Chantal Hébert: Will Quebec be the next province to use the ‘notwithstanding’ clause?

Likely inevitable:

Chances are Ontario’s Doug Ford will not for long be the only premier to bypass the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to push through a controversial item on his legislative agenda.

Depending on the outcome of the Quebec Oct. 1 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s home province could be next.

But if that were to happen it would not be as a result of a domino effect triggered by Ford’s use of the ‘notwithstanding’ clause of the Constitution to have his way in the legal battle over the size of Toronto’s next municipal government.

The prospect of a move along similar lines was part of Quebec’s longstanding debate over the place of religious rights in a secular society before this week’s developments at Queen’s Park.

A Coalition Avenir Québec or a Parti Québécois government would scrap the controversial Liberal law that prescribes public services be received and dispensed with one’s face uncovered.

They would replace the so-called veil ban with the imposition of a secular dress code on public servants deemed to be in a position of authority. The list includes judges, prison guards, teachers and, in the case of the PQ, child care workers.

If the courts found that approach to be unconstitutional, CAQ and PQ leaders François Legault and Jean-François Lisée have both said they would have no qualms about using the notwithstanding clause to forge ahead.

At midcampaign, the notion that two of the main contenders for government in Quebec would not let the Charter stand in the way of their secularism agendas has not emerged as a wedge issue. That’s not a hill Philippe Couillard’s Liberals want to risk dying on between now and Oct. 1.

Their government’s veil ban has yet to be enforced. The courts have suspended its application until a challenge to its constitutionality has been adjudicated. Based on his previous statements, Couillard would not — should his party win power next month and the courts invalidate its veil law — be inclined to salvage it by using the notwithstanding clause.

But the premier is also on record as saying that the notwithstanding clause exists for a purpose; that it is there to be used by governments. And indeed, the Quebec Liberals have done exactly that in the not-so-distant past.

In 1988, the government of then-premier Robert Bourassa overruled a Supreme Court ruling that found the province’s French-only sign law to be in breach of the Charter. That cost Quebec’s Liberal government a critical amount of goodwill on the constitutional front. It contributed to the 1990 demise of the Meech Lake Accord. It also earned the province a black eye in many international circles. When the clause expired five years later, Bourassa’s government did not renew it. Instead it belatedly aligned the sign law with the Supreme Court’s prescriptions.

Now, as then, the federal government has the power to disallow a provincial law. But that power has not been used since 1943 and, by all indications, the current prime minister is no more inclined to dust it off than his father was at the time of the introduction of the PQ’s language law in the late seventies.

On Tuesday, Trudeau said he would leave it to Ontario voters to judge whether Ford’s decision to reach for the biggest hammer in the constitutional toolbox to quash opposition to his bid to shrink Toronto’s municipal government in the middle of an election campaign was appropriate.

If the prime minister used the constitutional levers at his disposal to intervene in the dispute between Queen’s Park and Toronto city hall, he would set himself up to do likewise if the next Quebec government ever does suspend some of the Charter rights enjoyed by the province’s religious minorities.

It is hard to think of anything more likely to trigger an all-out Ottawa/Quebec brawl than a move by a federal government to nullify a law passed in the National Assembly.

The notwithstanding clause is more widely seen as a legitimate tool in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada. But it would be simplistic to conclude that repeated use has normalized the practice. The province’s difficult history with constitutional politics and the autonomist instincts of its francophone majority largely account for the difference.

It is too early to know whether Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause will start a trend that will spread to other provincial capitals or, on the contrary, make reaching out for it more politically toxic everywhere. But without support to do away with the clause from either Ontario or Quebec, it is not about to be written out of the Constitution.

Source: Chantal Hébert: Will Quebec be the next province to use the ‘notwithstanding’ clause?

Identity politics returns to Quebec: Patriquin

Martin Patriquin’s balanced take on Quebec’s Bill C-62 (banning face covering when providing or receiving public services):

Quebec is home to a majority population of about 6.6 million French speakers, where about three-quarters of the 50,000 immigrants who arrive here every year settle in the region of Montreal. The city is multicultural and multilingual. The rest of the province is largely white and French.

The populism resulting from this unique demographic circumstance, which surfaced in the 2007 election campaign, had a distinctly Trumpian narrative to it. To wit: the political elites in Quebec City were corrupt and out of touch. Immigration had turned Montreal into a Babylonian hellhole, and threatened to do the same to the hinterland. By throwing out the first and radically curtailing the second, Quebec would be . . . well, it would be great again.

Two political parties, first the right-of-centre Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) and then the Parti Québécois, attempted to harness this resentment. Both failed miserably. The ADQ ceased existing in 2012, while the PQ suffered one of the worst defeats in its history in 2014.

Still, issues of immigration and religion remain a stubborn constant in Quebec politics. Both the PQ and the Coalition Avenir Québec, the successor to the ADQ, have introduced plans to cut immigration levels. Both have equated the rise in immigration under successive Liberal governments to the decline of French in the province—a contention disproved by several recent Quebec government studies.

PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée said burqas should be banned before “a jihadist uses one to hide his movements.” The CAQ recently ran an advertisement suggesting the chador would become commonplace in Quebec classrooms should either the Liberals or the PQ form the next government. (In truth, body-covering Muslim garb is about as rare in Quebec as Maple Leafs fans.)

