Ottawa unlikely to send Quebec’s face-covering law to top court

Sensible approach:

Ottawa is unlikely to pre-emptively refer Quebec’s controversial face-covering law to the Supreme Court, where little evidence could be presented on Bill 62’s actual impact on individual Muslim women, federal officials said.

Senior government sources said all options are still on the table, but that Ottawa is likelier to intervene in a coming court challenge than refer the matter to the Supreme Court for an immediate ruling on the law’s constitutionality.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised both of these options over the weekend as he continued to denounce the law that calls on Quebeckers to show their face when giving or receiving services in places such as libraries, university classrooms, daycares and on buses. Critics of the legislation have denounced the fact it affects Muslim women who cover their faces, with Mr. Trudeau stating governments shouldn’t tell women what to wear.

The quickest way to have a formal ruling on the constitutionality of the law would be to refer the matter directly to the Supreme Court. Still, federal officials and experts said a Supreme Court reference would feature more of a theoretical debate among lawyers on the constitutionality of Bill 62 than an actual exploration of the law’s effect on citizens.

“It’s difficult to get to the bottom of a question by looking at it in theory. It’s much better to look at the case in practical terms,” said a senior federal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the government’s current thinking on the file.

Experts said it would be easier to gauge the impact of the law on individuals through the court challenge that is set to be heard by the Quebec Superior Court, where Muslim women will be appearing as witnesses.

“In a reference [to the Supreme Court], you don’t have testimony or evidence on the actual impact on people and any limits to their rights and freedoms,” retired Supreme Court justice Louis LeBel, who is now in private practice, said in an interview. “What you get to look at are legal and intellectual issues and the law’s overall impact on society.”

Supreme Court references have sporadically been used by the federal government over the years to gain clarity on issues such as a province’s right to unilateral secession. The Harper government also relied on the process in 2013 to determine the constitutionality of possible reforms to the Senate.

Daniel Proulx, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Sherbrooke, said sending Quebec’s face-covering law to the Supreme Court would be seen as an affront to the provincial government.

“A reference would be a frontal attack,” he said. “In my view, the federal government will intervene in the court challenge. … It would be less confrontational.”

There has been heated debate across Canada in recent weeks on the federal government’s proper response to Bill 62, which aims to promote “religious neutrality” in Quebec. The NDP and a number of Liberal MPs have said Ottawa should let the debate play out at the provincial level, while others have argued for a strong federal intervention.

Earlier this month, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Association launched a court challenge in Quebec Superior Court, seeking to suspend the application of the section dealing with uncovering one’s face until a full constitutional challenge is heard.

There will be a first hearing on the application for a stay on Friday. A federal observer will be in the room to monitor the process, but federal lawyers will not get involved in the groups’ request to suspend the application of the law, sources said.

A federal official said Ottawa has yet to decide whether to intervene in the challenge, and if it does, at which stage of the process federal lawyers would make their case.

“If you decide to intervene, when do you intervene? Right now? At the appeal stage? Or do you wait until you are at the Supreme Court?” the official said. “There is no rule, no magic recipe.”

On Saturday, Mr. Trudeau said his government is closely monitoring the application of the law adopted by the Quebec National Assembly last month.

“We’re listening to the questions being asked about it and, internally, we’re in the process of studying the different processes we could initiate or that we could join,” he said.

via Ottawa unlikely to send Quebec’s face-covering law to top court – The Globe and Mail


ICYMI – Demandeurs d’asile: Québec a consacré 21 millions en aide de dernier recours

The impact on Quebec of increased numbers of asylum seekers:

Le budget consacré à l’aide gouvernementale pour les demandeurs d’asile va faire un bond important cette année par rapport aux années précédentes, selon les données recueillies par La Presse canadienne.

Déjà, Québec a dépensé près de 21 millions de dollars en huit mois pour l’aide financière de dernier recours destinée aux demandeurs d’asile. À ce montant s’ajouteront d’ici la fin de l’année les dépenses effectuées par le gouvernement en santé, en éducation et pour l’hébergement des personnes.

Entre janvier et août 2017, la province a versé 20 930 584 de dollars en aide sociale aux ménages qui comptent un demandeur d’asile. À titre comparatif, Québec avait débloqué 18,6 millions pour ces prestataires en 2016, et 18,9 millions en 2015.

Une compilation des dépenses est actuellement en cours au gouvernement. Elle sera transmise au ministère de l’Immigration prochainement dans le cadre d’un processus de reddition de comptes, a appris La Presse canadienne.

