POLITICS

Philosopher says secularism push could create new divisions in Quebec society

01/22/2015 03:02 EST | Updated 03/24/2015 05:59 EDT
QUEBEC - A prominent Canadian philosopher is weighing in on the resurgence of the secularism debate in Quebec and is raising concerns some politicians will use recent terror attacks in Paris to advance their political agendas.

Charles Taylor said Thursday the issue has heated up in the province since the Charlie Hebdo killings and the 83-year-old academic says some are associating the desire to have a secular state with the fight against terrorism.

The McGill University professor said religious pluralism and fundamentalism are separate issues and making that connection risks creating new divisions in Quebec society.

Politicians should prioritize the fight against recruitment of youth by religious fanatics instead of "creating easy divisions between Quebecers of different origins," Taylor said.

"It would be a monumental error to mix questions about terrorism with questions about living together in a diverse society such as ours," he said.

The secularism issue was a central theme during a two-day caucus meeting of the opposition Parti Quebecois that wrapped up on Thursday at a hotel south of Montreal.

While the Liberal government says it is working on a secularism plan of their own. The government said it is also developing an action plan to fight the rise of religious radicalism — due out sometime later this year.

The PQ says the anti-radicalization plan is not enough and accuse the Liberals of dragging their feet on the issue.

The PQ criticized the government for what it said was a reluctance to adopt a secularism charter codifying what values are acceptable in the province. The former PQ government introduced a controversial proposed charter in 2014 that prohibited state employees from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.

Interim PQ leader Stephane Bedard said that Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard has not introduced a charter since taking power because he was "impregnated" with values he learned in Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for human rights abuses.

Couillard worked as a doctor and government advisor in Saudi Arabia in the mid-90s.

"He seems to be rather impregnated with those values, with that reality," Bedard said. "In Quebec it's different. We see what's happening elsewhere and we ask him not to bring that over here."

Couillard replied that Bedard's comments were "borderline defamatory."

"I don't have the time for someone like that," Couillard said in Davos, Switzerland.

Bedard's colleague, PQ leadership hopeful Bernard Drainville, recently re-introduced a slightly modified version of the secularism charter the PQ tried to adopt before it lost the 2014 election.

Drainville is a poor spokesman for the charter, Taylor said, because he "constantly associated" religious pluralism in Quebec with religious fundamentalism.

"(Drainville) maintained a fuzzy context about religious fundamentalism, violence, and the banning of religious symbols," Taylor said. "Someone who thinks that people who wear religious symbols are terrorists is ignorant of the very diverse religious culture in our society. It's a dangerous slogan."

Taylor said France has shown restraint in the wake of the attacks against the satirical weekly by not pointing the finger at any particular group.

"On the contrary," he said. "(The French) all said: 'We are all together, all religions, and we won't make any associations, we won't blame Muslims for what happened.'"

He said Quebec should similarly unite to combat radicalization.

Taylor co-chaired a commission into reasonable accommodation and co-authored a 2008 report on how Quebec should accommodate religious practices.

— With files from Martin Ouellet in Quebec City; Alexandre Robillard in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Julien Arsenault in Davos, Switzerland.