Wednesday 18 September 2013


Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values is repulsive

The government of the Province of Quebec in Canada is proposing the creation and the enforcement of a Charter of Values that will prohibit doctors, nurses, bureaucrats, teachers, police officers and other public employees from wearing items of religious symbols or clothing that displays their religious beliefs. This would mean that those men and women in those professions such as male adult Jews could not wear their yarmulke (Jewish skullcap) on their heads, male adult Sikhs could not wear their turbans on their heads, nor could they display kirpans (the ceremonial knives carried by observant Sikhs) hanging from their belts, Muslim women could not wear their hijabs (clothing that covers most of their bodies but not their faces) and Christians could not wear large crucifixes around their necks that are displayed outside their clothing.   

Canadians outside Quebec say they oppose that province’s proposed Charter of Values but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re comfortable with all religious symbols in the public sphere. More than two-thirds of respondents to an Angus-Reid poll released recently would ban kirpans. As many as 68 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec say Sikhs in the public service shouldn’t be allowed to wear kirpans. Further, almost as many would prohibit public servants from wearing burqas (full-body Muslim veils that also covers their faces).

Let me state emphatically that I am against Sikhs wearing kirpans that are larger than an inch or so. They claim it is a requirement and I don’t doubt that but they can wear a one-inch kirpan around their neck like Christians wear small crucifixes around their necks and it won’t conflict with their religious obligations.

Obviously Muslim women wishing to be police officers won’t be wearing their hijabs on the job. That also applies to them being surgeons in the operating rooms. Male Sikhs who serve in police forces in Canada are permitted to wear their turbans if they are not part of a SWAT team. I don’t object to Sikh doctors wearing their turbans. My own doctor is a Sikh and I have never seen him without his turban on. I have great respect for him as a doctor so I am not intimidated or offended because he chooses to wear his turban when we are together in his office. But if he was a surgeon, I would object if he wore it in the operating room. Male Jews wearing their yarmulke on their heads also don’t offend me and I doubt it offends anyone else. If they are surgeons in an operating room, I might have some concerns since their clothing in an operating room must be super clean and not be part of the clothing worn outside the operating room.

I do however object Christians flouting their religion by wearing huge crucifixes outside their clothing. Wearing such large crucifixes is not unlike someone bragging; “Look at me. I’m a Christian.” It is like throwing their religion into the faces of non-Christians.

Premier Marois has positioned her proposed Charter as a bid for laïcité—a commitment to separating church and state in the face of what she characterizes as encroaching religious extremism if it isn’t pursued.

Let me tell you what happened when such commitments are pursued in some other countries. In Europe, right wing Xenophobes (zealots who hate immigrants) harvest votes scapegoating immigrants. In India, the politics of right-wing Hindu zealots insist that minorities in their nation adopt majority mores. Extremist Muslims attack Christians in Egypt. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia recently said, “There are no hijabs in our culture. Why should we adopt alien traditions?”  Obvious, a country such as Russia that condemns gays and lesbians pales when it comes to the rights of its people so it follows that the Russians are not joyful at accepting immigrants

Canada as a nation takes great pride in permitting the many traditions and customs of immigrants coming into our country because their traditions and customs add to the fabric of our cosmopolitan culture. Of course there are foolish people who will complain that immigrants to Canada are imposing their customs and culture on the rest of Canadians but that kind of perception is detrimental to the wellbeing of Canada as a whole and is a foolish way of looking at our immigrants. We have had a long history of peaceful and harmonious relationship with incoming immigrants.

Most non-Quebecois Canadians surveyed oppose the proposed Charter. But there’s some variation between regions: 44 per cent of Albertans like the law, a quarter of them strongly. So do 40 per cent of Ontarians. Almost two-thirds of respondents in Manitoba and Saskatchewan oppose it. Support also varies by age, although not enough to tip the balance in Quebec: 56 per cent of people aged 18-34 like the law, compared to 24 per cent of their peers elsewhere in Canada.

