MONTREAL, October 21, 2013 ( – The Quebec Human Rights Commission has come out with a stinging condemnation of the Marois government's proposed “Charter of Quebec Values,” calling it a radical and misguided attempt to create a law that would infringe fundamental rights and freedoms and that would not withstand a court challenge.

In Auguest, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ government announced plans for the controversial legislation that would ban “conspicuous” religious symbols worn by public employees at work. The “Charter of Quebec Values” would forbid employees in courts, law-enforcement, schools, hospitals, and daycares from wearing items such as turbans, hijabs, kippas, and crucifixes. 

“The government’s proposals are cause for serious concern,” said the president of the Human Rights Commission, Jacques Frémont, in a press release announcing the highly critical commentary. “They represent a clear break with the text of the [Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms], a quasi-constitutional law adopted by the National Assembly in 1975. It is the most radical proposal modifying the Charter since its adoption.” 


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 also violate international standards for the protection of religious and minority rights that Quebec has committed to uphold. 

The Commission also argues that the law misinterprets the duty of state neutrality, an obligation that it says applies to state institutions, but not to their employees or representatives, other than their duty of reserve and impartiality. 

“It is unreasonable to presume the partiality of a public sector employee due to the simple fact that he or she wears a religious symbol,” Frémont said. “By linking the wearing of ‘conspicuous’ religious symbols to the definition of proselytizing (to attempt to convince someone to adhere to his or her religion), without taking into account the person’s conduct, distorts the legal approach developed in regard to the protection of freedom of religion and opens the door to a restriction that would be contrary to the Québec Charter.” 

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The Commission also questions the inclusion of proposals in the values charter legislation aimed at “reinforcing equality between women and men” on the basis of “shared values” and “core community values,” saying these concepts are problematic because they are too vague. 

The Commission states that the Québec Charter already provides protection against gender discrimination and guarantees the right to equality between women and men, and has done so since 1975. 

“These elements are likely to have significant adverse effects on the concrete exercise of rights and freedoms, in particular, of disabled persons, pregnant women and the elderly,” the Commission says. 

This condemnation of the proposed charter of values by the Quebec Human Rights Commission adds to criticism leveled at it by politicians from across the aisle, as well religious and pro-family leaders across the country. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, and NDP leader Tom Mulcair have all unanimously criticized the proposal, with varying levels of severity. 

Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine has said that he believes the Charter “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.”

“When you want to contain the visibility of faith, you are saying to people: ‘You cannot be all you are. I don’t think we have to be in the business to decide what people wear. People have their own way of expressing a belief.” 

The Catholic Civil Rights League said the Quebec government’s plan is a case over overkill in an attempt to respond to existing tensions in the province. 

“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.” 

“In a society that guarantees religious freedom, it is difficult to see how such a sweeping ban could withstand a constitutional challenge,” McGarry concluded. 

The full text, in English, of the Quebec Human Rights Commission's comments on the proposed “Charter of Quebec Values” is available here.


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