Au cours des derniers mois, selon le ministre de l’Immigration, David Heurtel, plus de 10 000 personnes, dont la vaste majorité sont d’origine haïtienne, ont franchi la frontière depuis les États-Unis pour demander asile au Québec après que le président Donald Trump eut menacé de les renvoyer dans leur pays.

Seulement qu’en août, 5530 personnes ont traversé la frontière canado-américaine, près du poste frontalier Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.

En attente

Dans son Plan d’immigration déposé à l’Assemblée nationale à la fin octobre, le ministre soulignait que la plupart de ces personnes ne font pas partie des cibles d’admission du Québec pour 2018, puisqu’elles sont en attente d’un statut du gouvernement fédéral. Québec prévoit admettre entre 2500 et 2800 réfugiés l’an prochain.

via Demandeurs d’asile: Québec a consacré 21 millions en aide de dernier recours | Caroline Plante | National

Quebec’s Bill 62 splits federal Liberals amid calls to ignore court challenge

Not surprising:

Quebec’s face-covering law is exposing divisions among federal Liberals, with staunch defenders of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on one side and a large number of Quebec MPs who fear becoming political casualties of the contentious debate on the other.

Several Liberal MPs are calling on the government to stay out of the coming court challenge to the law, including some of the most vocal opponents of Bill 62 in caucus.

The Trudeau government has responded with a carefully calibrated response: stating that women have the right to dress as they want, while refusing to be drawn into an open confrontation with the provincial government.

The Liberal government’s decision to stay on the sidelines has created anger among opponents of the legislation who feel it is a full-on assault of Charter rights targeted at Muslim women. Passed last month, the provincial law requires people to show their face when giving or receiving services in places such as libraries, university classrooms, daycares and buses.

Federal officials said the government has yet to decide whether it will participate in the coming court challenge, which was launched this week by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Association. If Ottawa participates in the judicial showdown, federal lawyers will have to publicly state their views on the Charter issues raised by the law, which could contribute to its defeat.

Liberal Party officials said that Quebec MPs and ministers have been urging their colleagues from other parts of the country to cool their rhetoric on the issue in recent weeks.

“The Quebec caucus was very clear … in telling our colleagues, our ministers, that this is a file that belongs to the Quebec government,” said Liberal MP Rémi Massé, who is the chair of the party’s Quebec caucus. “This is [the Quebec government’s] responsibility and we are giving them the necessary leeway to do what they feel they have to do. With the court challenges that are starting, it’s up to them to react accordingly.”

Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès has been one of the most vocal critics of the law, but she said Ottawa should continue to stay out of the matter at least until it reaches the Supreme Court of Canada.

“I think right now, the government should just let it play out in Quebec and see how the courts in Quebec look at this,” said Ms. Mendès, who represents a riding on Montreal’s south shore. “The fact that I have a very strong opinion doesn’t mean that the government should necessarily intervene right away.”

Another opponent of Bill 62, Liberal MP Raj Grewal, said the law goes against his vision of the country, but added the government needs to respect “the National Assembly’s ability to pass their own laws.”

“I’m fundamentally happy that it is going to be challenged because in my humble opinion, it goes against everything that Canada stands for,” said Mr. Grewal, the MP for Brampton East.

Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, a lawyer who represents a Montreal riding, said Ottawa cannot take the lead when it comes time to challenging the constitutionality of provincial laws.

“The federal government’s role is not to act as law enforcement for the legislatures,” he said. “There are organized groups that are sufficiently resourced to be able to raise these issues, and the federal government should not be at the forefront of such a topic.”

While the law has exposed political fault lines across the country, it has garnered support in all regions of Canada. According to a Nanos survey conducted for The Globe and Mail, 63 per cent of Canadians support or somewhat support Bill 62.

Support for the law is highest in Quebec (69.4 per cent), the Prairies (63.5 per cent) and the Atlantic provinces (62 per cent), but Ontario (59.4 per cent) and British Columbia (58.4 per cent) are not far off behind. The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between Nov. 4 and 7 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20

Pollster Nik Nanos said the results show how “this is a no-win situation” for the Liberals. “The message to the government is that this is a political minefield,” he said.

To this point, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has walked a fine line on the law, always stopping short of vowing to fight it in court.

“As I’ve said several times, I don’t think a government should be telling a woman what to wear or not wear,” he has said. “We are looking very carefully at what tools we have and what steps we have to make sure we make this situation better for everyone.”

Liberal MPs from Quebec said they don’t want the debate to turn into a federal-provincial battle, or a symbol of Ottawa’s interference in Quebec’s affairs. One of the worst scenarios would be for Quebec to use the notwithstanding clause to keep the law on the books even if it is defeated in court, a Liberal MP from Quebec said.

The groups who filed a court challenge in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday said the law is unconstitutional and discriminates against Muslim women.

“I live in fear,” co-plaintiff Warda Naili said at a news conference in Montreal. “I don’t know what will happen when I go out. I don’t know how people will react because of this law.”

via Quebec’s Bill 62 splits federal Liberals amid calls to ignore court challenge – The Globe and Mail

Andrew Coyne: The federal government can’t stand by when minority rights are being trampled

Coyne on Bill 62 and the need for a federal challenge (I understand the government’s prudence):

By now Quebec’s Bill 62 has been fairly comprehensively discredited, in all its nastiness, its contradictions and its dishonesties. A law passed in the name of the secular state would leave intact such overtly religious symbols of the state as the cross on Quebec’s flag, or the crucifix on the wall of the National Assembly. In the name of religious neutrality, it bans the wearing of some religious symbols — those that obscure the face, like the niqab or burka some Muslim women wear — while ignoring others.

At the same time, to avoid accusations of religious discrimination, it extends to other face-coverings, e.g. sunglasses, that have nothing to do with religion — though it is explicitly called an “act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality.” Yet for all its emphasis on the state, it applies not only to providers of public services, but also recipients, which is to say not the state or its employees but ordinary citizens.

Far from defending religious freedom, then, it would radically restrict it. Far from protecting women from oppression by their own religion, as its apologists argue, it not only limits what they may wear in public, but in so doing arguably makes them more vulnerable than ever. Perhaps some women who wear the niqab or the burka do so involuntarily, but if so it is hard to see how denying them access to such life-expanding options as going to school or even taking the bus will help.

The right to go to school or to take the bus: in the history of civil rights in North America, these have a certain resonance. For all the belated attempts by the province’s Liberal government to clarify — women would, it now says, only be required to show their faces when getting on the bus, not for the duration of the trip, while those wishing to attend class could apply for special accommodation, on a case-by-base basis — the stark reality is a bill that, at best, needlessly singles out members of a religious minority for petty harassment and humiliation. Members of the same minority, you will recall, were just months ago victims of a mass murder in a Quebec City mosque.

The bill has met with its share of opposition in Quebec, though for different reasons: while civil libertarians, civic leaders and university administrations have denounced its excesses, the province’s two main opposition parties, the Coalition Avenir Quebec and Parti Québécois protest only that it does not go nearly far enough. It seems unlikely, then, that the remedy for this injustice will be found in Quebec.

The question is what other means might be found. Are we content, those of us living outside Quebec, that our fellow citizens should be treated in such a demeaning fashion, on the grounds that what happens in Quebec is none of our business? Or does living in the same country imply certain common understandings, however few, among them basic guarantees of equal rights?

To be sure, the law will quite certainly be challenged in court, under both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its Quebec analogue, and will in all likelihood end up before the Supreme Court of Canada. It is difficult to see how it could withstand such scrutiny; whatever watery purpose might be conjured up as a rationale, it would be a challenge to show how the law was likely to achieve it, still less that it did so in the least harmful way possible.

Should it be left at that? Wait for some member of the public to object at her mistreatment, then wait years more while the case grinds through appeal after appeal? Or does the federal government have an obligation to intervene in some way? In the early years after Confederation, that was exactly how the federal government’s role was conceived: to protect minorities from local majorities, if necessary by setting aside provincial legislation, under a power known as disallowance.

It’s been a long time since any federal government has exercised that power, of course: the Charter and the Supreme Court might seem to make it unnecessary. Yet it was not only by the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court that minority rights were upheld in the southern states: the offices of the federal government also proved necessary.

The feds would not have standing to challenge the law directly in court, but they could join a case brought by a private citizen as intervenors. More aggressively, they could refer the law directly to the Supreme Court for an opinion on its constitutionality, as they did in the matter of a previous Quebec law claiming the right to secede unilaterally.

I understand the arguments against this: that it would inflame federal-provincial tensions, perhaps even revive separatist sentiment. But we should understand what it means when we invoke such fears as reasons for inaction, as we have in the past. We are saying that the rights of the minority can be sacrificed in the name of “social peace,” or “national unity,” or whatever other euphemism we might devise for “we haven’t got the stomach for it.”

And however much we might prefer the courts to do the heavy lifting for us, we might not have that luxury. Already the opposition is pushing the Couillard government to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the event the law is ruled unconstitutional; the government, for its part, has not ruled it out. And what would we do then?

Source: National Post

Erreur dans le recensement linguistique: Statistique Canada s’explique

Not an easy time before parliamentarians:

Statistique Canada avait «détecté certains changements» dans les données sur la langue à l’étape de la validation, mais «n’a pas, à ce moment-là, capté» qu’il aurait fallu procéder à une révision avant de diffuser les données linguistiques qui ont provoqué un tollé au Québec.

«Je sais ce qui s’est produit. Mais comment on a manqué cette erreur-là, c’est cette partie que je ne sais pas encore», a lâché devant les députés du comité permanent sur les langues officielles Marc Hamel, directeur général du programme du recensement.

L’agence fédérale avait déjà fait son mea culpa en août dernier, expliquant que l’erreur avait été causée par le logiciel de compilation de données. Celui-ci a inversé les réponses dans des formulaires en français d’environ 61 000 personnes, dont environ 57 000 au Québec.

La bourde avait eu pour conséquence de surestimer la croissance de l’anglais dans la province et dans certaines de ses régions, tant pour la langue maternelle que pour la langue parlée à la maison, ce qui avait inquiété politiciens et défenseurs de la langue française.

«Ce n’est pas le système qui n’a pas détecté (l’erreur). Ce sont les gens qui ont testé le système qui n’ont pas détecté que le système ne lisait pas le questionnaire de façon conforme», a spécifié Marc Hamel aux élus.

Le député conservateur Alupa Clarke lui a demandé si des têtes allaient rouler chez Statistique Canada, déplorant que «de plus en plus, aujourd’hui, on vit dans une société où on ne met jamais au banc des accusés les responsables».

«Dans un cas comme celui-là, on ne parle pas des individus, on parle des processus. Si à chaque fois que quelqu’un faisait une erreur, il était congédié, on en congédierait peut-être plusieurs. Les erreurs sont rares», lui a répondu M. Hamel.

«On a fait les correctifs appropriés pour éviter que ce genre de situation comme ça se reproduise encore. Est-ce que je peux vous dire aujourd’hui que dans les 100 prochaines années, ça n’arrivera pas encore? Absolument pas. L’erreur est humaine», a-t-il ajouté.

Au haut fonctionnaire, qui s’est défendu de «prêcher par nonchalance», Alupe Clarke a suggéré d’envoyer une «lettre diplomate» aux 5000 employés de l’agence pour leur dire de faire gaffe à l’avenir, établissant un parallèle avec son expérience dans les Forces armées.

«Moi, j’ai fait l’armée, puis nous, ça ne niaise pas, là. Il y a une discipline (…) puis quand on fait la guerre, ça marche», a-t-il lâché.

Un peu plus tôt, son collègue néo-démocrate François Choquette s’était étonné que l’agence ait diffusé les données linguistiques alors que certaines d’entre elles, en particulier dans certaines villes à forte majorité francophone, étaient clairement suspectes.

«Attendez que je comprenne comme il faut: 164 pour cent d’augmentation de la population anglophone à Rimouski, 115 à Saguenay, 110 à Drummondville. Vous avez eu ces chiffres-là, qui n’étaient pas normaux, et vous avez quand même décidé de les sortir?», a-t-il questionné.

Le directeur adjoint de la division de la statistique sociale, Jean-Pierre Corbeil, a répondu que ce n’était «pas aussi simple» et qu’il «fallait être prudent quand on faisait des comparaisons historiques», surtout compte tenu des changements survenus sous les conservateurs en 2011.

Ces données contenues dans la livraison initiale de données du 2 août dernier étaient passées sous le radar jusqu’à ce que le président de l’Association d’études canadiennes, Jack Jedwab, lève un drapeau rouge après avoir passé les chiffres au peigne fin.

Les données revues et corrigées publiées quelques jours après ont confirmé que le français avait effectivement perdu du terrain au Québec, mais moins qu’annoncé initialement, et que l’anglais n’avait pas progressé, mais plutôt reculé, dans la province.

En présentant les nouveaux chiffres, l’agence fédérale avait fait acte de contrition et reconnu que cette erreur était d’autant plus regrettable qu’elle concernait un enjeu fort délicat au Québec.

