Quebec premier proposes religious-neutrality legislation

On Sept. 10, the Parti Québécois (PQ) presented details of its proposed Quebec Values Charter.  This legislation would “reportedly ban all public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols [at work] and lay out stricter guidelines for the accommodation of religious minorities by public institutions and employers,” wrote Konrad Yakabuski in the Globe and Mail. For Quebec Premier and PQ Leader Pauline Marois, the rationale behind the Charter is to affirm the fundamental value of religious neutrality of the state. In Quebec, the process of secularization began decades ago, notably during what’s known as the Quiet Revolution. However, since the election of the PQ in 2012, the question of reasonable accommodation has been a hot-button issue, especially with regard to religious dress and symbols.

Individuals from around Canada have displayed increasing concern about the neutrality of this policy. For example, on Sept. 3, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on CBC Radio argued, “If it was truly neutral, it would mean that every person would have the opportunity to work for and to provide services by the state, and that’s exactly not what’s happening here. It’s advantaging people with less visible faiths versus people who have a visible faith.”

Charles Taylor, a professor at McGill University who co-presided over Quebec’s 2007 commission on the accommodation of minorities, says the proposed Charter can be compared to the recent anti–gay-propaganda law in Russia. “If we look at what is proposed here, for sure it does not go as far,” Taylor told the Canadian Press, “but it says that if you have certain convictions you are a second-class citizen because those who have such convictions cannot apply [for a job] in the public sector.”

UVic Dean of Law professor Jeremy Webber says, “The notion of secularization in which every individual comes primarily as a citizen of Quebec can have purchase, as it creates commonality,” but also noted, “there have been signs of anti-Muslim bias that lurk in the fringes of the debate that make one really uncomfortable with it.”

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