Dear Readers: Below is a paper that I wrote in spring 2016. I got tired of waiting for formal review by an academic journal, so I decided to just post it on as many web sites as I could. So this is a formal academic paper (almost 10,000 words) not a short blog post. I own the copyright but you are free to post it or send it to others, as long s you acknowledge my authorship. People who teach the politics of Quebec might find this a useful teaching tool. If you would like a PDF of this paper for your own or your students' use, please contact me at email@example.com
Minority vs. Group Rights: Manifestation of Religious Beliefs vs. “Quebec Values”
by Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann
Abstract: This paper investigates the debate in the province of Quebec, Canada in 2013 over a Charter of Quebec Values introduced by the separatist ruling party, the Parti Quebecois. It relies in particular on government documents, debates in Quebec’s National Assembly, and editorials in the French press. It relates the Charter to the preceding Bouchard-Taylor Commission Report in 2008 on accommodation by public bodies of particular religious requests. The debates concerned the right to manifest one’s religion, the rights of (particularly Muslim) women, and the rights of the collectivity as opposed to the minority. Part of the debate was about Quebec’s particular policy of interculturalism, as opposed to Canada’s policy of multiculturalism. The paper concludes with a discussion of liberalism, minority rights and collective rights.
Keywords: Quebec values, religious rights, women’s rights, collective rights, interculturalism, multiculturalism
This article enters the debate about whether comprehensive liberal-democratic polities that protect human rights may sometimes limit the religious rights of some of their members in order to protect fundamental principles such as secularism and gender equality or to enhance the society’s collective identity. In so doing, it points out that sometimes minority rights are incompatible with so-called “group” or collective rights. My particular example is the Charter of Values proposed in 2013 by the then government of Quebec, a French-speaking province of Canada. The Parti Québecois (PQ), which advocated separation from Canada and establishment of an independent Quebec state, was the governing party. The most contentious aspect of the Charter was a provision prohibiting public employees from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols while at work.
The article is based on examination of the debate that took place in Quebec in late 2013, relying on official documents, parliamentary debates in the provincial National Assembly (NA), and a survey of editorials in several French newspapers. It focuses on the debate among French-speakers within Quebec, as public opinion among English-speakers in Quebec and in the rest of Canada was almost uniformly opposed to the Charter. Among the French-speaking intellectuals and journalists who wrote editorials, opinion was also mostly opposed to the Charter, although some editorialists offered limited support for it.
This analysis does not deal with political questions such as the relationship between the Charter and the PQ’s desire to separate from Canada, or whether the reason it proposed the Charter was actually to increase its vote among certain sectors of the population. Rather, the analysis focuses on apparent incompatibilities among different types of rights, how the PQ interpreted those incompatibilities, and how (predominantly French-speaking) elite opinion responded to its interpretations. This debate occurred in a democratic, rights-protective province within a democratic, rights-protective country. It was not the first such debate; many others had occurred in Quebec and the rest of Canada over such issues as prayer space for Muslim university students, Muslim parents’ rights to withdraw their children from family and sex education classes, family arbitration based on shari’a law, and publication of cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims (Bakht, Natasha 2004; Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. and Reidel, Laura 2007). Both elite policy-makers and private citizens take these debates very seriously, trying to reconcile as best they can what they see as conflicts between religious and other human rights (Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. 2003, 114-33).
The theoretical question addressed in this article is whether, in order to preserve its own group identity, a dominant secular culture may both privilege some of its own customs and limit the customs of members of religious minorities, even if doing so violates the international human rights of some individuals. The right in question is protected by Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion: this right includes…freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance [my italics].” This debate also addresses the question of whether the equality of women and men takes precedence over the right to manifest one’s religion. Finally, it addresses the question of contradictions between (presumed) collective or group rights and minority rights.
In the Quebec debate over whether servants of the state should be permitted to manifest their religious beliefs via their dress, some argued that freedom of religion was paramount. Others argued that freedom of religion ought to be subordinate to the equality rights of women to men, and/or that Quebec’s collective values took precedence over the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs when in the service of the state. Nor was this debate merely a local matter; it went to the core of the debate regarding whether Western countries with predominantly European-ancestry populations were to not only welcome but also integrate new types of immigrants, or whether by even such minor means as regulating dress they might make immigrants feel unwelcome and unaccepted.
Two Quebec Charters of Values
On September 10, 2013, the PQ released Bill 60, its controversial proposed “Charter of Quebec Values.” Pauline Marois was Premier of Quebec and leader of the PQ, while Bertrand Drainville was the Minister responsible for democratic institutions and citizen participation and formal introducer of the Charter. The Charter was a statement of certain values the PQ considered key to preserving Quebec’s character: these values were laicization [French: laicité], the secular neutrality of the state, and equality of women and men. As Premier Marois stated “In Quebec, equality of all citizens, equality between women and men, [and] separation of church and state, are fundamental values”* (Government of Quebec 2013 November 7). These principles were also to underpin judgement of requests for religious accommodation within Quebec (Assemblee Nationale 2013, preambular par. 1). One exception was made, for symbols and place names that reflected Quebec’s cultural patrimony (Assemblee Nationale 2013, chapter 1, Article 1). In practice, this applied to the Catholic heritage of Quebec and permitted retention of crosses in public buildings and Christian saints’ names of cities or streets.