«Nous sommes très conscients de l’aspect très sensible de cette question, de ces enjeux, et Statistique Canada va corriger le tir, simplement», affirmait Jean-Pierre Corbeil, directeur adjoint de la division de la statistique sociale et autochtone, qui était aussi au comité, mardi.

Source: Erreur dans le recensement linguistique: Statistique Canada s’explique | Mélanie Marquis | National

Bill 62: The European experience shows us it’s a bad idea: Fahmy

Mihad Fahmy of NCCM on Quebec’s niqab ban.

The issue is more with respect to women wearing niqabs being able to receive or use public services rather than blocking opportunities for them to work in public services as no cases to date have arisen to my knowledge (any case unlikely to go unnoticed). This latter issue has been largely absent from public commentary (not convinced that this would pass a reasonable accommodation test given the needs of an integrated workforce):

To understand the effects of Quebec’s Bill 62, it is important to understand what is going on in Europe. Driving the wedge deeper into an already divided society, Quebec politicians are copying policies that produce predictable results: rising xenophobia, violence against minorities and discrimination.

Historically, Canada has had a more accommodating approach to individual liberty than European countries, where the case law and legal discourse is built on the premise that public spaces and, by extension, public institutions and actors must be made to be religiously “neutral” in both form and substance.

In March, 2017, the European Court of Justice extended this principle when it ruled that private employers, like their public counterparts, can ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab in the workplace, so long as the rule applied to all employees.

The case reached the European court as a result of appeals by an office receptionist in Belgium and a professional design engineer in France, both of whom were fired for refusing to remove their headscarves at work.

In its ruling, the ECJ held that rules banning “the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign” were not discriminatory so long as they applied to religious garb from all faiths. Activists, lawyers and academics alike agree that this decision is significant, as it marks the first time the neutrality argument has been successfully used to justify restrictions on religious accommodation in the private sector.

European human rights advocates now fear that private-sector employees, predominately Muslim women, but also Sikh and Jewish men who wear religious garb, will be impacted by employers’ newfound entitlement to cloak discriminatory policies in the veil of religious neutrality.

Against this backdrop, the potential ramifications of Quebec’s Bill 62 are magnified. Despite its limited provincial reach, the law’s sweeping internal scope is alarming.

Women who wear the niqab (face veil) will be shut out of public-sector jobs and won’t be able to access municipal and provincial services. This includes going to university or college, registering kids for daycare or school, getting on a bus, applying for social assistance, taking out library books, registering kids for city recreational activities, and the list goes on. And despite their qualifications, niqabi women will also be ineligible for jobs within any of these workplaces, thereby further marginalizing an already vulnerable group of women.

As was evident this week, neutralizing the public sphere is not a straightforward endeavour. In attempting to clarify how this will all work, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée explained that faces need to be uncovered only at the point of contact with the public servant. For example, a woman is required to show her face when signing out library books at the circulation desk but not while browsing new releases; the niqab will have to come off when boarding a bus that requires photo ID, but not once the woman sits down. Such formulaic pronouncements cannot restore the dignity of women seeking to go about living their day-to-day lives and will do little to quell principled public discontent.

Similar guidelines have not been provided with respect to other provisions of the bill that are garnering less attention but are of no less concern – those which seek to regulate not dress, but behaviour. The bill reads: “In the exercise of their functions, personnel members of public bodies must demonstrate religious neutrality.” There is no telling how this vague obligation will be interpreted and enforced.

Quebec employers would do well to heed the advice of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), when it argues that cultivating workplace neutrality entails turning one’s attention to the actual service being provided rather than the person delivering it. Otherwise, employers risk perpetuating discrimination.

The European experience tells us that nothing good can emerge from Bill 62. The Quebec government’s ill-conceived legislation only strengthens those elements in society pushing a dangerous us-versus-them agenda at the expense of constitutional rights and social cohesion. In a pluralistic society, this does not bode well for the future.

 Source: Bill 62: The European experience shows us it’s a bad idea – The Globe and Mail

Quebec’s secularism reigns supreme: Michael Adams

Michael Adams on the likely outcome of Quebec’s niqab ban. Not as sanguine as him given how these identity issues continue to poison Quebec politics:

Like Bill 101, Quebec’s (in)famous language law, Bill 62 is likely to be remembered for a long time, both within Quebec and elsewhere in the country. The reason is that the bill highlights differences between Quebec, where secularism reigns supreme, and the multicultural ideology embraced by the majority of those living in the rest of Canada.

Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government is heading into a pre-election period and passed the law, which severely restricts the wearing of niqabs and burqas, to show Quebeckers that it cares about their core values.

