Following two awful months of childish finger-pointing and racially offensive debate over what seemed to some of us here in Montreal and pretty much everywhere else in the country—like a xenophobic attempt at dividing the province, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has finally released the updated details of Bill 60, formerly known as the Quebec Charter of Values.
At the height of the quarrel, Pauline said that “to debate is not to divide.” The Charter now comes in a new rebranded package with a catchy and easily digestible name : “The Charter Affirming the Values of State Secularism and Religious Neutrality and of Equality Between Women and Men, and Providing a Framework for Accommodation Requests.” If you made it through that title without dozing off halfway, then congratulations.
The Charter 2.0 does not seek to affirm Quebec values anymore, but rather affirms vague values of equality and neutrality, while branding itself as a way to be accommodating. If you’ve glanced at the new charter—even for just a second, you’d notice that there doesn’t seem to be much place for accommodation. For example, instead of the five-year exemption originally outlined, public and parapublic institutions will now only have one year to completely abide by the charter.
The ban on religious symbols was previously only restricted to large religious jewelry and religious headgear such as turbans. The updated and expanded version of the charter now comes with a ban on religious clothing and “other adornments.” While I’m not sure what those “other adornments” would be, I have a feeling newly elected Montreal Councillor Candidate and Hasidic Jew Mindy Pollak might have a problem with this new clause.
You also might remember when a few weeks ago, three topless girls from Femen Quebec barged into the National Assembly protesting the presence of the crucifix on the chamber’s wall. Following the naked protest, there was a general sense that the crucifix would indeed be taken down as it was in sharp contrast with the proposed religious neutrality of the charter. However, it now appears that while every Member of the National Assembly will be required to let go of their religious blings and garbs, they will need to hold a special consultation over the future of the crucifix, becuase, it’s like, part of our heritage, or something. Furthermore, the charter will also try to limit students from not attending school to celebrate religious holidays that aren’t recognized by the state, meaning pretty much any religious holiday that isn’t Christian. Now, that’s what I call equality!
The law also dictates that those who violate the charter must have a word with their supervisors before a disciplinary measure is taken. Here’s how I picture this would go down. “Paul, I know you’ve been wearing your kipa to work for over 20 years now and you’re one of our best employees here. You were the best man at my wedding, for Christ’s sake! Sorry. I will now have to ask you to take five minutes in the corner and think about what you’re wearing on your head.”
I had hopes that the updated charter would take into consideration some of the criticism it had faced, but it seems that it’s only gotten more radical in its pursuit of state secularism. While I have no doubt that good things could come out of religious neutrality, the PQ’s distorted and hypocritical vision of secularism, one that still favors Christianity over other religions, is offensive. Unless the PQ is willing to bring down Christian symbols and holidays to the level of quasi non-existence reserved to other religions, I think Bill 60 should be sent back to its 1940’s mothball-scented closet of intolerance.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @smvoyer
More on the charter: