The “Values Charter”: A different perspective

Par Beryl Wajsman le 9 septembre 2013

Let’s put aside for a few moments all the pros and cons of the PQ’s proposed “Values Charter.” Enough has been written, with sufficient passion, on all sides. But what has not been sufficiently debated, even by those who favor this proposal, are the optical, tactical and legal errors of its presentation.  We need to say something about that now.

It is important to look at these errors because even the fiercest opponents of the PQ have generally given it credit for knowing how to manipulate its agenda even if it sometimes did so on the edges of reason and regulation. The handling of this “values” issue has been so absurdly managed, that reasonable people may question the fundamental motives behind it.

To begin with, the very name is inapplicable. The values that Quebec stands for are already outlined in Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In some ways the Quebec Charter may  even be superior to the Federal one. Quebec’s Charter gives at least a passing recognition of property rights; protects the inviolability of the home from state interference (sec.7) and even clearly sets out guarantees of no discrimination based on language (sec.10). This proposal of the Marois administration may be many things, but it cannot – with any degree of rationality – be called a “Charter of Values.” That’s been done. And not too shabbily at that.

What then is this proposal that has caused such discord and division? It is really nothing more than a public sector “Laity Law.” And it is in that context that it should be debated. For it is in that context that it fails to meet standards of equity and equality and must be remedied.

It is quite reasonable and acceptable in the western liberal pluralistic tradition to put up a firewall between faith and state. From American President James Madison stating, “The civil administration shall take no cognizance of religion” at the beginning of the 19th century, to the French “modele Republicain” inspired by Jean Jaures at the end of that century, freedom of religion has generally been accepted to mean freedom from religion as well. Certainly that religion shall not influence, or be seen to influence, the making of laws and legislation that must be universal in their scope and application.

Now the PQ seek to extend the definition of “ influence” to include not only the foundations of faith but the exhibition of elements of faith as well by banning the wearing of religious symbols by anyone working in the public service. Here is the first failure of the PQ proposal. As much as the drafters of this “Charter” were supposedly inspired by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s similar initiative which has proven quite successful, the PQ took it too far on one count and not far enough on another.

Firstly, reasonable people can put forward the argument that where laws are made; where justice is meted out; where authority exercises its rule and where young minds are formed, that these areas of endeavour should be free of religious symbolism. Not just because of a dogmatic devotion to secularism, but to put all faith communities on an equitable basis in the public, and publicly funded, square. Therefore, the argument continues, there should be no religious symbolism in the legislature, courts, police or public schools. This point of view has some basis in reason. Where the PQ failed is that they took it too far. To ban religious symbols in the entire public service flies in the face not only of reason, but of their own arguments that we have just set forth. To cite just one example, there can be no possible prejudice to society if medical professionals wear religious symbols. Hospitals are places where people should be made well. There are no laws or philosophies being propogated  there. The PQ should have limited its laity propositions to where their own concerns lie and not just take a broad brush to everything.

Secondly, on another point, this laity proposal does not go far enough. If the PQ truly does not want religion influencing politics, how can it bold-facedly leave in  what has come to be called the “Christian exemption.”  Premier Marois and several of her Ministers have made the argument that the cross in the National Assembly (and one supposes the one in Montreal’s City Hall) are exempt because they relate to Quebec culture and history. Well, they certainly do not, any more than the cross on the Quebec flag does. The PQ has missed an opportunity to educate Quebecers. And indeed every important voice in French media has ridiculed the PQ’s position on this issue and pointed this out. The cross on Mount Royal has historic significance. It is a commemoration of the crosses put up by Cartier and de Maisonneuve. It denotes no societal obedience to the Church. The cross in the Assembly however, is a direct result of a political deal with the Church done by Premier Maurice Duplessis in 1936-1937 to manifest an indefensible intimacy  between Church and State that plagued Quebec for a generation. The PQ chooses to disregard that.

These open inconsistencies and hypocrisies raise the central question that puts the PQ proposal in a negative light even among those who favour total secularism in the public arena. What motivated this government to propose a laity law that goes too far on the one hand and not far enough on the other? Why propose a law that cements age-old prejudices and privileges and continues a sad tradition of division and discord? The answers to these questions are not yet fully clear, but from what has been evidenced so far they may stem from a very opportunistic and dark place indeed.


Veuillez vous connecter pour poster des commentaires.

Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

Redacteur en chef et Editeur

Alan Hustak

Senior Editor

Daniel Laprès


Robert J. Galbraith


Roy Piberberg

Editorial Artwork

Mike Medeiros

Copy and Translation

Val Prudnikov

IT Director and Web Design

Editorial Contributors
La Patrie