The proposed Quebec Charter of Values may be boosting the support of the Parti Québécois in the short term, but the controversial policy could harm the future political fortunes of this sovereignist party. The irony of this is that at present, very few people from of other religions are actually serving as government employees in Quebec. That also goes for teachers, police officers and workers in hospitals.  So why is the premier so anxious to bring into law her proposed Charter of Values?

The various governments of Quebec have always had visions of separating from Canada and being another French nation however their endeavors in doing so have failed. So they try other methods of being singular.

The current Quebec premier’s motive for bringing in this repulsive Charter of Values isn’t fooling anyone. Quebec’s economy is at a standstill. At 54% GDP, Quebec gross debt is the highest in Canada and Premier Marois has hinted that her government may not reach its target of a balanced budget this year. Housing starts are also down. Unemployment has crept up since her political party took power a year ago. She knows that she needs the Quebeckers to turn their thoughts away from her failures and turn them against Jews, Sikhs, and Muslims and yes, even Christians whom she believes flouts their Christianity into the faces of Quebeckers.  By bringing in this offensive legislation is a way of getting the minds of Quebecers off the real problems that Quebec is undergoing and concentrate on make-believe problems conjured up in her mind so that the Quebeckers will extend her and her party’s reign in Quebec. Her belief that the majority of Quebeckers will follow her as if she is the Pied Piper of Hamlin as she tramples over the rights of the minorities is damned stupid. Of course some Quebeckers will follow her because of her proposal for the creation of her Charter of Values but they are just as stupid as she is.

Quebec is in need of more people living in that province. It won’t help if the passing of this repulsive legislation pisses off potential immigrants and they end up moving to other provinces. What is the signal that Quebec’s premier is giving to potential immigrants who have their eyes on Quebec? “You are welcome to live in our province but you will be expected to set aside some of your customs.” It behooves the Quebec government to welcome immigrants into its province by not restricting their customs that they bring with them. From an economic point of view, it makes a lot of sense to drop the proposal brought forth by the premier of Quebec.  Other provinces in Canada are able to manage diversity in a positive manner unobtrusively and as such, they attract foreign investments as well as immigrants. Those provinces don’t force immigrants to change their customs if such customs aren’t detrimental to the province’s best interests.  

Now I would be less than honest if I didn’t point out that I am against judges, prosecutors and jail personnel wearing turbans, ceremonial knives or full-body burqas. The majority of people brought before the courts are neither Sikhs nor Muslims so they might have difficulty relating with people dressed in that fashion. I don’t have a problem of them working as doctors, teachers or social workers as long as their faces are not hidden.

I recently watched a case being argued in the Supreme Court of Canada and one of the justices in the court is Jewish and he wasn’t wearing his yarmulke on his head. When a yarmulke is worn by Jewish men varies from person to person. In Orthodox circles Jewish men usually wear their yarmulke all the time, whether they are attending a religious service or going about their daily lives outside of the synagogue. In Conservative communities men almost always wear their yarmulke during religious services or during formal occasions, such as during a High Holiday dinner or when attending a Bar Mitzvah. In Reform circles, it is equally common for men to wear yarmulke as it is for them not to wear them.

I have this nagging fear that if the Charter of Values is passed into law, what will be next? Will the Quebec legislators bring in a law that prohibits anyone from wearing any and all items of religious symbols or clothing that displays their religious beliefs while they are in public? Will nuns no longer be permitted to wear their habits in public?  Will priests be denied the right to wear their white collars around their necks in public? Will male Sikhs be forbidden to wear their turbans in public? Will Muslim women be forbidden to even wear a scarf over their heads in public? Will clothing and ornamental police be created to measure the sizes of crucifixes, determine what is body covering and what is not and measure the size of Sikh’s kirpans? 

