QUEBEC, September 13, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Parti Quebecois’ charter of values legislation, which proposes "to entrench the religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of public institutions" in Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, is being condemned by all sides of the political spectrum, and by religious leaders across the country.
On Tuesday, Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney responded to statements about the proposed charter from Quebec Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville, saying "we are very concerned about any proposal that would discriminate unfairly against people based on their religion."
"If it's determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously," Kenney told reporters.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, speaking from the NDP's summer caucus retreat in Saskatoon, stated that his party completely rejects Quebec's plans for banning conspicuous religious symbols. He said that workers should not have to choose between their expression of faith and their jobs.
“To be told that a woman working in a daycare centre, because she's wearing a headscarf, will lose her job is to us intolerable in our society," Mulcair said. "There's no expiry date on human rights. It's not a popularity contest, this for us is completely unacceptable and the NDP will be standing up foursquare against this project."
Even at the risk of alienating Quebecers that overwhelmingly voted for the NDP in the last federal election, Mulcair pointed to what he believes is an entrenched discrimination against minorities in Quebec's civil service.
"What we have today is an attempt to impose state-mandated discrimination against minorities in the Quebec civil service. That for us is an absolute non-starter," he said.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused Premier Pauline Marois and the Parti Quebecois of indulging in “divisive identity politics” as a distraction from more pressing economic problems.
"Madame Marois does not speak for all Quebecers when she puts forward an idea of forcing people to choose between their work and their religion, to set out an idea of second-class Quebecers who would not qualify to work in public institutions because of their religion," Trudeau said.
"Quebecers are better than this," Trudeau added, "and Madame Marois is going to find that out the hard way."
James Fitz-Morris of CBC News said that the proposed charter of values legislation is a red herring for Parti Quebecois separation aspirations.
"Is the Parti Québécois government attempting to set itself up for a political win-win?" Fitz-Morris wondered, saying that, win or lose, the separatists would gain ground.
"On the first front: If it is successful in entrenching secularism and religious neutrality in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, it will set Quebec on a new course quite different from the other provinces. That could make it easier down the road to argue Quebec is so different from the rest of Canada that it should separate," he said.
"If Ottawa were to interfere and block Quebec from proceeding, or defeat the proposed changes in court later, Quebec could argue the rest of Canada is incompatible with what Quebecers want and, therefore, push for separation," he added.
Religious and pro-family leaders across the country have expressed serious concern about the charter of values legislation's impact on religious freedom and human rights.
Montreal's Archbishop denounced the Marois government’s proposed legislation, calling the ban on conspicuous religious symbols worn by public employees a violation of their religious rights.
"I think it is a violation of the right to have a religion, and to be religious. Because it is not only about private religion, private life. It's also about public life," said Archbishop Christian Lépine.
Brian Lilley, senior correspondent for Sun Media on Parliament Hill, called the Parti Quebecois values charter "an outright attack on individual freedom."
Lilley wrote in his blog that while he can understand that support for the proposed legislation is largely due to "a fear and understandable discomfort with Muslim women covering their faces in public," because "the niqab and burka are foreign concepts to Canada and most people do not like them," he said that the PQ government's strategy to deal with the "sense of anxiety Quebecers are feeling regarding the burka and niqab," is taking a "sledgehammer approach to the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Quebecers."
"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," Lilley observed. "But...when did it become a Canadian or Quebec value to have government bureaucrats set our wardrobe?"
Lilley argued that the PQ government's intention to pass legislation that would limit freedom of religion is "running roughshod" over the rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
"It is clear the majority of Canadians from coast to coast reject people covering their faces in public," Lilley stated, but added, "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."
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) condemned the proposed measure, saying the ban targets some religious groups of Quebec citizens, but not others, and strips the targeted groups of the opportunity to seek or retain employment with provincial and municipal governments, and potentially with private employers, as well.
“Premier Marois and government officials have claimed that such a ban treats all Quebeckers equally, and places them on equal footing, but that is not the case,” said EFC President Bruce Clemenger in a statement.
“The Charter of Values does not require most Christians to choose between religious observance – the practice requirements of their faith – and government employment as there is nothing distinctive about what we Christians, or secularists for that matter, wear," he said. "The proposal does mean that adherents of those faiths that do require the personal display of symbols or that specific headgear or other clothing be worn are being asked to choose between their religion and being a civil servant.”
“This is not neutral nor an equal treatment of religion” said Clemenger. “Only some religious groups will be impacted and it does not treat religious adherents equally as it imposes the practices of some who do not wear distinctive attire on all.“
The Catholic Civil Rights League said the Quebec government’s plan to introduce the charter of Quebec values is an overkill reaction to existing tensions in the province that would not withstand a constitutional challenge.
"The proposed ban on religious symbols is clearly an issue of religious freedom, and also raises a second question: just how far the state can go in imposing religious conformity on its citizens," said CCRL Executive Director Joanne McGarry in a statement.
"The fact that public institutions are expected to be neutral on religious matters does not mean the people working in them are. A sweeping ban on the wearing of religious or cultural symbols would limit employees’ religious freedom, and it would probably also increase the sense of exclusion of minorities and of religious believers," McGarry said.
"In a society that guarantees religious freedom, it is difficult to see how such a sweeping ban could withstand a constitutional challenge," McGarry concluded.