The Charter stated that anyone either providing or seeking government services was prohibited from covering her or his face, except when working conditions required it (Assemblee Nationale 2013, Chapter III, Articles 6 and 7); this provision was uncontroversial within Quebec. Another provision proved extremely controversial; namely, that no one providing a public service could wear any “ostentatious” [French: ostentatoire] religious clothing or jewelry while at work (Assemblee Nationale 2013, Chapter II, Section II, article 5), such as hijabs (headscarves for female Muslims), turbans (for male Sikhs), and kippas (skullcaps for male Jews). Christians would also be prohibited from wearing large, conspicuous crosses. One minor exception was that public servants could wear inconspicuous religious symbols, such as small, discreet crosses for Christians and Stars of David for Jews (Drainville, Bernard 2013 September, 16). Government departments could require that any private contractors they hired also follow these rules (Assemblee Nationale 2013, Chapter 4, Article 10).
The prohibitions on the wearing of conspicuous religious clothing extended as far as workers in the provincial network of state-subsidized day-care centers (Drainville, Bernard 2013 September, 15). The government was particularly concerned that children’s religions not affect in any way their eligibility to enter nursery schools; that teachers not proselytize in any way; and that nurseries not provide any religious training to children. Children were especially to be educated to respect the religious neutrality of the state and the equality of women and men. Thus, even religiously-based diets, such as kosher (Jewish) or halal (Muslim) food, were forbidden. A major purpose of these rules was to facilitate social cohesion and integration of children into Quebec society regardless of their religious, social or ethnic origins (Assemblee Nationale 2013, Chapter VII, Articles 27-30, 43). Social cohesion and the necessity to “live together” [French: vivre ensemble] were underlying principles of the PQ’s approach to collective life in Quebec (Drainville, Bernard 2013 September, 5).
Bill 60 also offered rules for religious accommodation, such as granting days off for holy days or religious festivities. Decision-makers were to take into account several principles, including that the accommodation must respect the equality of men and women and that it must not compromise the separation of religion and state and the overall secular nature of the state (Assemblee Nationale 2013, Chapter 5, Articles 15, 2 and 15, 4). The government was particularly concerned that recent accommodations had undermined the principle of equality between women and men (Drainville, Bernard 2013 September, 13). Its view was that these accommodations had caused much acrimonious debate—indeed, that there had been a social crisis over reasonable accommodation-- and had sometimes undermined these two fundamental principles of Quebec society. It also argued that past religious accommodations had emphasized differences among citizens instead of uniting them (Drainville, Bernard 2013 September, 3, 8).
On April 7, 2014 the PQ was defeated in a provincial election by the Liberal Party. The proposed Charter thus was no longer under debate. However, in 2015 the Liberals proposed their own substitute Bill 62, which was still under discussion as of November 2016. Its stated purposes were only two; to preserve the state’s religious neutrality and to establish procedures for religious accommodation (National Assembly 2015, Chapter I, Article 1). Like Bill 60, it exempted some place names and symbolic features of Quebec from religious neutrality on the grounds that they reflected Quebec’s cultural heritage (National Assembly 2015, Chapter IV, Article 13). Like Bill 60, it also focused on equality of men and women.
Bill 62 removed some of the more controversial aspects of Bill 60. Public servants were no longer prohibited from wearing religious clothing and symbols. The requirement that people providing and seeking public services not cover their faces was retained (National Assembly 2015, Chapter III, Division II, Article 9). Like Bill 60, Bill 62 also stressed the necessity for education to facilitate integration of all children into Quebec society and to foster social cohesion. Unlike Bill 60, however, Bill 62 specifically protected halal and kosher kitchens (National Assembly 2015, Chapter V, Article 16 ). There was still some public discussion about the requirement that people seeking public services should not cover their faces (Montreal Gazette Editorial Board 2015 June 10), but in general there was much less opposition than to Bill 60.
The Bouchard-Taylor Commission
Bills 60 and 62 were both in part a reaction to an earlier debate within Quebec on the limits to religious accommodation that culminated in the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor Commission (BTC) report, Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008). The commissioners were the French-speaking historian and sociologist, Gérard Bouchard, and the eminent English-speaking philosopher and resident of Montreal, Charles Taylor.
The BTC was set up by the then Liberal government of Quebec after a series of public debates about various judicial or other decisions whose function was to adjudicate requests for accommodation by members of religious minorities: these requests emanated not only from Muslims but also from Jews, Sikhs and others. Much public opposition to these demands was stoked by media reports. One case garnering attention concerned a male Sikh student who wished to wear a kirpan, a ceremonial dagger, in school. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that he could wear the kirpan if it were carefully and fully encased in a protective cloth covering, which would make it difficult for him to use it as a weapon (Legault-Laberge, Raphael Mathieu and Rousseau, Guillaume 2012, 206-7). There was much protest in Quebec against the Court’s judgement, which many saw as interference in Quebec affairs by the “foreign” Canadian judiciary. Another case concerned Muslims inaccurately alleged to have demanded that everyone at a festival celebrating maple syrup season be required to abstain from alcohol. In yet another case, officials at a yeshiva, a school for religious Jewish boys, allegedly asked that a gym across the street frost its windows so that the boys could not see women in gym clothes (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 53). The facts in most of these cases were mis-reported.
After listening to the concerns that many Quebeckers had about requests for religious accommodation Bouchard and Taylor recommended that Quebec adopt a policy of “open secularism” (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 20). Under this policy, the state and its servants would be neutral, but the latter would not be required to demonstrate their neutrality by discarding their religiously-prescribed clothing. Bouchard and Taylor contrasted this with “rigid secularism,” such as they argued was imposed by France’s ban on the wearing of the hijab in schools. Bouchard and Taylor argued that religious accommodation would facilitate integration and social cohesion, rather than excluding those who chose to wear religious symbols from public schools and the public service. They asked “Does not a more rigid secularism risk…fostering community withdrawal rather than integration?” (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 150).