If you think that isn’t going to happen, consider what the Quebec legislators did when they decided to abolish the English language in their province.  When that farce came into effect, many large international companies in Quebec left that province and that cost the Quebec government billions upon billions of dollars. The large corporation, Sun Life moved out in 1977. By 1990 Quebec still had 96 headquarters of the top 500 companies in Canada but by 2011, it only had 75 left.  That Quebec stupidity even forbids stores and restaurants from having English signs in the front of their establishments. Between 1977 and 2006, as many as 200,000 English speaking Quebeckers left Quebec to move into other provinces. In 2011, as many as 50% of English speakers born between 1977 and 2001 have left Quebec. The wound in Quebec continues to drain English-speaking Quebecers from that province. The Anglophone exodus has depleted the province of capital, talent and high-earning taxpayers.

Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec banned Muslim women from receiving government services including hospital care if they were wearing the niquab. This brings to mind the horrible incident in the United States that took place many years ago when a famous doctor who had previously discovered blood plasma that has saved thousands upon thousands of lives and who later was in a car accident, was denied help from a hospital because he was black. He died moments later. Did that fool Charest consider the flack he and his political party would have got if a woman wearing her niqib was denied emergency assistance and then died moments later as a direct result of that foolishness? Guess what. Premier Marois is now reinforcing that stupid rule.

A few months ago, this stupid woman backed the Quebec Soccer Federation’s ridiculous ban on turban-wearing Sikh kids. The decree was reversed after the FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body shot down the trumped-up excuse for safety. Now if Sikh kids were wearing their turbans while playing football, that would be a horse of a different colour but the Sikh kids aren’t that stupid.

This woman is particularly vexed at seeing Muslim women wearing the niquab because she feels that it is a symbol of submission to men and gender inequality. I agree that Muslim women being forced to wear all-body covering is terribly wrong since the real purpose is to keep other men from ogling the women, a practice that is archaic but for the government to punish these women is even more than archaic—it is outright repulsive.

The first thing that came to my mind was that if the Quebec government banned Muslim women from wearing the full-body clothing, the women would be extremely happy because they must be terribly uncomfortable in them in hot weather. The wearing of such clothing isn’t a religious thing; it is a custom in which Muslim men insist that their wives and other womenfolk are never seen in public. Unfortunately, those men are so demanding of their women, if such a ban were to be law, these unfortunate women would never be permitted to leave their homes.

If the Muslim women are permitted to wear their full-body clothing while teaching in school, the students would eventually realize that these women are being subjected to repressive demands by their menfolk. Such feelings are not conducive to recognizing the freedom that other women have in our society.

Premier Marois is hypocritical. She doesn’t want women or men wearying the crucifixes outside their clothing but she doesn’t have any objections of leaving the huge crucifix hanging on the wall behind the speaker's chair in the National Assembly building. 

It wouldn’t matter so much if these unfortunate women were working in a hospital because the patients wouldn’t be in the hospitals as long as a school year.

This ignorant premier also feels that Muslim women wearing the niqab, and Sikh men wearing their turbans and Jewish men wearing their yarmulkes on their heads will frighten the little children in elementary schools. That is why she wants these items to be forbidden in those schools.

She thinks that the children will think of such people wearing these items as the bogyman. Guess what? She is the bogyman.

All the federal political parties except the separatist Bloc Quebecois are against the proposed Charter of Values.

Ottawa is planning to challenge Quebec’s proposed ban on religious symbols in the workplace if it is passed by the Quebec legislators. The federal government in my opinion will win that battle.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will obviously be the bulwark of its challenge. Section 2(a) guarantees that everyone in Canada has the freedom of conscious and religion. Section 24(1) states that anyone whose rights have been denied them, may apply to a court to obtain such remedy that the court deems appropriate and just.

Freedom of religion under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms consists of the freedom to undertake practices and harbour beliefs, having a nexus with religion, in which an individual demonstrates he or she sincerely believes or is sincerely undertaking in order to connect with the divine or as a function of his or her spiritual faith, irrespective of whether a particular practice or belief is required by official religious dogma or is in conformity with the position of religious officials. 

The Quebec government’s own lawyers predicted that the proposed Charter

would be in conflict with the freedom of religion that is in both Charters of Rights and Freedoms in Canada and Quebec.

