Freedom under fire: Parti Quebecois values charter an outright attack on individual rights

By Brian Lilley

Quebec premier Pauline Marois and Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship Bernard Drainville unveil Quebec's new religious symbols charter in Quebec City, Tuesday, Spet. 10, 2013. (JEAN-FRANCOIS DESGAGNES/QMI Agency)

Quebec premier Pauline Marois and Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship Bernard Drainville unveil Quebec's new religious symbols charter in Quebec City, Tuesday, Spet. 10, 2013. (JEAN-FRANCOIS DESGAGNES/QMI Agency)

Having lived and worked in Quebec as a reporter the last time the Parti Quebecois was in power, I’m not surprised they have come out with their so-called values charter.

What is surprising to me is the level of support I’m hearing from Canadians outside of Quebec.

This charter will ban all kinds of religious clothing, jewelry and symbols and have bureaucrats measuring the size of crosses around the necks of government workers.

Yet on talk radio, on social media, in comment sections of media sites across the board, you can easily find comments saying such a law should be taken up by other provinces across Canada.

I’ve had people tell me repeatedly that Canada is a free country and so we should ban religious symbols and dress in the workplace.

This is unreal.

Let’s call the Quebec values charter what it is, an outright attack on individual freedom.

A poll released by Angus Reid on Thursday shows 69% of Quebecers support the idea of the Quebec charter, while 37% of those surveyed in the rest of Canada supported the idea.

In Alberta, support reached 44% and in Ontario 40%.

I can fully understand what is driving this; it’s mainly a fear and understandable discomfort with Muslim women covering their faces in public.

In Canada, we expect to see the faces of the people we pass on the street, that we meet in stores, doctors’ offices or at our local schools.

The niqab and burka are foreign concepts to Canada and most people do not like them. In Quebec, 90% called for banning the burka for public employees; in the rest of Canada, 62% said civil servants should not be allowed to wear the Islamic face covering to work.

The only other religious item polled that received majority support for a ban outside of Quebec was the kirpan, the ceremonial dagger carried by Sikh men.

The PQ government headed up by Pauline Marois knows they are tapping into a sense of anxiety Quebecers are feeling regarding the burka and niqab — it’s an anxiety shared by many Canadians from coast to coast.

But rather than deal with that specific issue, she has taken a sledgehammer approach to the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Quebecers.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Some religions call for the wearing of certain clothing or jewelry as part of the faith, such as the kippa for Jewish men or the turban for Sikh men.

In proposing her ban, Marois’ government is running roughshod over those charters and the freedoms they are supposed to protect.

It’s shocking to me that a majority of Quebecers and a sizable minority of Canadians think it is acceptable for the government to tell you what to wear to work.

Obviously, if there are safety elements or uniforms that must be worn as part of the job, then that is something the employer and employee can deal with, but otherwise when did it become a Canadian or Quebec value to have government bureaucrats set our wardrobe?

It is clear the majority of Canadians from coast to coast reject people covering their faces in public.

We will have to find a way to deal with that growing trend one way or another, but attacking freedom of religion is the wrong way to go about it.

 


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