NEWS

Bernard Drainville unveils his new secular charter

01/15/2015 09:48 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT
The debate over Quebec adopting a secular charter, which would ban public employees from wearing overt religious symbols, is back.

Bernard Drainville, who first tabled Bill 60 in November 2013, unveiled a revised “2.0” version of the bill on Thursday.

He sat down with CBC Radio One’s Homerun host Sue Smith to talk about it. Here’s some of their conversation.

Q: Why do we need a second version of the charter?

A: We still do not have a framework of rules on how to deal with accommodation requests. We still haven't written in any law that the  the equality between men and women is non-negotiable in Quebec. We still haven't said that the state of Quebec and its institutions are neutral from a religious standpoint. So I'm saying we should move on and do something about that.

Q: How is it different this time around?

A: In two ways. A lot of people criticized the first version of the charter — not so much because they were opposed to the principle — but because they didn't like the idea that some people could lose their job if they wouldn't take off their religious sign. I'm proposing a grandfather clause - anyone wearing a religious sign would keep it, no matter what. But once the new law is voted on, the new employees who were hired after it passed, part of the working conditions would say you can't wear your religious sign during working hours.

The second compromise is to take out CEGEPs and educational institutions. During the parliamentary hearings universities came to tell us that they didn't want to be part of this framework — they were saying that historically, we've had a great deal of independence from the state, and so we shouldn't be considered part of the state. That's a fair argument. It didn't make sense to take universities out and leave CEGEPs in, so I took the CEGEPs out as well.

Municipalities are governments in their own right. They are elected, they have to respond to their citizens, so that's why I did it. That being said, they would still have to adopt their own policy on religious neutrality. But it would be voted by them, it wouldn't be part of the framework I'm proposing.

Q: So who will the new charter apply to?

A: Police, teachers, daycare workers, hospital employees, and civil servants.

Q: The voters seemed to soundly reject the charter in last election results, didn't they?

A: I challenge this interpretation of the election results. The majority of Quebecers supported this charter all along, including a third of allophones — so one-third of Quebecers who do not have English or French as their mother tongue. So there was a significant level of support throughout, even from non-francophones. So I don't think the charter was a significant factor in our defeat.

Q: The charter caused a huge amount of controversy — what makes it worth re-visiting?

A: I think it is very important that people who have the power to arrest you or send you to jail aren't harbouring religious conviction. Same goes for teachers and childcare workers. If you think the state should be neutral than those who work for the state should embody this neutrality. And finally when it comes to health care, religions have a lot of very strong opinions on homosexuality, on contraception. There are many moral issues upon which religions have very, very decisive and affirmative positions - and I don't think someone asking for health care should have to deal with that.

Q: What about the crucifix in the National Assembly?

A: It should be moved to another part of the National Assembly, but it shouldn't stay in the actual room where we vote.  

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