B’nai Brith Canada has vowed to help defeat Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values in court if necessary, clinic as the backlash against it grows in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
The controversial charter includes a section forbidding public sector employees from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols such as kippas, turbans, hijabs and crosses.
The charter, which states it is intended to “establish by law a duty of religious neutrality and reserve for all state personnel in carrying out their duties,” was released by the Parti Quebecois minority government last week, but must still be tabled as a bill in the National Assembly, then debated and voted on before it can become law.
Unless the document undergoes substantial changes, it may not get that far.
Federal Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said he will instruct the federal Department of Justice to examine the bill’s final draft “and if it violates the constitutional protections to which all Canadians are entitled such as freedom of religion we will defend those rights vigorously.”
“There is no doubt that in its present form the charter is a constitutional breach,” said Anita Bromberg, national director of legal affairs, B’nai Brith Canada. “I have the application for intervenor status ready to file in the event that this goes to court. We have considerable expertise in this area.”
B’nai Brith is monitoring the situation closely and is in ongoing discussions with the highest levels of government.
“Should the charter be passed in its current form B’nai Brith Canada, which has championed human rights for all Canadians, will seek to legally intervene, first and foremost on behalf of the Jewish community, but also to protect the rights of all minority groups in Quebec,” said B’nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant.
Meanwhile, some staff at Jewish General Hospital are engaging in “subtle defiance and resistance” by wearing kippas, Stars of David and crosses to work, according to one social worker who asked to remain anonymous. She said staff felt emboldened by the strong statement issued by the hospital in support of employees’ rights to wear religious symbols.
Reverberations are being felt by politicians across the board.
Maria Mourani, Bloc Québécois MP for Ahunsic, quit the party after she was ejected from the caucus for criticizing the proposed charter.
Lawrence Bergman, Liberal MNA for Montreal’s predominantly Jewish D’Arcy-McGee riding, said he has been inundated with complaints from constituents.
“People are very, very upset,” said Bergman.
Religious leaders, including Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine, have spoken out publicly against the charter. Rick Hiemstra, spokesperson for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, warned that such a law would negatively effect other freedoms.
“Freedoms come as a package,” said Hiemstra. “You can’t limit one freedom without curtailing the interpretation of them all. So there’s a precedent set that limits one freedom and sets a pattern of limiting others; that’s why this matters for all Canadians and not just for those of us who happen to have a religious faith.”
A labour union representing 42,000 civil servants, the Syndicat de la function publique et parapublique du Québec, has thrown its support behind the values charter and 66 per cent of people polled in Quebec also agree with it, according to media reports. However, the Island of Montreal’s Association of Suburban Municipalities has told the media it would opt out if the charter is passed into law.
“Secularism is a good thing but this initiative goes much too far,” Mount Royal Mayor and association spokesperson Philippe Roy was quoted in the Toronto Star.
Other prominent Canadians speaking out against the charter include federal Minister of State for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal; NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair; Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau; Côte-St-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather; Lionel Perez, mayor of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce; Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler and Ontario’s York Centre MPP Monte Kwinter (see page 3).
A protest against the charter was held in Montreal on Saturday organized by the Collectif Québécois Contre l’Islamophobie. It drew thousands, but Jews did not take part as the protest fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.