A couple of generations ago, Roman Catholic Quebeckers en masse decided to no longer attend weekly service. After centuries under the religious domination of the church, the population flipped to secularism, as if overnight. The pews emptied, and good tee times became impossible to secure on the province’s golf courses on Sunday mornings.

One of the major implications of this radical rejection of traditional religious authority was the consequent embrace of gender equality. No longer would the daughter who could not find a husband be sent off to the convent to spend the rest of her life in service of a patriarchal church, wearing a black-and-white habit that covered her entire body, save her face.

When Quebeckers, especially former Catholics, see a Muslim woman wearing a niqab or a burka that covers the face, either entirely or except for her eyes, they see both their great aunt and a victim of religious patriarchy. And they don’t like it.

In this, they join their compatriots in France (and other Europeans) who have passed laws to ban a woman from wearing such clothing in public spaces, including on beaches where other women choose to go topless.

Canadians living outside Quebec may not like the idea of Muslim women wearing niqabs and burkas in public, but polls have found that a slim majority believe a ban is a bad idea, and no other province seems concerned enough to introduce legislation akin to Bill 62. One Ontario hospital, hoping to draw female talent, released an ad quipping that it cared more about what is in a woman’s head than what’s on it.

In the last federal election, when then prime minister Stephen Harper wished to deny a Muslim woman wearing a niqab the right to be sworn in as a Canadian citizen, public opinion, especially in Quebec, was initially with him. But then the Supreme Court weighed in, ruling that if she exposed her face to an agent of the Crown, she could be sworn in wearing her niqab.

This gesture, together with the “barbaric cultural practices” tip-line proposed by former Harper ministers Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander, also initially attracted public support. But then many people began to realize that their initial reactions clashed with their deeper-held values of empathy and tolerance. If these few women – and they only number in the few hundred across the country – really want to wear this clothing and they do no one any harm, then why the fuss?

The backlash to the backlash redounded more to the benefit of the crafty Liberals than the moralistic NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. Justin Trudeau sensed in the general public – and especially among the four in 10 of us who are first- and second-generation immigrants – that tolerance of difference was more Canadian than imposing strictures on religious garb. If the courts say it’s okay for a woman to wear a niqab, then so be it. A few years ago, the courts said it was okay for same-sex people to marry, and the rest of us quickly followed suit.

Canadians are generally open to immigration from around the world, believe newcomers are good for the economy, don’t take away jobs from other Canadians and don’t commit more crimes than others. Still, the majority of Canadians also believe that newcomers are not adopting Canadian values quickly enough, and those highly cherished values include gender equality and, in Quebec, secularism.

Where do we go from here? The Liberals passed Bill 62 to show they understand the values of the Québécois. But I imagine latitude will be left in the enforcement of the law, allowing for the kind of reasonable accommodation proposed by philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gérard Bouchard in their report on these issues a few years ago.

Why? Because most people will respect the rule of law as expressed in the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights and freedoms; and because many will also be reminded of the treatment of women such as Rosa Parks in the Jim Crow U.S. South, and may reflect that it isn’t women dressed in niqabs, hijabs or otherwise clad who have done real harm to others, but rather young men of many faiths and no faith with a lot of hate in their hearts and a gun at their disposal. In Canada’s pluralistic liberal democracy, that’s the way values and democratic discourse have tended to mediate strident opinions.

Source: Quebec’s secularism reigns supreme – The Globe and Mail

Quebec’s face-covering bill unites rivals who together question the government’s competence: Hébert

Chantal Hébert on the comedy of errors with Bill 62 implementation:

With the law that prescribes that provincial and municipal services be rendered and received with one’s face uncovered, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has achieved the impossible. His Liberal government has reconciled the two opposite camps in the Quebec religious accommodation debate behind the notion that it is running a gong show.

A week after the adoption of the controversial law, one would be hard-pressed to find a good word about the just-adopted Bill 62 anywhere in the province’s media.

Even Quebec Liberal party insiders privately admit that they are flabbergasted by the improvisation that has attended the government foray into the religious accommodation minefield.

Over the past few days, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée has offered conflicting interpretations of her own law, convincing critics that she is making up the rules that pertain to its application as she goes along.

Last week for instance, Vallée fended off allegations that her bill was discriminatory by arguing that the obligation to uncover one’s face to board a city bus would apply as equally to transit riders sporting large sunglasses as to the Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa. They all would have to remove their face coverings for what she described as “the duration of the rendering of the public service.”

