Quebec Religious Symbols Ban
What is Bill 21? (Rofra)
Different things come to mind when one talks or comes across Bill 21. There are specific things behind it, that certain individuals are so ignorant about. Bill 21 is a bill that unfairly targets persons who are already on the fringes of society. In June 2019, Bill 21 was approved, prohibiting teachers and other government employees in positions of power from wearing religious symbols like hijabs, kippahs, and turbans. Bill 21, commonly known as lacité or Quebec’s secularism bill, prevents public servants in Quebec from wearing religious symbols while performing their civic obligations. Religious insignia such as the Jewish kippah, Sikh dastar, and Muslim hijab is prohibited in public educational, government, and law enforcement venues under Bill 21.
Bill 21 consists of Four principles
The religious neutrality of the state
Holds that governments must stay neutral on religious or theological issues, i.e., they must not favor or disfavor any specific belief. In reality, this means that instructing citizens on what constitutes the appropriate religion is prohibited.
The separation of religion and state
Individuals freely live their faith in private and public, without the fear of government coercion
The equality of all citizens
Everyone is equal before the law and is also entitled to the equal protection of the law without discrimination
Freedom of conscience and religion
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Bill 21 Entailment
It aims to give state neutrality a higher priority by altering the Quebec Charter of Protections and Freedoms’ religious freedom rights (a provincial mandate under the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms). The Quebec government was able to enact Bill 21 by using section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, popularly known as the “notwithstanding clause.” The bill forbids the wearing of religious insignia in public places, whether by civil servants or by those who receive services from such places.
Bill 21 aims to change the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a quasi-constitutional provincial statute that must be followed by all Quebec laws and is only second in importance to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Even though the Quebec Charter provides religious freedom, it will now include a proclamation asserting the “fundamental importance” of state secularism in its preamble. Quebec’s Bill 21 misapplies religious neutrality principles. One may be forgiven for thinking that Bill 21’s principal goal is to promote the state’s religious neutrality obligation. These phrases appear seven times in the bill, and the title refers to the French concept of laicity, or the idea that the exercise of political power should be apart from religious ideology.
Despite its stated support for religious neutrality, Bill 21’s prohibition on religious symbols is fundamentally incompatible with how this constitutional objective is recognized in Canadian law. Bill 21 limits their access and participation in civil roles. Limiting one’s opportunities and occupation solely on the basis of religious attire is a breach of one’s religious freedom in a democratic country. Furthermore, limiting citizens who wear visible markers of their faith from working in the public sector prevents diversity in the workplace.
Bill 21 Target and effects
Bill 21 targets and has a great effect on racial and religious minorities
Because it is a kind of structural violence, this bill impacts all Canadian residents, even if it is legislated for the province of Quebec. It restricts the opportunities of persons in certain target groups while expanding the prospects of others.
History of Secularism in Quebec (Barnita)
Prior to the quiet revolution in the 1960s, Quebec faced years of subordination as the French minority within English dominated Canada. This included matters such as great discrepancies in the labor market, poor representation in the federal bureaucracy, and the absence of French language services. The Catholic Church played a significant role in this reality as it continued to control education, health services and social welfare for francophones, even despite a largely industrialized society. Although church and state were meant to be legally separate, it was found that it still had considerable influence on both state decisions and the overall social life, ultimately promoting Anglophone dominance through its conservative, undemocratic, and elitist practices. This stunted the development and modernization of Francophones and prevented them from competing with the Anglophone minority, who comprised the industrial, commercial, and financial elite of Quebec.
Following years of discontent with the state of affairs, the Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s advanced the interests of Francophones in the economic, social, and political realm. Crucial to this process of modernizing the francophone population was lessening the power of the Church. As the Francophones gained control of their own education, health care, and public welfare, they found that they had been ill prepared to fully partake in economic life and meet the needs of modern society under the authority of the church. The development of these sectors led to rapid secularization as the Catholic Church quickly became excluded from its previous functions and Quebec adopted a secular philosophy of self-determination, modernization, and preservation of national identity and enhancement of Quebec culture. This also gave rise to a nationalist sentiment as the Francophones felt that the Federal government was to blame for the years of maltreatment in which their culture and language were threatened. With that being so, they intend to establish linguistic, cultural, and social cohesion within the province to ensure continuity and preservation.
Quebec Charter of Values and Reasonable Accommodation (Ariana)
The Quebec Charter of Values, also known as Bill 60, was adopted in 2013 by the ruling Parti Québécois, led by Premier Pauline Marois, in an attempt to legalize the Quebec dispute over reasonable accommodation. This was taken on by the Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship in the PQ administration, Bernard Drainville. Pauline Marois, tried to use the Constitution of Canada’s notwithstanding clause to force the Charter’s passage in 2013. This charter was in fact a big topic of discussion in Quebec but also worldwide since it advocated prohibiting public employees from wearing or exhibiting visible religious insignia.
