Charter of Values unconstitutional: TRUFA equity committee

Campus panel discussion highlights flaws in Parti Québécois bill

Amy Reinitz, Contributor Ω

From left to right: Ruby Dhand, Mursalin Miah, Tom Freidman, Monica Sanchez-Flores and Wendy Hulko discuss the impact of Quebec's Bill 60, also known as the Charter of Values. Amy Reinitz/The Omega

From left to right: Ruby Dhand, Mursalin Miah, Tom Freidman, Monica Sanchez-Flores and Wendy Hulko discuss the impact of Quebec’s Bill 60, also known as the Charter of Values. Amy Reinitz/The Omega

Does the power of the government trump individual rights when it comes to freedom of religion?

This was one of the questions posed at the TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA) equity committee panel discussion addressing the Parti Québécois’s (PQ) proposed Charter of Values on Nov. 7.

The panel was made up of TRU faculty as well as members of religious minorities, including Ruby Dhand from the faculty of law, Tom Friedman from the faculty of English and modern languages, Monica Sanchez-Flores from the faculty of sociology and anthropology, and Imam Mursalin Miah of the Ayesha Mosque in Kamloops. Wendy Hulko, from the faculty of social work, moderated the event.

“It is just mind-boggling to see why the PQ feels justified, at all, in proposing this bill in Canada, [a country] that has a tradition of supporting minority rights and freedom of religion. That is entrenched in our national constitution,” Sanchez-Flores said, which reflected the general tone of the discussion.

Sanchez-Flores, who also co-chairs the equity committee, introduced the basics of the Charter. Its formal name is the Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests. Or put more succinctly, Bill 60.

If passed, Bill 60 would prohibit the wearing of “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols by government employees, including municipal personnel, police officers, and school employees. “Conspicuous” has not been properly defined in the bill, but would include large crosses, burkas, yarmulkes, and turbans. It would also make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered while receiving or providing state services.

“It would effectively expand the power of the provincial government in defining that all public servants are an extension of the state, and therefore the individual rights are not necessarily as important,” Sanchez-Flores said. “It would give them the power to define what does and does not count as religion.”

Friedman, who identified himself a secular non-religious Jew, said he understood the anxiety felt by his practicing fellows in Quebec, and that the bill would be an imposition of values on all religions.

“All of the problems that the Marois government has decided are critical and can be resolved without this coercive charter,” Friedman said. “It is being used for political purposes, not for the betterment of the public good.”

Miah, who is a devout Muslim and has studied the Qur’an for over a decade, said that Muslims move to other countries so that they can practice their religion more freely. This bill would interfere with that, even though Muslims are allowed to make exceptions in their religious attire for extreme circumstances.

“A lady can show her face to an airport officer, or to a judge, and there is no problem with that so we don’t have a problem … I think one of the ways to move forward is to educate people in terms of different religions,” Miah said.

Dhand finished up the discussion and brought her background in human rights law, pointing out that most of the legal community in Canada is united in their opinion that the Charter is unconstitutional.

“It is totally flawed from a constitutional perspective, and it’s against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms … it’s also against our Human Rights Code. On every level, it appears illogical,” Dhand said.

Bill 60 was tabled on Nov. 7 in the Quebec National Assembly. It would require opposition support to pass, and will most likely have to be watered down in order for this to happen.