The long-awaited Charter of Quebec Values has arrived, and rather than softening its most controversial proposals, the Parti Québécois government is taking a tougher stand in the name of a secular society.
Presenting Bill 60 before the National Assembly on Thursday, Premier Pauline Marois said her government has listened to Quebecers. But while Marois spoke of “harmony,” Liberal leader Philippe Couillard, head of the official opposition, called the PQ charter “impractical, illegal and unconstitutional,” predicting lengthy court battles if it is ever adopted.
Opening her exchange with the Liberals in the assembly, Marois wondered whether “we live on the same planet.”
“Our proposed charter allows us to affirm common rules that we want to give ourselves to live in diversity,” she said. “We affirm our will to build a Quebec where we can live well together.
“I am convinced that before long people will cite this charter as an example of what will contribute to bringing us together, Quebec women and men of all origins, as we already did with the Charter of the French language,” Marois told reporters.
Now designated Bill 60, the charter is formally the “Charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests.”
Asked whether the PQ’s charter also has a sovereignist agenda, Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville, sponsor of Bill 60, said: “No matter what choices Quebecers make for their future, on this question as on others, the fact that we have solid foundations will allow us to advance with much more confidence and pride for the future.”
Couillard said Bill 60 “rests on nothing concrete,” noting the government has no studies to justify it and Quebec’s human rights commission calls the charter “an attack without precedent against the rights and freedoms of Quebec women and men.”
Asked how many among Quebec’s 600,000 public-sector employees wear religious symbols that his charter would ban, Drainville admitted he did not know, adding that finding out the number would mean “profiling.”
“And that, I think, is unacceptable,” Drainville said.
When asked for examples of why the charter is needed, Drainville recalled cases dating back to 2006 that were given sensational treatment in some media, including the frosting of windows at a YMCA in a Hasidic neighbourhood and a woman who wore a niqab at CÉGEP St-Laurent.
“There are lots of cases,” the minister said.
All three opposition parties in the assembly say a general ban on religious signs goes too far and they would vote against Bill 60.
Couillard has said it will pass “over my dead body,” and Drainville admits he must persuade the Coalition Avenir Québec to adopt the PQ position for it to become law.
Drainville expressed confidence the “weight of arguments” in favour of the charter, at public hearings in the new year, would convince the CAQ to support Bill 60.
CAQ leader François Legault has said the ban on religious signs targets Muslim women, and he has appealed to Marois to revise her position.
Couillard said he doesn’t buy PQ arguments that a ban on public-sector employees wearing conspicuous religious signs would contribute to harmony and boost Quebecers’ confidence.
“What this bill is telling the world, and that’s highly unfortunate, it’s telling the world: Look how we are weak,” the Liberal leader said.
“We feel like we cannot defend ourselves. We are under siege, we are under threat,” Couillard said.
Read more at The Montreal Gazette.