Blog 139: Priorities for Secularism in Quebec

David Rand

2022-06-04

The following is a list of priorities as I see them. This is an important topic of discussion. You are invited to leave your comments. This list is of course not exhaustive and the order of priorities is also open to debate…

  1. Defend Quebec Bill 21. This law, modest as it is, is nevertheless a major step forward, one of which Quebec can be proud.
  2. Make at least one significant step towards repealing the fiscal privileges which religions enjoy, such as:
    • removing the “advancement of religion” criterion for obtaining the status of a charitable organization;
    • removing all public financing of private religious schools and childcare centres.
  3. Promote education on the topic of secularism, for example in the new CCQ (Culture and Citizenship Quebec) program which is to replace the ERC (Ethics and Religious Culture) program.
  4. Extend Bill 21 :
    • to all personnel of public schools and of any other schools which receive public funding (currently the law applies only to teachers, principals and vice-principals);
    • to child-care centres;
    • to any civil servant whose duties involve contact with the public;
    • by banning all displays of religious symbols on State buildings and installations.

To achieve these goals, a few specific concerns arise.

“Notwithstanding” Clauses

The use of the “notwithstanding” clauses (allowing the legislature to overrule certain other clauses) of the two Charters (Canada and Quebec) should not be necessary. After all, the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case MLQ versus Ville de Saguenay (2015-04-15) is enough to justify a ban on civil servants wearing religious symbols, in order to assure State religious neutrality.

Opponents of secularism use Bill 21’s invoking of the notwithstanding clauses as a pretext to falsely accuse it of violating rights, as if it were incompatible with the Charters. But those clauses are part of each Charter, and therefore compatible with it. Bill 21 seeks a balance between the freedom of religious expression of State employees and the freedom of conscience of users of civil services and students. Like almost any good law, Bill 21 applies a reasonable constraint in order to achieve a goal that benefits everyone.

Unfortunately, we cannot do without the notwithstanding clauses. It is obvious that, without them, Justice Marc-André Blanchard of Quebec Superior Court would have completely gutted Bill 21. Judges are appointed by the federal government which makes sure that those judges obsequiously respect the regime’s ideology of cultural relativism (which hides behind that pretty euphemism “multiculturalism”), an ideology which places religious considerations above freedom of conscience. This is clear in Justice Blanchard’s decision of 20th April 2021. Recall as well that one of the lawyers for Bill 21’s opponents, Maître Azim Hussain, he who outrageously compared Bill 21 to the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, was appointed to the bench of that very Quebec Superior Court in December 2021, one year after the sessions dealing with Bill 21. In the court system, the dice are obviously loaded against secularism.

Thus, use of the notwithstanding clauses remains necessary. Furthermore, their use is justified by the importance of finding a balance between the power of judges and the power of legislatures. Otherwise, judges would have a blank cheque allowing them to repeal any legislation adopted democratically by the legislature. Recall that the notwithstanding clause was inserted into the Canadian Charter as requested by Anglophone provinces, in particular Saskatchewan under the NDP government of Allan Blakeney.

Attacks Against Quebec

Attacks against Bill 21 and against Quebec from the rest of Canada are becoming increasingly vicious, especially since the hysterical reaction to Bill 96 from some spokespersons for English-speaking Quebecers. Opponents of Bills 21 and 96 weaponize anti-Quebec prejudice for their partisan purposes. They lie about Bill 96, just as they spread falsehoods about Bill 21.

Several journalists, including Andrew Coyne writing in the Globe & Mail, have alleged that Bill 96 would force the exclusive use of French during doctor-patient consultations. This is of course false. One just has to read the draft bill, where article 15 (referring to article 22.3 of the Charter of French Language) specifies that other languages are permitted “where health, public safety or the principles of natural justice so require.”

While condemning Draft Bill 96, Coyne also declares in passing that Bill 21 excludes religious minorities from certain jobs. Again, this is false. Bill 21 requires that the employee remove any religious symbols when working in certain jobs. A religious symbol, like an atheist t-shirt, can be taken off. Everyone working in such a job must maintain a certain reserve, but no-one is excluded because of his or her belief or non-belief. Furthermore, if I understand correctly, the definition of “religious symbol” in article 6 applies not only to all religions but also to atheist symbols.

False Secularists in Canada Outside Quebec

We must denounce the hypocrisy of associations in Canada that call themselves “secular” but who oppose Bill 21. The refusal of all these associations to support Bill 21 is already a serious problem. But in addition, three associations (at least) explicitly oppose it. This is deplorable. Such false secularists are thus participating in the campaign of denigration of secularism, Quebec and Quebecers.

We must not remain silent on this subject, using the excuse that the English model of secularism is different from the one used in Quebec. The principle of separation between religions and State is very well known in the English-speaking world, even though it is not always respected. They have no excuse. If a police officer wears a crucifix or a hijab, for example, it is obvious that there is an absence of separation. One association even went so far as to change its definition of “secularism” to exclude the principle of separation, in order to justify its opposition to Bill 21.

There are people in English Canada who are sympathetic to our cause, but they are afraid to speak out. They need our help.


2 comments on “Blog 139: Priorities for Secularism in Quebec
  1. Ginette Bisaillon says:

    Right on as usual, David.

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