After the Charter came into force in 1982, Quebec inserted a notwithstanding clause into all its laws; this stopped in 1987, when the Quebec Liberals, having ousted the Parti Québécois, determined the practice should not be continued. However, the most notable use of the notwithstanding clause came in the Quebec language law known as Bill 101 after sections of those laws were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in Ford v. Quebec (A.G.). On December 21, 1988, the National Assembly of Quebec, under Robert Bourassa's Liberal government, employed the "notwithstanding clause" to override freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 2b) as well as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and equality rights of the Quebec Charter, in their Bill 178. This allowed Quebec to continue the restriction against the posting of certain commercial signs in languages other than French. In 1993, after the law was criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Bourassa government had the provincial parliament rewrite the law to conform to the Charter, and the notwithstanding clause was removed.
The charter’s limit on religious symbols would apply to public sector workers from police and prosecutors to teachers and hospital staff. However, it would exempt a host of Catholic symbols, from streets named after saints to the crucifix hanging in Quebec National Assembly and the large cross on Mount Royal in the centre of Montreal.
[August 26, 2013] A new Forum Research poll says 42% of Canadians approve of Quebec’s controversial proposed Charter of Values, which would prohibit public employees in public offices from wearing religious headwear and symbols. ... Forum compiled the poll by looking at responses from 1,189 Canadians 18 years of age and older throughout Canada on Aug. 23. Approval was highest in Quebec, where 58% of citizens support the proposed charter. ...
When respondents across Canada were asked whether they approved or disapproved of such a proposal, less than half, 47%, said they disapproved. Support was highest among Conservative supporters, with nearly 50% in favour, while 39% of New Democrats and only 32% of Liberals said they approve. Next to Quebec, the most supportive province was Ontario, with as many as four in 10 voicing approval.
Each province deals differently with private religious schools. In Ontario the Catholic system continues to be fully publicly funded while other faiths are not. Ontario has several private Jewish, Muslim, and Christian schools all funded through tuition fees. Since the Catholic schools system is entrenched in the constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled that this system is constitutional. However, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that Ontario's system is discriminatory, suggesting that Ontario either fund no faith-based schools, or all of them. In 2002 the government of Mike Harris introduced a controversial program to partially fund all private schools, but this was criticized for undermining the public education system and the program was eliminated after the Liberals won the 2003 provincial election.
In other provinces privately operated religious schools are funded.
The Constitution of Canada does not establish separate school education as a natural or unconditional right available to all. Only Protestants or Roman Catholics, whichever is the minority faith population compared to the other in a community, can consider the establishment of separate school education. The separate school establishment right is not available to citizens of any other faith (such as Orthodox Christians, Jews, Mormons, Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs). In addition, the minority faith must establish that they wish to leave the public school system and create a separate school system.
The proposal will be a difficult sell in Quebec’s national assembly. The third-party Coalition Avenir Québec, whose votes could carry the proposal into law, says that a ban on religious clothing should apply only to those in authority positions. Police officers, judges, prison guards, teachers and others who have a coercive power over rank-and-file citizens should face the restrictions, while daycare workers, nurses, bureaucrats and doctors should be exempt.
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
Business leaders say they are afraid much damage is already being done, especially outside of Canada, where they often try to recruit. “Outside of Quebec, where these companies are trying to attract talent, it is already perceived as a sign of intolerance,” said Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal. Mr. Leblanc stated that the chamber has been advocating for a more open immigration policy. “This charter is in contradiction with everything we’ve been working for,” he said.
Rather than providing for an environment of religious neutrality, the Charter seeks to regulate belief. It says that a non-Muslim woman may wear a headscarf when she is having a bad hair day, but it prohibits an observant Muslim from wearing one at all. It insists that religious Jews in public employment go bare-headed at all times, unlike their non-Jewish colleagues, since the essence of a yarmulke is not its shape but its function.
Indeed, not all “‘overt and conspicuous’ religious symbols” are garments. The “examples” that your government has provided are only a few of the ways that people display their faith. A Chasidic Jew’s beard and payot and a Sikh man’s uncut hair are as significant and conspicuous symbols of their faith as any head covering. Though not explicitly prohibited by the Charter, they are not excluded, either. Will Jewish, Sikh and Muslim public employees be forced to visit the barber to hold onto their jobs?
Even when they are available on Saturday, government services are closed on Sundays. The word “dimanche,” in fact, derives from the Latin dies Dominica – the Lord’s day. School, government and businesses officially close for the Christian holidays of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Monday, but not for Yom Kippur or Eid. Our national holiday is celebrated on 24 June because St-Jean Baptise is the Catholic Patron Saint of the Québécois. Indeed, one cannot walk a block anywhere in any town or city in Québec without encountering a Saint-Louis, Saint-Hubert or Sainte-Catherine. The flag flying over government buildings conspicuously displays both a Christian cross and the fleur-de-lis – a symbol of the Holy Trinity and of the Christian God’s authority, as wielded by the French monarchy and its successors.
To prohibit the display of religious symbols by citizens in public employment while the government of Québec displays them on its letterhead, in the Assemblée nationale, on Sureté de Québec cruisers – the physical embodiment of state power – and our society displays it in its geography and calendar, is not to preserve neutrality but privilege.
On one side, Quebecor tells Quebec that it is about the obligatory neutrality of the state and the safeguarding of individual freedom and the equality between men and women.
On the other side, Quebecor tells English Canada that it is a fight to safeguard basic individual liberties from the overreaching of the government where the Charter is an abomination that negates individual freedom.
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