Besides being an affront to minority groups, this proposed Charter could very well have a profound effect on Quebec’s economy. The proposed Charter if legislated into law will make Quebec even less attractive to live in than it already is. In 1966, Quebec accounted for 28% of Canada’s population. Today it only represents 23% of Canada’s population. Meanwhile the provinces in Western Canada have grown sharply in the last 50 years as many Quebeckers left Quebec to live elsewhere. If people in Quebec begin leaving that province because of its archaic laws, it will lose even more seats in the House of Commons. The current premier is shooting herself in her foot by being hostile to minorities in her province who are mainly immigrants who left their countries in search for more freedom in their lives.

The Supreme Court of Canada dealt with this issue in 2004 when the issue of whether or not Orthodox Jews living in a condominium could set up succahs (temporary huts constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot) in pursuit of their religious beliefs on balconies of their co-owned property. (Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, [2004] 2 S.C.R. 551, 2004 SCC 47)

Five of the justices’ view was that religion typically involves a particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship. In essence, religion is about freely and deeply held personal convictions or beliefs connected to an individual’s spiritual faith and integrally linked to his or her self‑definition and spiritual fulfillment, the practices of which allow individuals to foster a connection with the divine or with the subject or object of that spiritual faith.

The court also said in its ruling;

The State is in no position to be, nor should it become, the arbiter of religious dogma.  Although a court is not qualified to judicially interpret and determine the content of a subjective understanding of a religious requirement, it is qualified to inquire into the sincerity of a claimant’s belief, where sincerity is in fact at issue.  Sincerity of belief simply implies an honesty of belief and the court’s role is to ensure that a presently asserted belief is in good faith, neither fictitious nor capricious, and that it is not an artifice (pretense). Assessment of sincerity is a question of fact that can be based on criteria including the credibility of a claimant’s testimony, as well as an analysis of whether the alleged belief is consistent with his or her other current religious practices.  Since the focus of the inquiry is not on what others view the claimant’s religious obligations as being, but what the claimant views these personal religious “obligations” to be, it is inappropriate to require expert opinions.  It is also inappropriate for courts to rigorously study and focus on the past practices of claimants in order to determine whether their current beliefs are sincerely held.  Because of the vacillating nature of religious belief, a court’s inquiry into sincerity, if anything, should focus not on past practice or past belief but on a person’s belief at the time of the alleged interference with his or her religious freedom.” unquote

The court further said;

“Freedom of religion is triggered when a claimant demonstrates that he or she sincerely believes in a practice or belief that has a nexus with religion.  Once religious freedom is triggered, a court must then ascertain whether there has been non-trivial or non‑insubstantial interference with the exercise of the implicated right so as to constitute an infringement of freedom of religion under the Quebec (or the Canadian) Charter. However, even if the claimant successfully demonstrates non‑trivial interference, religious conduct which would potentially cause harm to or interference with the rights of others would not automatically be protected. The ultimate protection of any particular Charter right must be measured in relation to other rights and with a view to the underlying context in which the apparent conflict arises.” unquote

The real issue that must be raised with respect to Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values is whether or not it is to be enforced to protect its citizens from harm or interference of their rights by those whom the purpose of the Charter is being proposed. 

One is forced to ask this question; “Is it harmful and will it infringe on the rights of all citizens if Catholics wear their crosses on the outside of their clothing in public, that the male Jews wear their yarmulkes on their heads in public, that male Sikhs wear their turbans in public, and that Muslim women wear clothing that covers all of their bodies other than their faces and that men of the cloth wear the religious white collar around their necks while in public and that nuns wear their habits in public?”

They have been doing this for centuries so why should they be ordered to stop doing, what in my opinion is their collective right to wear these items?  

The impugned stipulations in the declaration proposed in the Quebec Charter of Values infringes upon all of Quebec’s citizens and non-citizens alike their rights to their freedom of religion under section 3 of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms and also section 2(a) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Section 3 of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms 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.

In my opinion, when this matter reaches the courts, the judges hearing the case will give the Quebec government about as much sympathy that one gives to a rat caught in a rat trap. Even the government’s lawyers have advised against bringing the Charter of Values into fruition as it will be ruled against by the courts as being unconstitutional.

