Secularism for Canada’s Government: The Canadian Charter Bill
Religious tension has recently become an increasingly pressing issue for the Canadian province of Quebec, and it’s starting to mix with politics. The most recent development in religion’s role in Quebec government and society comes with an election held Monday to determine the province’s next Premier (in Canada, Premier is a position similar to governor in the United States). The incumbent Québécois Premier’s loss in that election may signal a beginning to the end of discriminatory legislation; the defeated Pauline Marois was infamous for pushing ultraconservative religious policy.
Late last year, then-Premier Marois submitted a “Charter of Quebec Values” to the Quebec legislature. The Charter – if it were passed into law – would require removal of all “conspicuous” religious symbols from government employees’ clothes and work environments. It particularly identified the Muslim hijab, the Sikh turban and kirpan, and the Jewish kippah, among others. The Charter would allow Roman Catholic symbols to remain (though Canada is a secular state) for no apparent reason. Its effects would have had wider-reaching than public service workers, too – Muslim women wearing the niqab, a different kind of covering, would be refused government services simply because it covers their faces.
Vocal opposition to the charter bill rose on all fronts immediately following its introduction. Religious minorities, against whom escalating hate violence continue to be directed, maintained that the charter would deny them equal opportunity in Canada. People unaffected by the bill supported them fervently, referencing Canadian law and democratic standard, both of which provide Quebec citizens freedom of religion without discrimination. Eventually even two former Quebec Premiers, both from Marois’ own Parti Québécois (a conservative political party), denounced the bill.
The citation of democracy in the rejection of the charter bill hints at this Quebec deal’s significance in world politics. Canada is a leading model in limitations and fundamental responsibilities of democracy. The charter bill still remains on the table- whether it passes or advances further than it has under the new Premier, other areas of the world will take note regardless. Religious minority rights around the globe could be threatened if one religion is given as much political preference in a so-called secular area as the Charter of Quebec Values would allow.
Premier Marois’ action was one of her political party’s most bold moves in what appears to be an attempt to isolate social minorities in Quebec. Quebec’s history is stained with fear of a non-white and/or non-Christian Other, and many Canadians accuse the PQ of “fanning the flames of intolerance” with this new Charter. A blatant preference for white Christians in the Charter suggests this is not far from the truth.
As a ploy to capture the majority vote while losing all minority votes, the charter also appears to have been a strategy for winning the election this Monday. The fact that Marois would even consider alienating all minority religious groups in the province speaks to Quebec’s demographic makeup. Such ignorance for social inequality in areas with large monoethnic, monoreligious majority groups bodes ill for minorities in other communities. The future of the charter bill will change the boundaries for religious legislation internationally, especially and most importantly in similarly dominated environments.
Hopefully Marois stands alone in her extreme opinions. Their effect on so much of the province’s population, as well as rejection from other PQ leaders, indicate that her separative opinions are not in the majority. Her successor, Philippe Couillard, is expected to help soothe religious conflicts in the province. The vote on Monday that removed Marois reveals potential for resolution of the anger she fostered between social groups. The next few months, especially Couillard’s interaction with the charter bill, will determine Quebec’s political future and minority rights in Quebec and elsewhere.[Image Attribute: CBC]