Bouchard and Taylor did, however, recommend that certain officials of the Quebec government holding coercive power not be permitted to wear any religious symbols that might suggest to those under their control that they might hold religious biases; these officials included among other judges, Crown prosecutors, and police. They argued that religious symbols such as the Crucifix hanging in the NA and the prayers that opened meetings of municipal officials should be abolished, as these symbols implied that Catholicism was Quebec’s state religion. They also recommended certain principles to which accommodation practices should conform. Accommodations should not violate gender equality; thus, for example, requests for separate swimming classes for girls and boys in Quebec schools, or boys’ refusal to have women teachers were not granted. Bouchard and Taylor noted that in general, accommodations should not cause undue hardship, infringe on other people’s human rights, or undermine safety and public order (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 150, 20, 85, 63).
Public reaction to the BTC Report suggested that many people were still somewhat uncomfortable with immigrants and the adjustments that Quebec society might have to make to their presence. 40 per cent of Quebeckers polled between May 28 and June 1 2008 believed that Quebec society was endangered by the arrival of non-Christian immigrants, while 51 per cent thought that immigrants should abandon their traditions and customs to become more like the majority of Quebeckers. Sixty-seven per cent opposed moving the crucifix in the NA, and the same percentage opposed permitting female Muslim teachers to wear the hijab in public schools. Fifty-nine per cent thought that crucifixes should be permitted in public school classrooms, while ninety-two per cent thought that Jews and Muslims should better understand the majority’s culture (Jedwab, Jack 2008 June 11). This negative reaction to the Report’s general recommendations for changes to accommodate minority groups may have contributed to the PQ’s decision to try to enact Bill 60. The PQ considered the BTC Report to be a document proposing political correctness, instead of a response to the concerns of the general population about reasonable accommodation (McAndrew, Marie 2009 June 2, 13).
The Rights Debates
The prohibition of the wearing of religious symbols or religiously-required clothing while in the service of the state was the subject of much heated debate in the NA in the autumn of 2013. The Liberals were the chief opposition party to the PQ, with the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ: Coalition for the Future of Quebec) the second opposition group.
All three political parties agreed on the principle of gender equality and on the necessity for state neutrality in the provision of public services to Quebeckers. All also agreed that neither public servants (while at work) nor those seeking public services should cover their faces. The debate focused on whether state neutrality required that public servants not demonstrate their own religious beliefs through their dress or accessories. The PQ considered this to be a violation of state neutrality; neutrality, it argued, should be visible to citizens, not merely invisible or abstract (Assemblee Nationale 2013 November 7, 5456). It considered the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols to be, in and of itself, evidence of a passive or silent proselytism (Drainville, Bernard 2013 September, 16). The Liberals and CAQ argued that the wearing of religious symbols did not imply proselytism, which they agreed was unacceptable (Assemblee Nationale 2013 October 23, 5108, statement by Marc Tanguay).
In effect, the PQ advocated what the BTC called rigid secularism, while the Liberals and the CAQ advocated open secularism. The Liberals referred specifically to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Article 3 (Government of Quebec 1975), as well as to a 1985 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that freedom of religion included the right to openly profess one’s religious beliefs without fear of reprisals (Assemblee Nationale 2013 October 23, 5109, statement by Marc Tanguay), Thus, those who objected to the Charter argued that it did not advance separation of church and state; rather, it discriminated against minority religious groups. However, the CAQ did agree with the BTC recommendation that people in positions of authority should not wear religious symbols (Assemblee Nationale 2013 November 6, 5395, statement by Francois Legault).
The problem was further complicated by the government’s proclamation that the Crucifix would remain hanging in the NA; thousands of other crucifixes already hanging in public buildings would also remain there. The government argued that these were important symbols of Quebec’s “patrimony” [French: patrimoine] or heritage, without defining clearly of what this heritage consisted (Bouchard, Gerard 2013 September 10). This raised the question of whether Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews – or indeed English-speaking Protestants --who lived in Quebec contributed to its heritage. As one commentator put it, it seemed that secularism was for “the others*” (Dubuc, Alain 2013 September 11).
In any event, critics also noted, the “heritage” nature of the NA Crucifix actually was symbolic of the premiership of Maurice Duplessis from 1936 to 1939 and again from 1944 to 1959 (Bottari, Jean 2013 September 11). Duplessis was a dictatorial and corrupt premier famous for his persecution of communists and Jehovah’s Witnesses (Berger, Thomas R. 1982, 127-89), whose long period of rule was known in Quebec as “the great Darkness” (Clement, Dominique 2016, 49). Critics argued that retention of the Crucifix in the NA and other public buildings was hypocritical, given that all other religious symbols were to be banned, suggesting that this was pure opportunism on the part of the government, if not a sign of Islamophobia (Sciortino, Giuseppe 2013 September 14).
The Quebec Commission on Human Rights and the Rights of the Young (QCHR) strongly criticized Bill 60. Relying not only on the UDHR but also on the province’s own 1975 Charter of Human Rights, it argued that everyone had the right to manifest her religion, including via dress, and that such manifestation did not constitute proselytism. While the state had to demonstrate its religious neutrality, its individual employees did not have the same obligation. Moreover, the QCHR argued, there was no evidence that anyone wearing religious dress had ever undermined state religious neutrality; the PQ was relying solely on hypothetical situations. On the other hand, the QCHR noted, prayers in municipal meetings—which the PQ was willing to tolerate—did violate the principle of state neutrality. The QCHR concluded that Bill 60 would constitute the most radical modification of Quebec’s own provincial charter of human rights since its adoption (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse Quebec 2013 October 16, 10-11, 8, 20).