The proposal had many provisions, such as:
“Amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
Establish a duty of neutrality and reserve for all state personnel (including state-funded education and health care workers).
Limit the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols for said personnel.
Make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service.
Establish an implementation policy for state organizations.”
Why didn’t Bill 60 go through?
The Premier of Quebec Pauline Marois, had a minority administration so he tried to call an early election in order to get a bigger vote of confidence. However, it did not work and in the 2014 election, the Parti Québécois lost and the liberal government won. Causing Bill 60 to die since the liberals opposed the bill although party leader Philippe Couillard promised during the campaign to propose a less stringent set of regulations on the topic of reasonable accommodation.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a change made to a system in order to accommodate or make a system more equitable for an individual with a demonstrated need. It is possible that this requirement changes. Religious, physical, mental, or emotional accommodations, as well as academic and occupational accommodations, are frequently required by law. Each country’s system of reasonable accommodations is different.
In Canada, equality rights, as outlined in provincial and federal anti-discrimination legislation and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, demand that minorities be accommodated. Also included is “family status,” which is a new inclusion. (The origin of the term “reasonable accommodation” in Canadian law can be found in the country’s labor law jurisprudence, specifically Ontario (Human Rights Commission), and is argued to be the obligation of employers to change some general rules for certain employees if it does not cause “undue hardship.”)
Summary of the Bouchard-Taylor Report (Barnita)
The Bouchard-Taylor Commission was appointed by Premier Jean Charest in 2007 to investigate and review interculturalism, immigration, and secularism in Quebec in response to rising discontent, anxiety, and controversies regarding the practices of accommodation for cultural and religious diversity. There were widespread fears that these practices were threatening the French-Canadian identity and that the pure laine Quebec culture needed to be reasserted. Premiere Charest was looking to defuse this uproar by initiating this public inquiry that would consider the scope and limits of reasonable accommodation practices and provide insight on what could be done to satisfy the conflicting perspectives and identities.
The Bouchard-Taylor Report found that this negative perception of reasonable accommodation practices and so called “crisis” was widely a result of misinformation and exaggeration, mainly of which was supplemented by the media and certain politicians. This false notion that the province had gone too far in accepting minority cultures and practices resurrected the same fears that defined the Quiet Revolution; that the French-Canadian identity would eventually disappear as the Francophone minority assimilated into the Anglophone majority of Canada. The Report found that being a minority within Canada and having unpleasant memories of when the Church practiced excessive powers has led to an overwhelming sense of insecurity that has manifested in lesser empathy for minority groups. Despite that being so, the report finds that those fears are not necessarily justified as immigrants are typically integrating well, and that Quebecers of French-Canadian origin must consider the repercussions of their anxieties on minority groups. It then further clarifies that the practices of accommodation practices are not unique privileges, does not undermine the rights of others, as well as is not only limited to cultural communities but includes other groups such as those with disabilities. The report also acknowledges interculturalism and secularism as underlying themes of the debate and identifies a root cause of the issue being that there is lots of ambiguity regarding the definition of secularism. It thus proposed a white paper be established for both secularism and interculturalism in which policy and programs are clearly defined. In negotiating cultural identity between majority and minority populations, Bouchard and Taylor seek to find a way in which delivery can be maintained without sacrificing social cohesion and solidarity or marginalizing a minority population. They hold that interculturalism is the most appropriate solution for Quebec as it promotes both ethno-cultural diversity while preserving the French language and core social values; it is a middle ground between a melting pot and mosaic. They also state that Quebec should not practice restrictive secularism, but open secularism which promotes the moral equality of persons, and freedom of conscience and religion, through defining institutional structures where there is a separation of church and state, and state neutrality is respect to religious and deep-seated secular convictions. They further emphasize the importance of overcoming obstacles such as underemployment, poverty, inequality, discrimination, and French-Speaking Quebec’s anxiety of “inevitable disappearance”.
Controversies of the Bill (Nabila)
Integration and Intercultural Relations: Must it be the Cost of Obtaining Secularism?
Secularism is an essential component of any liberal democracy, including Québec. It can be demonstrated and seen in various forms depending on the system it resides in. However, at the core of all of these systems, secularism is supposed to have a similar nature of balance between the moral equality of persons, freedom of conscience and religion, the separation of Church and State, and State neutrality in respect of religious and deep-seated secular convictions. This particular component is considered essential to protect freedom of the people whilst maintaining a sense of harmony among all citizens and their beliefs. It is also considered to be indispensable in ensuring that one’s religious values, beliefs and practices do not obstruct another being’s independence, lifestyle and beliefs in any way, shape, or form. Generally, when it comes to integration and intercultural relations religious beliefs and practices play a big part in the matter. The State cannot expect to fully achieve integration of the people residing there while sanctioning restrictions that would place them in a situation where they cannot openly express their non-offensive and unharmful beliefs and values. This kind of restrictive secularism hinders the integration process and impedes the natural rhythm in building interpersonal relationships among the people of that State.
