Ordinary Quebecers speak out at hearings on proposed values charter | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Ordinary Quebecers speak out at hearings on proposed values charter

January 15, 2014 - 2:36 PM

QUEBEC - For at least one speaker at Quebec's hearings into the proposed charter of values on Wednesday, the proposed legislation doesn't go nearly far enough.

For others, Bill 60 is a gross violation of the federal and Quebec charters of rights.

Such radically different views reflect the sharp divisions in Quebec society on the controversial debate and they will no doubt be played out over and over as the process continues over the next few months.

Andrea Richard, a 79-year-old former nun, said she wholeheartedly agrees with the charter, which would forbid public employees from wearing visible religious symbols including hijabs, turbans, kippas and larger-than-average crucifixes.

"But it would be preferable for this charter to go further in its demands, despite the caution that has been shown," Richard said.

"Personally, I'm recommending that all religious accommodations granted up until now be abolished. That's why my brief concentrates on these so-called reasonable accommodations, which I persist in considering unreasonable.

"People who ask for religious accommodations these days are considered fanatics by their own community. By granting them what they are seeking, we are not contributing to the progress of society."

In earlier testimony, the commission heard from Martin Laperriere, who said he believes Bill 60 violates the federal and Quebec charters of rights, which guarantee freedom of religion.

That prompted the cabinet minister responsible for drafting the legislation to state that the values charter actually does more to guarantee freedom of religion.

"I'd say that asserting that the state is religiously neutral protects even more the idea of freedom of religion because ... it guarantees that each religion gets equal respect," said Bernard Drainville.

Laperriere also said he doesn't feel threatened by someone wearing a religious symbol.

"The fact that my butcher is Jewish and wears a Jewish skullcap doesn't cause me any harm," he said. "The fact that a Quebec provincial police officer has a cross on as he gives me a ticket doesn't violate any of my constitutional rights.

"In fact, I'd be more inclined to challenge the ticket in court rather than my police sergeant with the cross. I sincerely believe that the government should act with wisdom and caution in this dossier and that hasn't been the case so far."

Retired university professor Fernand Morin also expressed reservations about the proposal to prohibit government employees from wearing overt religious symbols.

He urged the government to "remain tolerant and cautious and to avoid an approach that is radical and at times simplistic."

The Parti Quebecois government insists it won't back down on the values charter and is ready to make it an election issue if need be.

The plan has fuelled heated debates in the province since it was unveiled last year and some opponents believe the minority PQ could use identity as a wedge issue in an election campaign.

PQ Leader Pauline Marois campaigned during the 2012 election on an emotionally charged pledge to introduce a "Charter of Secularism," notably aimed at restricting Islamic headwear in public institutions.

Critics of Bill 60 say the legislation is unnecessary and infringes on personal freedom. They have also accused the PQ of focusing on identity issues as a way to avoid talking about Quebec's economic situation.

The Quebec government argues the charter would shield the province from what it describes as encroaching fundamentalism and says it would provide protection against gender discrimination.

The hearings began Monday and are expected to last two months. As many as 200 individuals and groups are expected to appear.

Elsewhere on the reasonable-accommodation front Wednesday, the opposition Liberals changed their tune on the wearing of the chador, a cloak that extends over the head but does not cover the face.

The covering, worn by many Iranian women, has created some unease among Liberal ranks in recent months and has created political headaches for party brass.

On Wednesday, the Liberal spokesman on secularism said the party would not support a teacher or daycare worker seeking the right to wear a chador on the job.

Marc Tanguay said such a request "would be unreasonable and would not be accepted" under a Liberal government. For other state employees, it would be case by case, Tanguay said.

The Liberals had initially opposed any ban on religious symbols as long as the face was uncovered.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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