Perhaps one could argue that denial to some Muslim women and girls of the right to wear hijab as public officials, or while seeking or enjoying government services including in schools or hospitals, was justifiable in order to retain Quebec’s collective secular, post-Catholic culture. According to the PQ, the equality of women with men was a paramount collective value in Quebec, superior to religious customs that might imply discrimination against women or their relegation to a secondary status. This raised the question of whether Muslim women freely adopted hijab or whether they were compelled to do so by male family members. The Liberal’s Bill 62 side-stepped this debate: it did not prevent public servants or those seeking or enjoying public services from wearing religious symbols, merely stating that public servants should not discriminate in favor of or against anyone on the basis of her or his religion.
In the NA debate on Bill 60, both opposition parties argued that if equality of men and women was a fundamental principle of Quebec society, then it was discriminatory to refuse the opportunity of employment by the state to women who chose to wear religious symbols (Assemblee Nationale 2013 November 7, 5455, statement by Jean-Marc Fournier). In a province of eight million people, 600,000 jobs, 20 per cent of all those in the province (Bouchard, Gerard 2015, 127) were covered by the PQ’s Charter (Assemblee Nationale 2013 October 23, 5109, statement by Marc Tanguay). The QCHR agreed that in so far as it would apply mainly to (some) Muslim women, prohibition of the wearing of religious symbols would undermine women’s equal right to work; women, it argued, should not have to choose between their employment and their religion (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse Quebec 2013 October 16, 10).
Aside from the different views of the political parties, an intra-feminist debate also occurred within Quebec, some feminists arguing for complete secularism as a means to protect women’s equality and others arguing that women who enjoyed equality should be permitted to make autonomous individual decisions about whether to wear hijab. Janette Bertrand, a writer, published an editorial co-signed by 20 other women, among whom (according to their names and biographical descriptions) five seemed to have Muslim backgrounds or come from Muslim-majority countries. She argued, “Right now, it seems to me that the principle of equality between the sexes is being compromised in the name of freedom of religion…I would like you to remember that men have always, and even now, used religion for the purpose of dominating women, putting them in their place, that is, beneath them [men]”*(Bertrand, Janette 2013 October 15). A group of women calling themselves the Janettes agreed with Bertrand. Nadia Alexan, a retired professor of Egyptian origin, argued that the spread of politicized Salafist Islam from Saudi Arabia was undermining the gains that had been made by Muslim women. Calling the veil (hijab) a “symbol of submission to the patriarchy,*” she argued that to wear the veil was indeed to proselytize, to promote “the barbarism of excision…of forced marriage of nine-year-old girls, of stoning, of polygamy, of fatwas, [and] interdiction of freedom of expression*” (Alexan, Nadia 2013 October 5). Another Janette argued that while some women wore hijab voluntarily, they had nevertheless been inculcated since birth to believe that the sexes were unequal; it was important for the state, therefore, to send a message to these women that it was legitimate to remove religious signs that symbolized unequal relations between males and females (Lortie, Marie-Claude 2013 October 16).
On the other side of this debate, the Quebec branch of Amnesty International argued that if women were being coerced into wearing religious garb, then the persons coercing them should be punished, not the women themselves. Furthermore, the ban on religious garb would undermine some minority women’s right to employment, risking further social stigmatization and isolation (Amnesty International Canada 2013 September 20). Three female religious leaders, one Christian, one Muslim, and one Jewish, used the 1960s slogan of women’s right to control their own body, arguing that this gave Muslim women the right to decide whether to wear hijab just as it gave non-Muslim women the right to decide to wear mini-skirts (Rollert, Diane, Ashraf, Shaheen et al. 2013 November 7). The state, such critics argued, should not take a paternalist position, trying to emancipate women by prohibiting conspicuous religious head-coverings (Chambers, Gretta and others, 21 2013 October 16). Others argued that if the government were really interested in promoting the status of women, it would invest more in day care centers and other pro-family social services (Breton, Brigitte 2013 October 19).
Quebec has a fairly recent history of extricating itself from social domination by the Catholic Church. Following the Great Darkness, the 1960s were the period of the “Quiet Revolution,” when many institutions such as schools and hospitals that the Church had controlled were secularized. The 1960s was also the decade that saw the rise of feminism among Quebec women. In 2013, many older Quebec women still remembered the Catholic norms that had stifled their and their elders’ lives. Prohibitions on birth control and abortion had condemned millions of women to multiple pregnancies, often endangering their health as well as undermining personal autonomy. Some of these older women viewed the Charter of Values as a means to defend women from the stifling effects of other religions, especially Islam (Petrowski, Natalie 2013 October 16).
Opponents of the Charter argued that there were already laws in Canada to protect Muslim and other women from coercive pressures to wear religiously-mandated garb. The BTC had earlier warned Quebeckers not to extrapolate from the Catholic Church’s treatment of women to the treatment of women under Islam or Orthodox Judaism. It was for those women to emancipate themselves, should they so wish, rather than for the state to liberate them. Muslim girls wearing hijab, Bouchard and Taylor argued, should not be prevented from attending secular public schools, the very purpose of which was to integrate everyone into the wider society. Nor should Muslim women teachers be required to demonstrate support of educational neutrality by discarding their hijabs. However, Bouchard and Taylor did think it reasonable that Muslim women teachers not wear full-body burkas or face-covering niqabs, which would impede communication between teacher and students (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 150). As noted above, there was little or no controversy in Quebec over this provision.
