The Human Rights Commission of Quebec has publically opposed the provincial government’s proposed Charter of Values, according to a statement released on Oct. 17.
While the Commission does not have the authority to prohibit legislation from moving forward, it said that the proposal would not stand up in court.
The Commission argued that prohibiting public sector workers from wearing conspicuous religious symbols would infringe on the freedom of religion and the right to equality guaranteed through the province’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The proposed prohibition puts forward precisely the sort of distinction that would have the effect of excluding individuals from a significant number of jobs, based on the wearing of a religious symbol and inferred perceptions of that symbol,” the Commission’s statement reads. “Consequently, the proposed prohibition of conspicuous religious symbols would infringe directly not only upon the right to exercise one’s freedom of religion, but also upon the freedom of speech and the right to equal access to employment.”
The Commission also spoke against the argument that the proposed charter promotes equality between men and women, saying that restricting freedom of expression is not the solution.
“There is no denying that we have a long way to go to achieve true equality between women and men,” the statement reads. “To achieve this, it is not enough to produce more and more declarations of principles or statements of values. Rather, the aim should be to ensure the effective realization of the rights already recognized by the Charter [of Human Rights and Freedoms], particularly by strengthening economic and social rights.”
Bernard Drainville, Parti Québécois (PQ) member of the National Assembly of Quebec and the minister responsible for the proposed Charter, told the Montreal Gazette that his party does not share the opinions expressed by the Commission.
“We don’t share the same perception of reality,” he said. “The commission proposes to keep the status quo. It is opposed to a clarification of the rules on religious accommodation. We disagree. We think a much clearer framework on religious accommodation is needed because the people who deal with accommodation requests, like teachers, principals and school boards, are asking us for one.”
As a minority government, the PQ cannot enact the proposal as law unless another party chooses to support it. In order to possibly gain majority seating in the National Assembly of Quebec, Premier Pauline Marois would have to call a general election in the upcoming months.