On Tuesday, Vallée walked back her talk, insisting that the prescription to uncover one’s face applied only to “interaction” between a citizen and a public servant. On that basis, most people could presumably board a bus or presumably take out a library book without showing their faces.

In Quebec, library cards do not feature photographs. Neither do transit passes except in the case of students and senior citizens who are expected to show proof of age to pay a reduced rate.

In any event, the minister assured that no one would ever be thrown off a bus on account of Bill 62 because — she said — someone who did not comply with the law would be left at the bus stop.

The minister’s convoluted explanations did little to reassure those who feel that the bill is a discriminatory solution in search of a problem. It is estimated that there are less than 300 Muslim women who wear a face-covering veil province-wide.

Moreover, as elsewhere in Canada it is already impossible in Quebec to obtain government-issued ID cards such as a driver’s license or a health card without allowing one’s picture to be taken with one’s face uncovered

Vallée’s latest take on her own bill also confirmed the fears of those who feel it is much too narrow

The PQ opposition is working on a more muscular version of Bill 62. It will feature the imposition of a secular dress code on public servants in positions of authority such as judges or police officers. The party also wants to explore the notion of banning face-covering veils from all public places. A pequiste government would use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to shelter its law from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Coalition Avenir Québec also has proposals that go well beyond the Liberal law. Both opposition parties will campaign on their proposals in next fall’s provincial election.

Meanwhile, opponents and proponents of state-enforced restrictions on the rights of religious minorities are united in questioning the competence of the Liberal government.

It is increasingly unclear what constituency Premier Couillard expected to satisfy with the government’s ill-conceived law.

The premier does have a well-documented tendency to political tone-deafness. Earlier this month he seemed surprised and frustrated that a cabinet shuffle that left his ministerial frontline essentially unchanged did not elicit rave reviews about his government sporting a new face.

At the time of the shuffle, Couillard maintained Vallée in her justice role even if she had consistently seemed to be in over her head in that portfolio.

Over the past week there has been a chorus of calls for Bill 62 to be withdrawn in its entirety. It would be pretty unprecedented for a ruling party to shelf a law it has just used its majority to adopt.

Until it is replaced by a government of a different stripe or possibly struck down by a court, Bill 62 will likely remain on the books where it primarily stands as a token of political turpitude.


Quebec ban on face coverings a blatant violation of religious freedom: David Butt

At some point in time, the ban will be successfully challenged:

With Halloween imminent, people turn their thoughts to the good-natured duplicity of costumes. But there is a much darker duplicity afoot as well. Under the mask of pursuing “social cohesion” the Quebec legislature has passed a bill denying women the right to receive public services while wearing a veil for religious reasons. The law is a blatant violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the Charter of Rights, an exercise in oppression of a socially vulnerable minority and gender discrimination to boot. Quite a litany of legal lapses in one bill.

Our Charter protects religious freedom regardless of whether our beliefs are shared by a majority, a minority or nobody. It matters not if others think our sincere religious beliefs benign, wacky or offensive. The freedom to believe as we choose is protected nonetheless. To understand what is so wrong with this new law one must first accept, difficult as it may be, that people who hold religious beliefs we dislike intensely are just as free to hold them as we are to hold our own. Embracing diversity can be hard and challenging work.

Some religious practices can be limited by government. But the government must tread lightly. The limits must be reasonable and carefully tailored to pursue legitimate social objectives. For example, a religious belief that prohibits being photographed cannot exempt the believer from a driver’s licence photo: Driving is necessarily heavily regulated, so anyone wishing to drive must have a proper licence.

The Quebec government ban on veil-wearers receiving government services pursues no legitimate social objective and is not carefully tailored to anything. How does a Muslim woman quietly riding a public bus create any harm, or risk of harm, to the broader public good? She doesn’t. Nor is there any harm flowing from a Muslim woman using a library, visiting a hospital ER or getting a building permit from City Hall. So there is no valid objective pursued by denying these services to Muslim women who wear a veil.

Wherever photo ID is required, briefly lifting a veil to confirm identity is indeed a legitimate ask by those providing government services. But this new law goes far beyond such reasonable limits on religious freedom. The veiled woman might properly be required to lift her veil to use a photo-ID bus pass. But she should not have to keep the veil off for the entire bus ride. So the law is not carefully tailored either. It is a vastly over-reaching intrusion on freedom of religion.