Yet despite all this rhetoric over the last 10 years, Quebec remains a comparatively welcoming province. At 3.2 per 100,000, police-reported hate crimes in the province are below the national average of 3.7—and well below Ontario’s average of 4.8, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data.

It is in the crucible of the debate that the province has developed guidelines for so-called “reasonable accommodations” of religious and cultural practices. In 2017, Quebec’s National Assembly will vote on Bill 62, which would compel anyone giving or receiving a public service to do so with their face uncovered—unless the temperature, not religion, dictates otherwise. It is the second time in six years that the province has attempted to pass such a thing.

The bill has its critics, and will almost certainly be the subject to a court challenge should it become law. Yet in limiting its reach to the public service, the legislation strikes a balance between religious freedom and state religious neutrality. (Such is decidedly not the case in France, where the very act of wearing a religious face covering in public is illegal.) The final vote on Bill 62 will take place outside the context of an election campaign, when instances of chest-thumping vitriol tend to be lower. The optimist hopes cooler heads will prevail.

While America is hardly new to the caustic politics of race and identity, it raced to new lows during the last presidential campaign. Trump’s victory has invigorated populist movements around the globe; suddenly, the world is awash in worry over immigration and religion.

In Quebec, this sort of thing is old hat. Long the outlier on the identity front in Canada, Quebec’s take on matters of religion and immigration suddenly seem sensible, even desirable, in a world of border walls and Muslim bans.

Le débat sur la laïcité de l’État reprend le dessus

The Couillard government continues to press for a narrow approach (face covering as in niqab and burqa) while the opposition parties press for a broader approach, ranging from Bouchard-Taylor’s ban on religious symbols for persons in authority (e.g., police, judges) to the broader ban of the previous Quebec Values Charter:

Après avoir été ravivé par les candidats à la direction du Parti québécois, le débat sur la laïcité de l’État refait surface à l’Assemblée nationale. L’étude du projet de Loi favorisant le respect de la neutralité religieuse de l’État, inscrit au feuilleton depuis plus de 15 mois, démarrera à brève échéance, a promis le leader parlementaire libéral, Jean-Marc Fournier, lundi.

« Il y a plusieurs autres projets de lois aussi. Mais on veut avancer celui-là », a-t-il dit à quelques heures de la reprise des travaux à l’Assemblée nationale.

En plus d’établir les « conditions » d’attribution des « accommodements pour un motif religieux » par l’État, le projet de loi 62 oblige les employés du secteur public à exercer leurs fonctions à visage découvert, tout comme les personnes qui font appel à leurs services. « Discutons et votons ! », a lancé M. Fournier, se disant convaincu que l’obligation du « visage découvert » prévue dans le projet de loi 62 fait « consensus »au sein de la classe politique.

Pas si vite, ont tour à tour rétorqué les partis d’opposition. Le Parti québécois et la Coalition avenir Québec se sont empressés de demander au gouvernement de frapper d’un interdit le tchador, et ce, au même titre que le niqab et la burqa, qui voilent le visage laissant apparaître une fente ou un grillage pour les yeux. « Il y a un consensus aussi sur [l’interdiction du] tchador. Si on marche par consensus, on peut avancer jusque-là », a fait valoir la députée péquiste Agnès Maltais.

« Avec le projet de loi 62, le gouvernement libéral va permettre aux fonctionnaires de l’État de travailler en tchador. À la CAQ, nous croyons à la laïcité de l’État. Si l’État est laïque, il faut que ça se voie », a renchéri la députée caquiste Nathalie Roy.

M. Fournier n’était pas enclin au compromis lundi. D’ailleurs, le gouvernement libéral refuse net de légiférer afin d’interdire le port des signes religieux chez les employés de l’État en position d’autorité — les juges, les procureurs de la Couronne, les policiers et les gardiens de prison —, comme le recommandait le rapport Bouchard-Taylor. « On a fait ce choix-là, parce qu’il nous semblait le mieux avisé », s’est-il contenté de dire aux médias. L’élu libéral s’est plutôt affairé à casser du sucre sur le dos du PQ et de la CAQ. « S’il y en a qui disent : “Moi, je veux plus.” Eh bien, ils iront aux prochaines élections dire aux Québécois : “Moi, je veux empêcher le monde de travailler. […] Voici comment ils doivent se vêtir. Je veux choisir pour eux leur garde-robe”», a-t-il déclaré au terme d’une relâche parlementaire longue de trois mois. « Nous, les gens vont être libres de leur tenue vestimentaire. On n’a pas besoin de changer notre Charte des droits et libertés par une charte du linge. »

À l’instar du PQ et de la CAQ, Québec solidaire exhorte le gouvernement libéral à « faire un pas de plus » et à prendre acte du « consensus québécois » en édictant une interdiction du port de signes religieux auprès des employés de l’État en position d’autorité. « On ne fera pas d’histoires, personne, pour la question de recevoir et donner des services à visage découvert. Ça fait plusieurs années que tout le Québec s’entendlà-dessus. Là, on est en bas d’un consensusquébécois », a soutenu l’élue solidaire Françoise David, tout en appelant ses confrères et ses consoeurs à débattre du projet de loi 62 « avec calme, avec sérénité »« Ce sont des sujets délicats et explosifs », a-t-elle souligné

Source: Le débat sur la laïcité de l’État reprend le dessus | Le Devoir