The debate in Quebec was part of a wider international debate among both Muslim and non-Muslim feminists about whether Muslim women wearing hijab were acquiescing to patriarchal religious norms or whether they were adopting religious dress of their own free will (Hirschman, Nancy 1997). Many Muslim women living in Western liberal states such as Canada and France freely adopted religious dress as an affirmation of identity against the wider secular society (Freedman, Jane 2004, 8) (Barbieri, William 1999) (Hoodfar, Homa 1993, 15). Another aspect of the debate was whether, if Muslim women were acquiescing to patriarchal religious norms, it was the obligation of the wider secular society to liberate them from those norms, assuming that the law already protected them from physical coercion. In general, the debate was about “what, if anything, was appropriate public policy for women who seemed to voluntarily subordinate themselves to men” (Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. 2011, 441).
Minority vs. Collective Rights
The debate on the Charter of Values also raised the question of minority versus collective rights. Premier Marois and Minister Drainville both argued that the collectivity—the Quebec people— had rights that could over-ride minority rights in some instances. This explained why the PQ did not take the BTC’s advice to remove the Crucifix from the NA or to prohibit Christian prayers at municipal meetings. The PQ argued that Quebeckers had the right to preserve their collective national heritage. Catholicism was a significant part of that heritage, despite Quebec’s rejection of the formal power of the Catholic Church after the Quiet Revolution, and despite the historic and contemporary existence in Quebec of non-Catholic religious minorities who, the PQ agreed, also constituted part of the Quebec collectivity. In the PQ’s view, the values it sought to protect were integral to Quebec’s identity, and it was the state’s duty to reflect and protect the values of the society as a whole. Prohibition of civil servants’ wearing of religious symbols was necessary to preserve the secular, post-Catholic collective character of Quebec society, and was a relatively minor violation of freedom of religion, if indeed it constituted such a violation at all.
The PQ also invoked the right of the community to a certain level of social integration or cohesion which, it argued, would be furthered by the prohibition on civil servants’ manifesting their religious affiliations in the workplace. “The charter of values,” asserted Minister Drainville, “will be a source of harmony and cohesion for Quebec,*” (Government of Quebec 2013 November 7). Results of a poll conducted in Quebec in September 2013 showed that 72 per cent of those who spoke French at home strongly agreed that Quebec culture needed protection, as opposed to only 13 per cent of non-French-speakers. Among French-speakers, 55 per cent strongly agreed that minorities should do more to fit in, while only 25 per cent of others strongly agreed (Angus Reid Global 2013 September 12, 11, 12).
There was some evidence of a split in opinion between the still relatively-homogeneous “regions” where “old-stock” Quebeckers of French Catholic heritage predominated and there were few immigrants, and the more cosmopolitan cities of Montreal and Quebec City where many minorities and immigrants lived. The split was not severe, however: 73 per cent of respondents to the September 2013 poll who lived outside Montreal and Quebec City supported the prohibitions on public servants’ wearing religious symbols at work, while 69 per cent of respondents living in Quebec City and 63 per cent of respondents living in Montreal also supported it. More obvious was the split between those whose language at home was French and others: 75 per cent of French speakers supported the ban, while only 31 per cent of others did. Age and level of education also influenced the level of support: older and less educated people were more likely to support the ban (Angus Reid Global 2013 September 12, 6).
Many critics of the Charter assumed that anyone who defended it was afraid of “the other;” that is, of residents of Quebec not descended from the original French Catholic settlers. In this interpretation, the PQ’s insistence on protecting Quebec “values” would spur ethnic nationalism among those Quebeckers who were already disturbed by the presence within their society of identifiable minorities never before seen in such large numbers. The Charter appeared to be directed primarily against Montreal (Cardinal, Francois 2013 August 31) and to reflect a fear of cosmopolitanism in Quebec’s more homogeneous regions (Simard, Marc 2013 September 4). This fear was all the more intense because such a high proportion of recent immigrants to Quebec—around 40%--were Muslim (McAndrew, Marie 2009 June 2, 6).
The Quebec Community Groups Network, representing 41 community groups and one million English-speaking Quebeckers, was completely opposed to Bill 60, claiming that it was “yet another attempt by the Parti Québecois government to limit individual rights and freedoms in the interests of a state-defined collective identity.” The Network noted particularly that Muslims comprised six per cent of English-speakers in Quebec as opposed to only 2.6 per cent of French-speakers (Quebec Community Groups Network 2013 November 7). It accused the government of instituting a “we-them mentality,” and especially of pitting “Catholics against non-Christians” (Quebec Community Groups Network 2013 December 20, 7).
The Charter’s opponents believed that the government was claiming that there was a social problem in Quebec when there was none (Bouchard, Gerard 2013 September 10). They asked whether a government should proclaim the “values” of its entire population, as opposed to merely enforcing and legislating laws, including human rights laws (Gagnon, Lysiane 2013 September 7). The QCHR questioned the PQ’s assertion of values over human rights, arguing that the latter ought to have precedence and that a right could not be limited solely because its exercise might offend someone else, or even the majority (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse Quebec 2013 October 16, 4, 9). The eminent human rights lawyer, Julius Grey, argued, “legislative definition of some values as more fundamental than others is a very dangerous exercise…. In what way are these two values [secularism and equality between men and women] more important than freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, or even racial equality?*” (Grey, Julius 2013 November 2).