Anxiety about Intercultural Relations: Threat to An Individual’s Identity?
Religious symbols and practices are not just something that an individual holds intrinsically, but also a part of their identity, and culture. It is almost like a language that they speak to connect and bond with other people. Although often times misconceptions regarding this issue leads to anxiety and fear of the unknown among some people, it is actually an essential unifying element. The exchanges between citizens from diversified society lead to learning more about different cultures and religions and becoming more accepting of the differences. It furthers the incentive to build more intercultural relations, which is the core of open secularism. Banning religious symbols could lead to people having distorted opinions on individuals of that religious background.
Such restrictive secularism suppresses the differences that exist within communities with different religions. This does not help in finding more common values and building harmony among the diversified communities, but rather it confines the diversity to what the majority is familiar with. Open secularism emphasizes on finding the common values, beliefs, and practicing that could unify the people. Furthermore, it shows that true freedom for everyone can be achieved by working on understanding, respecting, and accepting individuals for who they are and how they would like to represent their identities and beliefs. In other words, restrictive secularism can cause anxiety and prejudice in the people by building a wall made of fear of the unknown. It also greatly obstructs the process of combating the numerous forms of discrimination, such as – Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
Is It Just a Demonstration of Selective Secularism?
The strongest argument in favor of Bill 21 is that it is for the sake of implementing a perfect secularism. According to this argument, religious symbols can promote the differences between two individuals which could lead to discrimination and/or conflict. Therefore, relatively discrete items carrying religious symbols will be allowed, while more obvious items will not be allowed. However, this bill has a very specific exception to the rule when it comes certain items and customs with an ostensibly religious nature, such as the large crucifix on display in the Quebec National Assembly, and observing Christmas are exempt on the rationale of them reflecting the province’s cultural heritage. This has led many to speculate that it is not just a restrictive secularism that bans religious symbols of all the religions, but rather a very selective secularism that bans certain symbols of some specific religions and allows symbols of a specific one. Which begs us to ask this question – does this bill truly help achieve an impartial stable secular State, or does it just promote more ethnocentric discrimination?
Bill 21 & the Charter; Section 33 (Nabila)
Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, also commonly referred to as the “notwithstanding clause”, prevents a person from bringing an action in court claiming that a law violates fundamental freedoms, legal rights, or equality rights and is therefore invalid. The clause acknowledges that there can be situations where a government will want to pass a law, or maintain an existing law, that disregards Charter-protected rights or freedoms. This clause gives the provincial or federal government the power to pre-emptively protect the laws they want to protect against certain Charter-protected rights or freedoms. The supporters of Section 33 believed that giving elected law-makers control over important issues could prevent the unelected judges from having too much unrestrained power. However, those in opposition feared that the clause could jeopardize the Charter’s purpose of protecting individual rights against the government. Bill 21 is an example of that fear actualized. Although Bill 21 is directly threatening the right and freedom of religion granted to every individual in Canada, it is still protected under Section 33 of the Charter.
How is the bill being implemented? (Rofra)
The legislation was finally passed under closure by limiting debate. It was passed by the Quebec National Assembly on exactly the 16 of June 2019. During the limited debate, the bill received 73 votes in favor from members of the coalition Avenir Quebec and the Parti Quebecois, while 35 members from the other parties being Quebec Solidaire and Quebec Liberal party voted against the bill. It’s been implemented to confirm the province’s secular status as well as to prohibit the wearing of religious symbols. The implementation of this bill has disproportionately impacted people who are already marginalized, disabling them to express themselves and practice their beliefs and religion freely.
In conclusion, the controversial Bill 21, which was approved in June 2019, is Quebec’s secularism bill, known as lacité, that prohibits public officials from wearing religious symbols while executing their civic duties. Bill 21 prohibits religious symbols from being worn in public educational, government, or law enforcement settings. Additionally, there are four principles to this bill ; the religious neutrality of the state, the separation of religion and state, the equality of all citizens, and freedom of conscience and religion. As well, by using section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sometimes known as the “notwithstanding clause,” the Quebec government was able to pass Bill 21. Bill 21 restricts people’s ability to participate in civil responsibilities and restricts their access to those duties. In a democratic democracy, limiting one’s chances and occupation purely on the basis of religious dress, therefore, is a violation of religious freedom. Prior to Bill 21, there was another bill, Bill 60, that was an attempt to make the Quebec disagreement over reasonable accommodation legal. All in all, this bill is important to be understood in the context of secularism in Quebec in order to understand the history behind this act.