As we all know, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has joined the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) in contesting Bill 21 (An Act respecting the laicity of the State) before the courts. Now given that Bill 21 implements (partially at least) State secularism in Quebec and extends civil liberties by stipulating that, “all persons have the right to lay parliamentary, government and judicial institutions, and to lay public services,” (where the word “lay” is a bad translation from the French « laïque » meaning “secular”), we have to wonder just why an association which claims to promote civil liberties would oppose that law.
Searching for an answer to that question, I recently visited the CCLA website where, on the page which presents the details of the CCLA’s court challenge, I found the following assertion:
“Bill 21, of course, is the law that will ban Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others who wear symbols of their faith from pursuing careers in numerous public sector jobs.”
The statement above is patently false. Bill 21 does not prevent anyone from working in the public service. It simply states that, in certain jobs, the employee must abstain from wearing religious symbols during working hours. If the employee wears such a symbol while off the job, they only have to remove it at work, and then put it back on, if they so wish, when they leave at the end of their shift. This is necessary in order to respect the religious neutrality which is one of the conditions of employment in some civil service jobs.
But according to the CCLA’s declaration, those who wear religious symbols are excluded from those jobs. This is completely false. Such persons may indeed pursue a career in the civil service. Bill 21 does not prevent them from doing so. They simply have to respect the conditions of employment, including professional ethics.
How can this dissonance be explained? Is it impossible to remove a religious symbol? Is the symbol fused onto the body of the person wearing it? Does the person wear the symbol to bed? Does the wearer shower or bathe while still wearing the symbol? Is surgery required in order to separate the symbol from the person wearing it? It really is a very bizarre allegation to claim that anyone is excluded from the jobs to which Bill 21 applies.
In the title of this blog, I use the word “lie.” I am saying, then, that the CCLA is lying. But am I wrong? Is it possible that the CCLA is not lying? Is it possible that the people of the CCLA are so half-witted that they are not even aware of their mistake? No, I do not think so. I think it is far more likely that their assertion is the result of an assumption so preposterous that they dare not express it openly: the assumption that an individual’s religious affiliation is of such paramount importance, so essential to the person, that to remove a religious symbol, even for several hours a day for reasons of professional ethics, would be a horrific affront to their… their what? their privacy? Who can say?
At any rate, this would mean that the CCLA grants religion an enormous privilege, the privilege of being on a level of importance exceeding even the duties of a civil servant during working hours, a privilege which elevates religious practice above even the democratically adopted laws of the State. By virtue of such logic, or rather illogic, if a Pastafarian were hired as civil servant, they would have to be allowed to wear a colander on their head, even at work. The consequences are downright laughable.
And now, we have just learned that the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has adopted a similar policy. This association, meeting in the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, adopted a resolution which denounces “any government policy which would deny equal treatment in the profession based on a lawyer’s religion.” Furthermore, the resolution targets Bill 21 in particular.
Thus, the CBA is committing exactly the same error—or the same lie, depending on one’s interpretation of their bizarre resolution—by ascribing to Bill 21 harmful consequences which that law absolutely does not have. Both the CCLA and the CBA claim that Bill 21 discriminates against persons having certain religious beliefs, but that is entirely false. On the contrary, Bill 21 removes religious privileges by requiring that civil servants, regardless of their religion or irreligion, respect religious neutrality while on the job—just as the Public Service Act requires them to respect political neutrality.
In both cases, Bill 21 and the Public Service Act, it is a matter of professional ethics.
And both the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Bar Association claim that Bill 21 is discriminatory. They are either deluding themselves, or else they are dishonestly promoting the maintaining of religious privileges within State institutions. Bill 21 does not discriminate against anyone. It targets no-one. On the contrary, the law targets certain behaviour, that is, religious displays which are unacceptable in the civil service.