Living together was one of the PQ’s themes in arguing for the ban on wearing religious symbols (Assemblee Nationale 2013 November 6, 5397). As Minister Drainville said, “We should never lose sight of the collective dimension…We must find our common values, identify that which brings us together, that which unites us so that we are a community, so that we are a society, so that we are a nation. …And that, the cement that unites us, that makes us a people, goes beyond our individual differences, especially religious*” (Assemblee Nationale 2013 October 23, 5112). It was important for citizens to recognize themselves as members of the Quebec community, as Andre Villeneuve, a member of the PQ, argued: “It’s always a question of equilibrium…There’s an equilibrium to be made between individual rights and there’s an equilibrium to be made with collective rights. And in creating this place where people can recognize themselves, and all Quebeckers can recognize themselves…[we will] reinforce people’s individual rights*” (Assemblee Nationale 2013 October 23, 5121).
Opposing this position, Jean-Marc Fournier of the Liberal Party accused the PQ of actually removing some human rights in the name of living together. “The clothing code removes fundamental rights from Quebeckers. With this code the government wants to impose a new model of society that directly forms a rupture with what we’ve known until now. Under the pretext of better living together better, certain people are advised not to come and live with others. The Liberal Party of Quebec has never thought that to protect rights, one must remove rights *” (Assemblee Nationale 2013 November 7, 5454 ). Moreover, as one commentator argued, it would be impossible to “live well together” under a charter that closed the doors to employment in many public agencies to those wearing religious symbols (Breton, Brigitte 2013 August 31). It was estimated that 30 per cent of Quebeckers of North African origin (presumably mostly Muslim) were unemployed, among whom the rate of unemployment was higher for women than men (Kerboua, Nadia 2013 September 14). In general, Muslims in Quebec were less likely to be employed and had lower incomes than Muslims elsewhere in Canada, who in turn were less likely to be employed and had lower incomes than other minority religious groups (Kazemipur, Abdolmohammad 2014, 112-142).
From the point of view of the Charter’s opponents, to live well together was to acknowledge the importance of fundamental human rights documents such as the English Magna Carta of 1215, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and the many international documents that protected human rights in both Canada and Quebec (Paquet, Georges 2013 October 19). These universal values included equality between men and women (Deri, Thomas 2013 September 21), part of a universal, not merely a Quebec, heritage. To call these “Quebec” values, one commentator argued, was “an abusive appropriation of a universal heritage which we share with our Canadian compatriots and the vast majority of citizens of liberal democracies*”(Jacques, Daniel D. 2013 October 23). But many Quebeckers objected to any references to Canadian policies as guides to the policies that their provincial government should adopt, as the next section shows.
Multiculturalism and Interculturalism
Some Quebeckers supported the Charter of Values as a reflection of a republican, rather than a liberal, model of government. The latter, they thought, characterized the rest of Canada with its philosophy of multiculturalism.
Guillaume Rousseau, a law professor from the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, defended the PQ’s policy of laicité, arguing that it reflected the French republican tradition in which the state gives citizens the opportunity to free themselves from their various ethnic or religious communities. The Charter would help individual Quebeckers free themselves from religious and ethnic practices which they believed were oppressive or with which they disagreed. The liberal tradition as found in English Canada, Rousseau maintained, was based on freedom from the state, rather than freedom through the state, the republican way. In this, he agreed with the PQ’s view that it was important for Quebec society to free itself from the last vestiges of religious control of its institutions. Overall, Rousseau maintained, cultural convergence was the best option for Quebec, promoting “a French culture that evolves constantly, notably with inputs from immigrants’ cultures of origin that are compatible with the fundamentals of French Quebec culture” (Rousseau, Guillaume 2014 March 14, 7).
By contrast, as noted above, Bouchard and Taylor had argued that the republican tradition represented what they called “rigid secularism.” They supported laicization, which they defined as “the process by which the State asserts its independence in relation to religion,” but viewed secularization as “the erosion of religion’s influence in social mores and the conduct of individual life” (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 135). They saw no need for the state to emancipate its citizens from religion. To do so, they argued, privileged agnostic and atheist citizens over religious citizens, or presumed that non-religious rationalism was a higher value than those rooted in religious tradition (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 137-138). The liberal tradition, Bouchard and Taylor argued, permitted citizens to endorse fundamental principles of morality stemming just as much from religious as from non-religious principles. Thus, it was not the duty of a liberal state to emancipate women from the constraints of their religions. Women should not be forced against their will to adopt the values of equality and autonomy consistent with the national framework of human rights, if they preferred to accept all or some of the strictures of their religion.
For many who favored the republican tradition, the Quebec policy of “interculturalism” was superior to the Canadian policy of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism appeared to imply a kind of silo effect, or even ghettoization, in which different cultures existed side-by-side without interaction or integration (Duval, Xavier Barsalou 2013 October 1). It appeared, especially, to privilege minorities’ freedom of religion over the collective rights of the majority, thus “far from rendering citizens equal, [it] has given some [citizens] permission to be more equal than others*” (Morgan, Caroline 2013 September 25). As a former PQ premier of Quebec, Bernard Landry, argued “when you change your country, you change your country….Quebec is not and should not be multicultural. Multiculturalism is a perverse doctrine that Ottawa has rudely imposed on us.*”(Landry, Bernard 2013 November 3).
