Although the Parti Québécois government has yet to table any legislation regarding it's proposed Charter of Quebec Values, and has not provided any firm date as to when it expects to do so, on October 9, 2013, a Québec solidaire member of the national assembly tabled private member's Bill 398, Charter of Quebec State Secularism in the assembly. This Bill conveys that party’s position and tries to provide a compromise to end the contentious debate sparked by the PQ’s proposal.
I reviewed the proposed Charter of Quebec Values on Slaw here. This private member’s Bill is the first piece of legislation tabled in the national assembly since the debate started. It is therefore worthwhile to point out and examine.
Québec solidaire’s proposal would only ban the wearing of visible religious signs by persons in authority, such as judges, prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and others who exercise coercion on behalf of the state. All other public sector employees would be free to display religious signs if they so wish. Furthermore, the Bill proposes that the chair and vice-presidents of the national assembly refrain from wearing religious symbols because they are leading the debates and represent the assembly.
The Bill would amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, inserting “by the secular state” in the preamble, so it would read:
“Whereas respect for the dignity of human beings, equality of women and men, and recognition by the secular state of their rights and freedoms constitute the foundation of justice, liberty and peace.”
To Section 3 of the Charter, which now states, “Every person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association,” would be added: “State secularism safeguards fundamental freedoms. The secular nature of the state entails that the state cannot favour or disfavour any religion, religious practice or particular belief.”
The Bill would further ban prayers before meetings of municipal councils and remove the crucifix from the blue room of the national assembly since it was initially placed there by Maurice Duplessis in 1936 to celebrate the alliance between church and state. It is a heavy symbol over the institution that passes the laws of Quebec.
The Bill includes the Parti Québécois proposals for:
- Including the religious neutrality of the state in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Quebec
- The prohibition of proselytizing (preaching/converting) in the workplace
- Supervision and guidelines for religious accommodation to facilitate the task of public administrators
- Affirming gender equality
- Obliging the state to provide and individuals to accept services openly, including in schools and health facilities (QS registered an exception for emergency health services, when life is in danger)
Most of the Québec solidaire proposition stems from the position of the Bouchard-Taylor report on reasonable accommodation of minorities. Some lawyers think the Bill could pass the test of the courts, since the proposed constraint is not excessive and affects a limited number of government employees.
Political analyst Jean Lapierre predicts that the PQ may call an election before the end of the year, using their proposed charter as a wedge issue to win a majority, but lacking a majority, the PQ won’t reintroduce the issue into the national assembly.
Is the Parti Québécois genuinely interested in separating the state from the church, or is it using the extreme measures it has proposed to appeal to a certain segment of Quebec’s population? If the former, surely the PQ would be willing to offer a compromise along the lines proposed by Québec solidaire, as well as former premiers Jaques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard. If the latter, the party is taking a big risk that enough Quebecers approve of the proposed charter and are willing to vote PQ to give the party a majority.