MONTREAL — The Quebec Liberals’ sole Jewish caucus member says the party’s long-awaited formal position on the proposed values charter is not a softening of leader Philippe Couillard’s previous adamant opposition.
Lawrence Bergman, MNA for D’Arcy McGee, told The CJN that the position announced on Jan. 21 by Couillard actually represents the possibility of greater flexibility in the dress codes of police officers and prison guards.
Couillard, the official opposition leader who said in September that the proposed charter could only pass “over my dead body,” now says police and correctional officials must respect the uniforms they are required to wear by law or regulation – with exceptions.
“To obtain an accommodation, the person making the request must prove the need for it and that he or she has taken real steps towards integration,” according to a Liberal party press release.
“A competent authority must then evaluate the request, taking into account the imperative of respect for equality between women and men, as well as criteria regarding security, communication and identification.”
Bergman, who was a member of the caucus committee that formulated the position, said this proposal opens the door for such public employees, who are not able to do so at present, to wear overt religious symbols, if they meet the criteria.
The kippah, for example, would “certainly” not be prohibited, he said, because it would not be a safety or other issue.
In the Jan. 21 announcement, Couillard stated that, “no one, and especially no woman, should be threatened with the loss of their job due to their beliefs.”
He also said, “Our position hinges on respect for what we are and for what defines us collectively, historically and culturally. I understand and share concerns expressed by Quebecers regarding the rise of religious fundamentalism in several countries,” but Bill 60 is not the answer.
The Liberals are in favour of “the preservation of the religious patrimony of Quebec,” including keeping the crucifix hanging in the National Assembly.
They want the primacy of state religious neutrality included in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and believe that any accommodation made for a person’s religious beliefs respect that charter and also respect the equality between men and women.
The Liberals add the proviso that anyone making a request for accommodation must make an “effort” to integrate.
To the party’s previous stance that no state services be delivered to, or received by, people whose faces are covered – meaning wearing a niqab and burka – the Liberals have added the chador, a cloak worn by women covering the whole body, but leaving most of the face exposed.
If Bill 60 is modified to include these points, Couillard said the Liberals would vote for it.
The party also plans to put forward measures to “fight the phenomenon of fundamentalism,” such as discouraging hate speech, force marriage, polygamy and physical abuse.
The Liberals’ sole Muslim caucus member, Fatima Houda-Pépin, quit the caucus after the party’s Bill 60 position was announced. A strong opponent of Islamic fundamentalism, she wanted the party to follow the recommendations of the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor commission that employees representing state authority – police, prison guards, judges and prosecutors – not be permitted to wear overt religious symbols.
The second opposition party, Coalition Avenir Québec, would add to that list teachers and principals in public schools.
The minority Parti Québecois government holds 54 seats in the National Assembly, the Liberals now 49, the CAQ 18, and Québec solidaire, two, and there are two independents.