TAKING A page out of France’s book, the Parti Québécois (PQ) has released details of a highly controversial “Charter of Quebec Values” — a program that seeks to inspire a sense of identity in Canada’s francophone province while maintaining the “obligation to remain independent of religious authority.”
PQ, the political party that advocates for Quebec’s national sovereignty, won a majority mandate in the province’s 2012 election, and the charter was a fundamental part of the separatist platform that propelled it into power.
In the name of secularization and unification, the charter would amend Quebec’s human rights laws to limit the claims citizens can make for religious accommodations. Most provocatively, it would prohibit public employees — civil servants, teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols at work. These include turbans, yarmulkes and hijabs.
In 2011, France caused an uproar when it enacted legislation banning burqas, niqabs or any face-covering veils in public. Also in the name of secularization, the French ban placed a unique burden on Muslim citizens who consider the veil a religious obligation. In theory, of course, that kind of legislation is meant to pursue the admirable goal of fostering a truly equal society free of religious imposition. In practice, it ends up targeting and stigmatizing minorities. As we’ve noted before, it’s a case in which the cause of “equality” ironically runs hand-in-hand with xenophobia.
Although Quebec’s proposal would police only the attire of public employees at work, rather than that of all citizens in public, PQ officials have already revealed the troubling motive behind the charter.
In an interview with the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir, Premier Pauline Maroiscouched the charter as a corrective for the apparent problems of the modern liberal democracy. “In England,” she said, “they get into fights and throw bombs at one another because of multiculturalism, and people get lost in that kind of society.”
Ms. Marois’s solution has placed Quebec closer to becoming the “kind of society” she seems to despise, as the proposed charter has done little but fan the flames between the province’s secular Catholic majority and its immigrant minority communities.
The legislation has yet to pass, and Ottawa is likely to subject it to judicial scrutiny if it does. Even so, large numbers of Quebecois support the measure, which is evidence of a deeper, more systemic issue: collective disregard for individual liberty and the freedom of religious expression. If the goal really is to establish an equal, secular society, those are the problems to address — not yarmulkes and hijabs.