By contrast to multiculturalism, Quebec’s model was one of cultural convergence (McAndrew, Marie 2016 forthcoming, 8 (ms)). According to the PQ, Quebec was multiethnic but was not and should not become multicultural. It was imperative to integrate Quebec’s various ethnic and religious minorities into a cohesive, French-speaking culture, respecting both individual rights and the collective values of Quebec (Drainville, Bernard 2013 September, 10). Quebec was defined as “a nation with a French character, where French culture represents a focus of convergence for minority cultures, but where the legitimacy of these cultures is confirmed.” Immigrants were expected to respect several common principles including equality between women and men, a secular state, pluralism and democratic values (Labelle, Micheline 2006, last edited July 2 2015, 4). “In a pluralist society,” argued one professor of philosophy, “the affirmation of common values is essential to affirm collective identity, assure cohesion and solidarity among its members, and provide benchmarks to guide the collectivity’s choice, now and in the future… Our common values can be at the same time universal and Québecois*” (Lapierre, Marilyse 2013 August 28).
This concern with creation of a collectivity reflected the fragility of French-speaking Quebeckers’ identity in an English-speaking continent. Until the Quiet Revolution, English-speakers had dominated Quebec’s economy and French-speakers were often obliged to speak English at work. Only with the introduction of Bill 101 in 1977, mandating that the children of immigrants to the province from outside Canada attend French schools, did it appear that the language would be saved from extinction. Thus, invocation of only universal values—reflecting a liberal, and predominantly English-speaking, Western tradition—was seen as insufficient to ensure the coherence of the Quebec community. Many Quebeckers also thought that multiculturalism was meant to subsume French-speakers as just another minority within Canada, rather than recognizing Quebec’s distinct historical status (Kymlicka, Will 1995, 17) (Waddington, David I., Maxwell, Bruce et al. 2012, 3 (ms)).
The common perception in Quebec that Canadian-style multiculturalism produces various cultures living in silos separate from one another is far from what actually exists. Although Canada’s 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects multiculturalism (Government of Canada 1982, Article 27), and Canada also has an official multiculturalism policy (Government of Canada 1985), Canadian “multi”-culturalism is underpinned by a unifying small-l liberal culture (Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. 1999, 532) (Kymlicka, Will 2007). Under this liberal multicultural tradition, a multiplicity of religions is accepted, as is the wearing of religious symbols. Far from believing that governments ought to help citizens to free themselves from their religious or ethnic affiliation, as in the republican tradition, the liberal tradition acknowledges that there can be advantages to membership in religious and ethnic groups; in that sense, it encourages religious and cultural diversity. Many individuals feel a need to belong to groups of people with similar beliefs, customs, or languages. Muslims in the rest of Canada, like those in Quebec, benefit from this small-l liberal culture.
Nevertheless, actual practice all over Canada, in Quebec and elsewhere, more closely resembles what the BTC called interculturalism than official multiculturalism. Interculturalism was an evolving policy in Quebec, not clearly defined, but which Bouchard and Taylor believed the Quebec government should specify, themselves defining interculturalism as follows:
[I]nterculturalism seeks to reconcile enthnocultural diversity with the continuity of the French-speaking core and the preservation of the social link. It thus affords security to Quebeckers of French-Canadian origin and to ethnocultural minorities and protects the rights of all in keeping with the liberal tradition…[It] proposes a way of promoting ethnocultural relations characterized by interaction in a spirit of respect for differences (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 19, 118).
Put simply, interculturalism means voluntary, un-coerced integration of immigrants into the dominant culture: it is voluntary assimilation. Many, if not most, immigrants in Quebec and Canada assimilate in this fashion. Such assimilation is a natural social process during which migrants and their children increasingly adopt the customs and social mores of the larger society in which they live. In contemporary society, individuals have many identities. Religious symbols are one means of showing one’s belonging to particular groups or communities, thus “an affirmation …of the rapport they have established with others*,” but they are certainly not the only means, and do not preclude identification on other grounds with other, non-religious groups (Genest, Serge 2013 September 11). Nevertheless, some in Quebec believed that there was a moral onus on immigrants to integrate into the larger society (Iacovino, Raffaele 2015, 46), while in the rest of Canada such integration was merely a matter of choice.
Liberalism, Minority Rights and Collective Rights
It might seem that the debate over Quebec’s Charter of Values was a straightforward one posing ethnic against civic nationalism; many supporters of the Charter were indeed ethnic nationalists (McAndrew, Marie 2016 forthcoming, 14 (ms)). Perhaps the PQ, or some of its supporters, could not accept that relative “strangers” in their society were actually members of the Quebec nation. Perhaps, indeed, the PQ was playing to a “nationalism of resentment*” among some French-speaking Quebeckers who were fearful of the new minorities in their midst (Seymour, Michel 2013 August 28). Thus, the Charter of values was an important part of the PQ’s attempt to forge Quebec’s distinct collective identity as opposed to its perceived status as an “unrecognized minority nation” within Canada (Iacovino, Raffaele 2015, 41).On the other hand, perhaps the PQ also wanted to strengthen minority groups’ membership in Quebec society by providing them with the tools to enter the secular world of freedom of choice in matters both of religion and gendered behavior.
By contrast to the PQ’s willingness to undermine the human right to manifest one’s religion as a concession to Quebec’s dominant culture, Bouchard and Taylor argued that “In order to recognize the equal value of all citizens, the State must be able, in principle, to justify to each citizen each of the decisions that it makes, which it cannot do if it favours a specific conception of the world and of good” (Bouchard, Gerard and Taylor, Charles 2008, 136). But the PQ did favor a specific conception of the good, in which freedom of religious expression was to give way to the state’s requirement for rigid secularism and equality of women with men.
