The Moral Case Against the Quebec Charter of Values

11/17/2013 08:19 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

The Moral Case

When the Quebec Charter of Values states in its very first section that "a public body must remain neutral in religious matters and reflect the secular nature of the State" it expounds an admirable and exalted (if you'll permit the word) idea.

Neutrality and secularism should be the foundations on which any modern society is built; the state should have no say in how individuals express their beliefs (with provisions for security, of course). It would be obscene to suggest that the crucifix or hijab be outlawed in society at large and the PQ has no interest in such Orwellian measures (as yet). However, they do believe that such tolerance does not apply to "personnel members of public bodies." What Bill 60 suggests, then, is that those working in the public sector have forfeited their right to be spared from interference.

It is a simple trap, yet it seems as if not a single member of the PQ has pointed out to M. Drainville that he has fallen headlong into it: there is a key distinction to be made between a public body and members of that body.

A hospital does not promote Judaism every time a doctor celebrates Chanukah. Similarly, the SAAQ does not sponsor Sikhism when a driving test is conducted by a man in a turban. What these examples do suggest, however, is that the public bodies in question have made their personnel decisions without regard to religion: this is the true face of neutrality and secularism. Allowing civil servants to dress as they please does not show an "overt indication of religious affiliation"; it shows a distinct lack of affiliation.

The Charter ridiculously goes on to provide an exemption for "emblematic and toponymic elements of Quebec's cultural heritage." Giant cross, we're looking at you. (Though there will be a consultation by the National Assembly as to whether the crucifix must also go.) This is perhaps a better example of affiliation than any other.

The PQ has decided that certain elements are culturally "Quebecois" and can stay, while everything else must go. In essence, the Charter is the PQ's attempt to dictate which cultures are acceptable and which are threatening. Without the allowance for elements of Quebec's cultural heritage the Charter would have been merely foolish and misguided. With the allowance it is bigoted and mean.

I have written previously on the Quebec Charter and do not wish to ape an ancient rage (for now, at least). Suffice it to say that not only is support for Bill 60 a morally untenable position, but it is politically short-sighted as well.

Martin Patriquin wrote a wonderful op-ed piece in the New York Times, where he suggested that the Quebec Charter of Values is the PQ's "Tea Party moment." It is a trenchant thought, which lead me to the following idea. Pandering to the most fundamentalist factions of one's party does not work. Just ask Karl Rove.

The Tea Party in the United States currently holds the Republican Party hostage to its perverse agenda. We saw this with the government shutdown south of the border, where a vocal minority prevented the passing of a budget. The post-shutdown polls showed Republican approval rating at 28 per cent, an all-time low. Something similar may occur here in Quebec, transforming the PQ into a permanent Opposition party, which may not be a catastrophic consequence.

A Call to Arms

Given the archaic nature of the Charter, a substantial number of Quebecers have spoken about leaving the province should Bill 60 pass. I understand the compulsion to leave a caustic atmosphere, but I bemoan the cowardice of the would-be emigrants. Where is the will to stand and fight? Where is the spirit of '68? In fairness to the weak-willed, I too, in the sweatiest dengue of the mind, thought for a single, boozy night of leaving Quebec. What follows is the vow I made the morning after. It is an angry pledge. It is a call to arms.

1) I will bear neither ignorance nor intolerance.

2) I will fight injustice wherever it is found.

3) I will not allow my house to be consumed by demagogy.

4) I will do whatever is in my power to bring attention to ignorance, intolerance and injustice.

5) I will forever rage against the dying of the light.

In short, you'll be hearing from me again.