit cette loi comme un fait accompli», a déclaré Avi Finegold, porte-parole du Conseil des rabbins de Montréal, alors que les consultations s’entamaient à Québec.

«On dirait qu’ils essaient simplement de masquer le tout avec quelques journées de consultations, pour une loi aussi majeure», a-t-il déploré.

Déficit d’ouverture et d’inclusion

Pour ces organisations, il est inconcevable que les personnes directement touchées par cette loi soient ainsi ignorées.

«Le fait qu’on ne soit même pas invités aux consultations fait en sorte que notre opinion, pour eux, n’est même pas valide», a pour sa part avancé la porte-parole du Conseil national des musulmans canadiens, Sara Abou-Bakr, qui ne s’est pas gênée pour faire la leçon au gouvernement caquiste sur la notion d’inclusion.

«C’est sûr qu’ils ont pris cette décision-là sans même avoir l’idée d’avoir un Québec inclusif et sans même inclure tous les citoyens du Québec. L’ouverture, c’est d’inclure tout le monde. L’ouverture, ce n’est pas d’inclure les personnes (..) dont on sait qu’elles vont déjà être de notre avis. L’ouverture, c’est donner à tout le monde la chance égale de parler que ce soit pro-loi ou contre la loi.»

Cette exclusion des groupes directement touchés est particulièrement mal accueillie par Samaa Elibyari, du Conseil canadien des femmes musulmanes.

«Les femmes voilées, c’est-à-dire celles qui portent le hijab, seront les premières victimes. Il est donc déplorable que notre voix ne soit pas entendue à ce sujet», a-t-elle dit.

Selon elle, l’exclusion imposée par le gouvernement Legault «trahit un esprit de parti pris».

«Comment pouvez-vous justifier que les personnes qui sont les plus touchées ne sont pas représentées ?» demande-t-elle, faisant valoir que «ce n’est pas seulement les femmes qui seront affectées, c’est toute la famille, c’est toute la communauté» puisque la restriction à l’emploi devient une conséquence matérielle tangible.

Le voile comme signe d’inclusion

Les organisations font valoir que le discours d’ouverture à la diversité du gouvernement caquiste peut difficilement être soutenu dans les faits s’il est incapable de faire preuve d’ouverture pour l’étude de son projet de loi.

Plus encore, souligne Sara Abou-Bakr, le port d’un signe religieux pourrait s’avérer un puissant argument en faveur de l’inclusion.

«Le fait que je porterais un symbole religieux en travaillant pour le gouvernement mettrait l’emphase sur le fait qu’on vit dans un Québec inclusif», avance-t-elle.

Sur le fond, les organisations ne s’en cachent pas : elles perçoivent toutes le projet de loi 21 comme un instrument de discrimination.

«Nous estimons qu’il s’agit d’une discrimination encouragée par l’État, une légalisation de la discrimination, et ça affectera tout le monde», a de son côté déclaré l’imam Musabbir Alam, de l’Alliance musulmane canadienne.

«La loi 21 est une loi qui va renforcer la division de la société québécoise», a renchéri Sara Abou-Bakr.

Avi Finegold, de son côté, a cherché à contrer les discours de peur qui entourent ce débat.

«Nous ne devrions pas avoir peur de la religion. Nous n’essayons pas de convertir qui que ce soit. Nous sommes ici pour vivre nos vies et pour avoir notre foi religieuse exprimée de la manière dont nous le voulons l’exprimer», a-t-il dit.

Les organisations n’écartent pas la possibilité d’aller vers des recours juridiques pour contrer l’éventuelle loi et préparent également des activités de soutien à leurs revendications.

Source: Laïcité: la consultation qualifiée de mascarade par des groupes religieux