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Religious intolerance in Canada

2014-JAN: Public hearings on the proposed
"Charter of Quebec Values," a.k.a. Bill 60.

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This essay is a continuation of a previous essay

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2014-JAN-14: An anti-charter demonstration.

pro-hijab demonstration

The caption reads: "Keep calm and love your hijab."

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2014-JAN-14: Hearings begin:

250 briefs have been submitted to the National Assembly committee concerning Bill 60: the proposed Charter of Quebec Values. 200 hours were scheduled to handle the expected oral testimony from concerned individuals and groups.

Bernard Drainville is the government minister responsible for democratic institutions. He said that only 20% of Muslim women in Quebec currently wear religious head covering. some of whom might be affected by the legislation. He also said that citizens in Quebec have the right to be served by a religiously neutral civil service.

Largely due to past oppression by the Roman Catholic Church, Quebec is probably the most secular province in Canada, and may be the most secular political jurisdiction in North America.

Among the first individuals giving testimony before the committee were:

  • Samiral Laouni, a Muslim woman, has founded a Quebec organization to help immigrants and promote greater cooperation among cultural groups in the province. She told the hearing that the proposed charter is responsible for a sudden recent increase in social tensions in Quebec. She said that some Muslim women have been spat upon and had their hijab torn off. She said:
  • "I’ve been here for 15 years. I have never seen it like this until now. ... It is odious to demand that people take off their religious symbols during work hours because it places them before a heart-wrenching decision: accept [the clothing restrictions in order] to work, or renounce their identity. 1 ... We’re not here for this. We’re here to make advances. We don’t want to regress.

    I fight for the rights of women. I’m a born feminist and I see that it is women who are suffering and paying the price more and more while the man with the beard pays no price. I ask, where is this equality that we cherish in Quebec?" 3

Responding to Drainville's 20% comment, she said:

    "In a democratic country you need to think about the 1 per cent that is affected. You don’t think about the absolute majority. You think about the minority that is being crushed."

She regards some parts of the bill positively, including having a secular civil service, and gender equality. She also accepts the ban on religious clothing for those civil servants who are in position of authority. But she said:

    "... we absolutely, firmly and categorically reject the prohibition of anyone wearing a religious symbol -- [which is] part of their faith and their identity. "

When Drainville asked her why she was willing to make exceptions for police officers, judges, prison guards, and other civil servants in positions of authority, Ms. Laouni replied:

    "The answer is simple; it’s the uniform.

She added a tongue-in-cheek speculation:

    "Maybe Quebec will end up with a Mao Zedong dress code ... and then there won’t be any more problems."

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  • Professor René Tawani from the University of Montreal was born in Egypt. He testified that the hijab and other Muslim head coverings are religious symbols imposed on women by Muslim fundamentalists during the past two decades for strictly political reasons. He said:

    "What is the true motive behind the veil? After all, the veil didn’t exist 20 years ago, yet Islam has existed for 1,400 years."

  • Sam Haroun, an author and former teacher, said:

    "We’re talking about an area that is intentionally vague. We don’t know how to deal with this. There are people who say that we have to deal with this on a case-by-case basis, where every two or three months we have a psychodrama ... because no one knows what to do. There’s not a crisis. It’s not the end of the world, but there’s a malaise.

    [The ban on symbols of faith in the workplace is not an] "... attack on religious freedom" [as the most ardent critics of the values charter have insisted, but a legitimate and reasonable] limitation on the freedom of religious expression." 3

The main political parties in Quebec have not reached a consensus on the Charter:

  • The Liberals are divided over the proposed Charter.

  • The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) favors a more moderate Charter.

  • The Parti Quebecois is currently forming a minority government. It has crafted the proposed Charter, and is actively promoting it.

Bernard Drainville said:

"We will try to reach an agreement with the CAQ. But if we can’t and an election is called, it will be up to voters to decide." 1

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Réhal Séguin, "Quebec values charter takes a beating at opening day of public hearings," The Globe and Mail, 2014-JAN-14, at:
  2. Richard Bourhis, "Quebec’s Charter remains a solution in search of a problem," The Globe and Mail, 2014-JAN-14, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
  3. "Quebec values charter: PQ threatens election fight," The Toronto Star, 2014-JAN-14, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  4. Alexander Panetta, "Nebraska has little use for Quebec values charter-style law enacted 95 years ago," The Toronto Star, 2014-MAR-09, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  5. David Olive, "Good reasons Pauline Marois’s Parti Quebecois was hurled from office," The Toronto Star, 2014-APR-07, at: http://www.thestar.com/


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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-MAR-10
Latest update: 2014-APR-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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