The English Speaking Catholic Council wants the minority PQ government to scrap Bill 60 arguing that its proposed secular charter would undermine the so-called “First Freedoms” enshrined in any democratic society.In its submission to public hearings on the legislation which opened Jan 14, the ESCC says the bill is an “unnecessary and destructive” piece of legislation.
The issue has polarized Quebec.
More than 250 organizations have submitted briefs to the hearings, and more than 200 hours has been set aside for the presentations over the next few weeks. But the PQ minister responsible for democratic institutions, Bernard Drainville, is on record as saying that the public hearings won’t sway the government. In its brief, the ESCC, which claims to represent Quebec’s 397,000 Roman Catholic Anglophones, says it will resist any trend to dilute or undermine the four freedoms of conscience, religion, opinion, and free expression. Furthermore, the submission argues that the legislation proposes a secularized society in which religious expression and practice are marginalized, and muddles the separation of Church and State insofar as it allows the state to define the nature of religious beliefs, “ elevating the state above the proper parameters of a democratically elected and responsible government.”
The ESCC further contends that the bill demonstrates the PQ government’s profound misunderstanding of the nature of religious expression. “Whether by accident or design, the framers of Bill 60 flirt dangerously with collapsing two related but philosophically distinct notions of a secular state and a secularized society,” it contends. “Commonly understood, a secular state is one in which no one religion is established, in which there is separation between the church and state…Bill 60 in its current form is not about promoting a secular state, but rather would eliminate religious expression altogether and march Quebec towards a society which has been stripped of the public symbols, voices, and institutional presence of religion. A secular state does not mean one in which religion has no place, rather, it is designed to guarantee freedom for religion not freedom from religion and religious expression.”
On the first day of the hearings, a Muslim, Samira Laouni, told the commission that the proposed legislation was threatening civil peace, and creating social tension unheard of in Quebec. She claimed some Muslim women have been harassed, spat upon, and have had their head scarves torn off.
Once the hearings have been completed, the ESCC plans to co-ordinate its efforts with the Muslim Community in a campaign against the legislation, especially in rural French-speaking Quebec, where Bill 60 appears to have public support.
The ESCC submitted its brief to the Committee of Democratic Institutions in late December. It isn’t known yet whether it will be invited to present the brief during the public hearings. The ESCC insists that while it recognizes the primacy of the French language in Quebec, the province is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural society which has “benefitted through history as a result of this rich confluence of languages and cultures.” To ignore the contributions of the English population it states, would be harmful to the social fabric of our society.
“It cannot be stated too strongly that the English Speaking Catholic Council is deeply concerned about the negative repercussions if Bill 60 were to be enacted. “There are worrying implications for the notion of the state and the place and identity of the citizen within the state, a threatened neutering of the freedoms enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, “to a place of laughable inconsequence” if the state is allowed to define religious belief and practices.