Though Pauline Marois is on a crusade to unveil Muslim women, she has no problem covering up our rights and freedoms.
Bill 60, the loftily titled Charter Affirming the Values of State Secularism and Religious Neutrality and of Equality between Women and Men, and providing a Framework for Accommodation Requests, was tabled last week in the Quebec legislature. The Charter seeks to instill state secularism by outlawing religious apparel for civil servants and other government employees.
The constitutional issues with the bill have been well documented since the plan was announced this summer, with most accounts criticising the Charter on the basis of religious-freedom protections in both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Yet the effect of the tabled legislation goes far beyond ostentatiously religious civil servants. The bill is riddled with clauses that will affect everyone in society and increase the size of government at an alarming rate. We’ve counted down the five most worrisome aspects of Bill 60.
1. The State will be able to tell you what you can and can’t wear, but also what you can and can’t say.
The bill will prevent public workers from wearing “objects such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overtly indicate a religious affiliation” as enumerated in Article 5 of the bill. What ‘conspicuous’ or ‘overtly’ mean is up to the government, leaving room for uneven application of the law. Perhaps more alarming, however, is Article 4, which declares that personnel “must exercise reserve with regard to expressing their religious beliefs.” The State will be given the power to dismiss you from your job if you dare to speak about your beliefs in your workspace. Again, the limits of state action in this respect will be determined by the state itself.
2. The law also applies to private sector workers.
When the proposed law was announced, the government was clear in saying that the rules would only apply to those working in the government. That turned out to be a lie. Article 10 states that if you or your company receive a contract or subsidy from the State, you’ll have to leave your kippah at the door. In addition, the previous PQ promise that municipalities could opt out has been scrapped and replaced by the possibility of extending the deadlines of compliance. So, no matter how ethnically diverse a city may be, compliance is mandatory.
3. The law gives substantial discretionary power to the cabinet.
The Charter assigns to the provincial cabinet ministry micromanagerial power over the implementation of the new directive. With the size of Quebec’s civil service, this means that policing the enforcement of the new regulations will become a major preoccupation of the highest levels of the executive branch – which ought to be charged with far more pressing matters than the clothing worn by thousands of government workers.
4. The law will affect doctors, who are technically privately employed.
The authors of Bill 60 have shown a lack of understanding about the role of doctors in the public health-care system. The law will prohibit physicians, dentists, and midwives from wearing religious symbols in the workplace. However, doctors are neither members of the public body nor employees of the State, as they are legally self-employed. This should prevent them from being included in the Values Charter.
5. You may not be allowed to talk about God in the workplace, but doing it in English will be a double whammy.
Strangely enough, Article 40 will amend the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to include the “primacy of the French language,” undermining the current text of the human rights charter. At the moment, it doesn’t mention language at all except to say that everyone has the right of communication in a language they understand. Language is a curious inclusion for a bill about state secularism. The vague language and the context would suggest that Francophones may have more access to the Charter of Rights, as well as fewer troubles with Bill 60.
While we criticize the Parti Québécois for the flawed articles of the Charter, we condemn them outright for even proposing such a bill. They may have their heads stuck in the sand, but they’re not stupid. Any government with a grain of intelligence would know that the bill runs counter to Quebec law and Canadian constitutional law. We are left with the only assumption possible: that this is all a political ploy. It is meant to divide the atheists from the religious, the city from the boondocks, the consumer from the provider, and, unfortunately, the French from the English. With seemingly little concern for actually implementing laïcité, the government is using our rights and freedoms as a tool, a means to their own political ends. Accordingly, the Quebec public should respond contemptuously to the PQ’s efforts.
This article was originally an editorial written on behalf of the Prince Arthur Herald. You can find the original HERE