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Quebec government tabling Charter of Values today

Thaddeus Baklinski
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QUEBEC, November 7, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Parti Québécois government tabled its controversial secular values charter, Bill 60, on Thursday.

Observing the National Assembly rule that requires at least one day's notice before a bill is tabled, Premier Pauline Marois told the assembly on Wednesday: "We have a position. We are going to share it with members of this assembly tomorrow, when the minister responsible for democratic institutions will present the charter bill."

In introducing the bill this morning, Premier Pauline Marois declared that acceptance of the tabling of the legislation was a measure of confidence in the government, meaning that the opposition would force an election if they blocked its introduction.

In a surprise move, the bill that is being presented has had a substantial name change. What was once called the Quebec Charter of Values, is now, in English, the "Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests."

The minister responsible for the bill, Bernard Drainville, said the new title was the work of government lawyers who have a penchant for long names that include the major details of bills in their titles. 

He also said that the main proposals in the bill - that would force government employees to remove conspicuous religious symbols such as headscarves, yarmulkes, turbans, and larger-than-average crucifixes if they want to keep their jobs - have not changed.

"There's no new phrasing," Drainville told reporters. "It's the name of the bill. You need to give bills a name. Jurists have been working on it. Jurists like giving bills long names that try to summarize everything in the bill -- that's the real reason."

The minority PQ government would need the support of one of the two main opposition parties in order to pass the bill into law.

However, while foregoing a vote of nonconfidence in the PQ government, the opposition appears to be aligned against the bill.

The leader of the Official Opposition, Liberal Jean-Marc Fournier, said he believes the proposed legislation will do more harm than good.

“She [Marois] said in the national assembly that her bill won't divide," he said. "Well, I'm sorry but you and I know this bill is for division, is for separation, and is against the harmony of a society where you have to give a place to each and every one.” 

François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec Party, called the bill divisive and said the proposed legislation is really about curtailing the religious expression of Muslims.

"Let's be really clear: This is a debate about the Muslim religion. I think it's bad for our society," Legault said according to a CTV report. "It's become really like a trial of the Muslim religion in Quebec...I see serious risks of this getting out of hand," he said. "This isn't the Quebec society I know." 

Legault also complained that the PQ didn't consult the opposition parties when drafting the bill, but instead played a game of leaking details to the media.

"It's been months that the ministers Bernard Drainville and Jean-Francois Lisee are engaged in a detail-leaking contest on the values charter," Legault said in a statement.

"We've known for months that the PQ government was tabling a bill. Despite the olive branch extended by our party, which even tabled its own secularism charter two weeks ago, never has the government of Pauline Marois taken the trouble to consult us or listen to us. Whether or not Mrs. Marois likes it, this government is a minority and it needs to accept that."

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard said the bill is "an appeal to the lowest common denominator of human nature. It's being done...with electoral aims. That's why we're telling the public and government: steer clear of these questions. Don't continue with a law that is an unprecedented assault on the fundamental rights and freedoms of Quebecers. Unite Quebecers."

Quebec's human rights commission has said the proposed charter violates fundamental rights and the courts would rule it unconstitutional.

In a scathing commentary, the QHRC called the charter of Quebec values "radical" and "misguided." 

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In the Commission's 21 page commentary, it argues that the PQ proposal would conflict not only with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but it would also violate international standards for the protection of religious and minority rights that Quebec has committed to uphold.

A grassroots response to the legislation was launched last month by a pro-life group in Quebec that is calling on Christians in the province to make a pledge to wear large, "conspicuously" visible crosses as a protest against the Charter of Values.

Georges Buscemi, president of Campagne Québec-Vie, said the "Je porte ma croix!" campaign has two goals: to voice opposition to the proposed legislation, and to affirm Christians in their right to bear witness to their faith in public. 

"Wearing a cross in public is a small but effective way of bringing religion out of the private sphere and into the public sphere,” he said. “Faith has both a hidden, private dimension and a public, manifest dimension.”

"One of the reasons secularism has been progressing so rapidly in the West is that Christians are afraid or unwilling to bring their faith to bear in the public square, in policy making decisions, in conversation or debate,” Buscemi said.

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