The Quebec government’s proposals for a Charter of Quebec Values appear “on first reflection” to contradict the existing the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says the Anglican bishop of Montreal.
In a message prepared for the October issue of the diocesan newspaper The Montreal Anglican, Bishop Barry Clarke says, “I would hope that the government of Quebec would seriously consider the implications of this Charter that potentially would foster prejudice and racism.”
Proposals for a Charter of Quebec Values that, among other things, would prohibit public employees from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols at work were made public by the Quebec government on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The cabinet minister piloting the issue, Bernard Drainville, said in the Quebec national assembly that if the charter were adopted by the legislature, the wearing of skullcaps, turbans, hijabs and “large” crosses would be prohibited for civil servants while they are on the job. On-the-job proselytizing would also be barred.
Bishop Clarke cites passages from the Quebec, Canadian and United Nations charters of rights, along with passages from Old Testament prophets, the gospels and Anglican liturgy, in setting out his objections to the government bill.
He notes that Bernard Drainville, the Quebec minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, has stated: “The state must be neutral because it must show the same respect for all religions, regardless of their beliefs.”
But, the bishop says, “I am not convinced that this Charter is neutral when people’s rights and freedoms of expression are being denied. As a Christian, my convictions are stirred up as a disciple of Jesus…”
The bishop says that “religion, faith and symbols are ways in which we express our beliefs” and are necessary for people to learn to live in a just and free society, described by Drainville himself as “increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious.”
In his message, Clarke adds: “Ponder, pray and let us, as the People of God, live our faith with generosity, compassion and justice to the question: Who is my neighbour?’…I would hope that the government of Quebec would seriously consider the implications of this Charter that potentially would foster prejudice and racism.”
Harvey Shepherd is editor of The Montreal Anglican, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Montreal.