If the Charter of Rights so obviously dooms this law to oblivion, why would the Quebec Legislature pass it in the first place? In fact, democracies function rather well on a certain degree of tension between legislatures and courts, which protect fundamental freedoms. Legislatures fulfill basic democratic norms by enacting laws conforming to majority views. The Quebec Legislature has done so here, where public support for the law hovers around 87 per cent. And it is for courts to do the politically unpalatable, but necessary, work of striking down bad laws that violate the minority rights of those lacking sufficient numbers for political clout. Such tension can be healthy in a vibrant democracy committed to both democratic rule and minority rights.

But the Quebec government doesn’t get off so lightly here. If we look at why people are so strongly and viscerally opposed to women wearing veils, we will see that the Quebec government is catering slavishly to the meanest urges of the voting mob, stooping to the lowest depths of democracy.

Behind much visceral opposition to veils is unwarranted fear of the unfamiliar. Veils make women perpetually unfamiliar in a shallow visual sense, and this allows the unreflective among us to wrongly build the irrational bridge from unfamiliarity to loathing. Sadly, that is what the Quebec government has encouraged. Anyone making the effort to know veil wearers will of course discover a rich humanity that whether agreeable or disagreeable, reduces wardrobe choices to near irrelevance and invisibility.

Also behind much opposition to veils is the infuriatingly persistent social tendency to tell women what their choices mean, and then impose that meaning on them. The Quebec government is paternalistically telling women that even their most thoughtful, sincere and highly individual religious choice to wear veils categorically denotes nothing more than mean-spirited rejection of the community that sustains them. And the government is then punishing these women for sending the message the government has told them they are sending. This is oppression, pure and simple.

At Halloween, the Quebec legislature has rejected treats in favour of a mean-spirited, insidious trick. Let us hope the courts will not be fooled by the legislature’s poorly crafted disguise.

Source: Quebec ban on face coverings a blatant violation of religious freedom – The Globe and Mail

‘Problematic’ and a ‘dog’s breakfast’: Quebec face-covering ban panned by authors of landmark report [Bouchard and Taylor]

Always worth listening to Bouchard and Taylor:

A new Quebec law purported to deal with secularism and the accommodation of minorities is being called a “dog’s breakfast” of contradictions by one of the authors of a landmark study of the issue.

The other author of the study says it would be “problematic” in its application by health-care and transit workers.

In their 2008 report, sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor offered solutions aimed at assuaging concerns about the erosion of Quebec identity while respecting the rights of minorities.

The Liberal government’s Bill 62 on religious neutrality, passed in Quebec’s National Assembly on Wednesday, aims to address some of the recommendations laid out in their report.

However, speaking separately, both men say it misses the mark.

“It’s a bit surprising that a law that purports to be about secularism reduces it to one dimension — religious neutrality — and doesn’t explore separation of church and state, equality of religions and belief, freedom of religion,” Bouchard told Radio-Canada’s morning radio program Gravel le matin.

Bouchard pointed out that the law does not address the crucifix still hanging at the National Assembly.

Taylor had an even more scathing assessment. In an email, he called it “excessive and badly conceived, in fact, contradictory.”

The bill represents Quebec’s latest attempt to address the question of religious neutrality.

The separation of church and state is viewed as a central pillar of Quebec society, but successive governments have struggled to implement guidelines on what this should look like on a daily basis — with neutrality and secularism running up against religious freedom.

How will law be applied?

Bill 62 extends to municipal services, meaning Muslim women who wear a niqab or burka wouldn’t be able to take out a book from the library, visit the doctor or take the bus or Metro.

The guidelines on how the law should be enforced won’t be ready until next summer. The law also provides for exceptions to be made on religious grounds, though exactly how that would work is unclear.

All this makes the law’s application “problematic,” Bouchard said.

“A woman with a covered face who presents herself at the hospital emergency room, we’re not going to send her home if it’s life-threatening,” he said.

“Another scenario, the bus stops in winter and it’s –30 C, and the woman with a niqab is there with her two small children. Will the driver leave her on the curb?”

The union representing workers at Montreal’s public transit authority, the STM, has already said its members don’t want that responsibility, while civil rights advocates say the law infringes on freedoms enshrined under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In an email, Taylor pointed out that the province justified the law for safety, communication and identification reasons.

But, he said, none of those are at stake when someone takes a bus or is treated by a doctor in hospital.

“It’s a dog’s breakfast,” Taylor said.

Source: ‘Problematic’ and a ‘dog’s breakfast’: Quebec face-covering ban panned by authors of landmark report – Montreal – CBC News