Even so, Bouchard and Taylor themselves recommended some minor limitations on manifestation of religious beliefs. They recommended that citizens providing or seeking government services do so with uncovered faces, thus constraining the freedom to manifest their religion of the very few Muslim women in Quebec who wore the niqab or burqa. This recommendation was supported by widespread public opinion, even among those who otherwise opposed the PQ Charter of Values. As noted above, Bouchard and Taylor also recommended that individuals who occupied positions in which they exercised coercive power over other citizens should not wear any religious symbols whatsoever, so as to provide an image of complete neutrality. Some would argue that these constraints were permissible. On the other hand, if the requirement not to wear any religious symbols were also extended to members of juries, as Bouchard later suggested (Bouchard, Gerard 2015, 123), it might be considered a major prohibition on the right to manifest one’s religion and one which might not withstand the scrutiny of the law.
Several years after writing the BTC Report, Bouchard modified his views on religious accommodation, arguing that the majority culture in Quebec ought to have collective rights; “a society,” he argued, “does not have to repudiate its history in the name of pluralism.” One right was to a common patrimony, which would contribute to creation of a collective memory and sense of belonging, incorporating not only French-speaking Canadians of European Catholic heritage but also other groups in Quebec. Bouchard proposed that certain religious symbols such as non-religious Christmas decorations and the cross on the Quebec flag had by 2015 entered “the broader sphere of civic life,” and should remain as symbols of the wider Quebec culture. He also favored “cultural interventionism,” which would permit the state to devote resources to protection of Quebec’s founding French Catholic culture by, for example, devoting funds to maintenance of Catholic churches. Thus, he conceded that there was some value to collective cultural rights, as the PQ had advocated. He did not agree with the PQ, however, that retention of the Crucifix in the NA or retention of Christian prayers in municipal meetings were appropriate manifestations of Quebec’s cultural heritage, as they were too explicitly tied to Roman Catholicism (Bouchard, Gerard 2015, 107-12, 131-133).
Despite the claim that Quebec’s republicanism differed radically from Canadian liberalism, Quebec was a predominantly liberal society, with liberal, individualist values inscribed in its own provincial charter of rights. The debate within Quebec was about how far liberalism should go. Should agents of the state show by their apparel, and only in so far as they were representing that state, that they were adherents of particular religions? Would such apparel undermine others’ perception of the state as religiously neutral? Would it, moreover, undermine the perception that the state supported absolute gender equality?
The PQ argued that religious apparel would indeed undermine both the neutrality of the state and gender equality. By contrast, the successor Liberal government did not worry that religious dress would undermine these two principles. It saw no need for the restrictions that the PQ wished to impose on some members of some minority religious groups, except for the provision that people providing or seeking government services should not cover their faces. There was no incompatibility between the rights of members of minority religions and the rights of the collective; both could be accommodated. In the Liberal’s view, the right to manifest one’s religion through the wearing of religious signs was compatible with all other human rights, in particular the right to employment, especially for Muslim women.
At the same time, both the PQ and the Liberal governments agreed that the collective group, Quebeckers, had the right to enjoy its own culture. Just as the wearing of religious symbols was not necessarily a sign of proselytism, so retention of Catholic symbols as a form of cultural heritage did not mean that the government of Québec considered those of French Catholic heritage to be superior citizens. Nor did it imply discrimination against minority groups with different heritages. In societies in which the state respects the private cultural and religious identities of its citizens, secularism does not mean that all references to religion must be removed from the public sphere. Rather, it means that official proselytism—either by individual citizens in their capacity as employees of the state or by the state itself—is forbidden, as is official discrimination against any religion. The state is not permitted to constrain the freedom of religion of citizens who are members of a minority when those constraints serve no human rights purpose, merely serving to suggest to minority citizens that they are not as worthy of the state’s concern and respect as members of the majority collective.
This is a question of enormous international importance, if a relatively minor one in Canada. Assuming that the wearing of hijab does indeed reflect Muslim women’s subordination to men, how far should a liberal regime go to protect non-liberal values and ideas? The competing answers to these questions can and do affect the national security of liberal states, as seen in recent years not only in France and Belgium but also in Canada itself. In 2014, two young men who described themselves as converts to Islam committed two murders in two separate shootings. In one case, the attacker managed to enter the Parliament building in Ottawa and came dangerously close to shooting many members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister, before he himself was killed. Moreover, there were several reports of young Quebeckers having been radicalized and having travelled to the Middle East to fight for various Islamist groups.
Perhaps there is a long-term threat to the very existence of liberalism if it protects minorities that appear to reject its fundamental precepts. This may have been part of the PQ’s reasoning in prohibiting in the public service apparel that identified the wearer’s religion. Perhaps neither religion nor culture is a mere private matter, easily tolerated within a liberal framework. In some circumstances, it seems—or in some individuals’ belief systems—religion and/or culture are all-encompassing worldviews that require the modification, if not destruction, of liberal social values and a liberal polity. If Quebec’s underlying principles of secularism and gender equality are threatened by some citizens’ adherence to anti-liberal worldviews, then the PQ’s insistence on rigid state neutrality might be seen as a liberal counter-offensive against such views, not merely an assertion of (perhaps outmoded) collective values. But if such rigid neutrality makes members of minority groups feel unwanted in their own society, then it might have an effect contrary to the one intended.
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