Also by Stéphanie Vallée, minister of justice and attorney general of Quebec
In Québec, as in other places around the world, the protection of human rights and the promotion of inclusion are widely debated. In a democratic, pluralistic and inclusive society that fosters harmonious intercultural relations, it is important to establish rules for living together in harmony that ensure respect for all. This is the goal of the act, to foster adherence to state religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies, recently given assent in Québec. Some people find that the act goes too far, others that it does not go far enough. The Québec government's legislation aims to strike a balance.
Firstly, the act affirms the religious neutrality of the state.
Secondly, it codifies the principles governing reasonable accommodation, as defined by the Supreme Court of Canada, while adding the criterion of equality between men and women and emphasizing the need for collaboration in the search for a reasonable accommodation.
Lastly, the act promotes inclusion by requiring people to uncover their faces during the interaction involved in the delivery of a public service. This is based on the objectives of security, identification and quality communications. The requirement applies only when there is an interaction with a state employee. For example, people required to uncover their faces when interacting with the bus driver as they board, can then cover their face again, except if the context requires further interaction and if one of the three objectives applies. The goal is not to ban religious symbols. The act promotes the goal of living together in harmony while respecting the rights guaranteed by the Charters.
For a large majority of Quebecers, this progressiveness goes hand-in-hand with high-quality interrelations between individuals, promoting inclusion rather than isolation and withdrawal.
Québec society is not an exception. The European Court of Human Rights ruled, on the basis of social cohesion that the kind of prohibition introduced by this act is not unreasonable in a society aiming to preserve "the conditions of "'living together.'" As recently pointed out by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail and Barbara Kay, many free and democratic states such as Norway, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia have enacted similar legislation.
Furthermore, if the debate triggered by Québec's act appears to put Québec's political class in opposition to the rest of Canada, the results of a recent Ipsos Public Affairs survey show that Canadian citizens are far less divided on the question than could be expected. While 76 per cent of respondents in Québec stated their support for this legislation, a majority, or 68 per cent, of respondents in the rest of Canada said they would support the application of a similar law in their own province.
Québec is a plural, open and tolerant nation. For Quebecers, respect for human rights is paramount, as it has often introduced programs and legislation that reflect the eminently progressive nature of Québec society. For a large majority of Quebecers, this progressiveness goes hand-in-hand with high-quality interrelations between individuals, promoting inclusion rather than isolation and withdrawal. The Quebec law is part of this process, and ensures that people will be able to live harmoniously together with respect for all individuals.
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