But why should the premier who is the leader of a minority government pay heed to what her government’s lawyers have to say when her real purpose is to get the majority of Quebec citizens to vote her party into power in the next election with the majority of the votes being directed in favour of her party? Even scores of long-time sovereignist activists and wringing their hands in despair over the potentially irreparable damage this proposed Charter will bring to their cause. The premier’s proposal is a can of worms that even her predecessors wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot barge pole. Her proposal is the last card in her deck that she is hoping will bring her and her party to a victory in the next election.

I am not going to say that this woman is no different than Adolph Hitler, the Nazi dictator of Germany because she is not as bad as that egomaniac was but are her actions re her proposed Charter of Values any real different than the Nuremberg Laws which denied the rights of Jews?  We know how far that evil man went to when it came to the disposition of the Jews in Europe. The trouble with bad laws is that they become worse as time moves on.

She is so naïve to how Canadians feel about our country being a cosmopolitan country, she actually publicly stated that multiculturalism is the root cause of terrorism in the United Kingdom. That is about as dumb that saying all Muslims are the root cause of terrorism in the United Kingdom.

The courts must ask themselves two questions:  (1) Has the purpose of the fundamental right been infringed?  (2) If so, is this infringement legitimate, taking into account democratic values, public order, and the general well‑being? 

The alleged intrusions or deleterious effects on the citizenry by the people listed in the Quebec Charter of Values whose rights will be infringed to peaceful enjoyment of their customs is at best minimal and thus cannot be reasonably considered as imposing valid limits on the exercise of their religious freedom and customs

Whether one can waive a constitutional right like freedom of religion is a question that is not free from doubt.  However, even assuming that an individual can theoretically waive his or her right to freedom of religion, a waiver argument, or an argument analogous to a waiver, it cannot be maintained on the facts of this particular situation in Quebec. 

As I mentioned previously, it requires not merely a balancing of the respective rights of the parties, but a reconciliation of the rights that takes the general interest of the citizens of Quebec into account. The rights asserted by me and many others in this matter must be exercised with proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec. For a government to deny these rights is not in the best interests of the people of Quebec.

A court decision in this matter that favours the rights of everyone in Quebec will be a historical event that will be a giant step forward for the safe-guarding of the religious customs of everyone in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. Such a decision will bring all the people in Quebec and in Canada closer together by recognizing each other’s religious beliefs and customs.

As an aside, the Jews who asked the Supreme Court to sanction their right to build temporary huts on their balconies for the purposes of fulfilling the biblically mandated obligation of dwelling in such small enclosed temporary huts during the annual nine‑day Jewish religious festival of Succot was granted.

The decent Quebecers should stand up for the rights of the Sikhs, the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians whom their premier is so readily prepared to denounce.

When I was young and foolish and indifferent to the plight of others, the Jews were maligned and I did nothing to ease their pain. When the Sikhs and Muslims entered our country as refugees, I turned my mind away from the reasons why they chose Canada as their new home. When the blacks were mistreated, I really didn’t care that much about their problems. Now I am 80 and as a senior I am wondering if the younger people in Canada will ignore me and other seniors in the same manner we did when we ignored the plight of those I spoke of earlier when we too were young and foolish.

UPDATE: April 8, 2014

Pauline Marois, Quebec's premier decided that it would be to her advantage to call an election before the ending of her mandate to govern the province of Quebec. She jumped high into the air in the expectations that the voters would reach out and gently lower her to the ground  where a successful election waited for her and her party.  Unfortunately for her and her party, no hands appeared so gravity took over and she and her party did a free fall to the ground and the impact on her and those in her party was devastating and crushing. Surely it must have been apparent to her that her so-called secular-type Charter of Values that had been her signature initiative repelled more young voters than she could have imagined. Further, what she didn't expect was the turnout of those cranky baby boomers over 55 who voted against her before their biological clocks stop clicking. Hey, Pauline! Don't give up. Surely there is some political hope for you. There has to be some tiny village somewhere in Quebec that is looking for someone  to run for office in their municipal elections. 







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