MONTREAL — Bill 60 represents a reversal of the history of political rights granted to Jews and other religious minorities in Quebec for more than 180 years, says the association of Jewish lawyers.
In its brief to the National Assembly committee holding public hearings on the values charter, the Lord Reading Law Society says the proposed legislation should be withdrawn.
The society refers to the Lower Canada legislature’s passage in 1832 of a law guaranteeing Jews the same political rights as Christians. That legislation grew out of the debate that ensued over the expulsion of the Ezekiel Hart, a Jew who was first elected to the legislature in 1807, because he would not take the oath on a Christian Bible.
The society says the bill contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It would impose “an impossible choice – my job or my conscience” on Quebecers who want to work in the public sector, Lord Reading believes.
The values charter would create “a hierarchy of rights that violates and emasculates fundamental freedoms making the liberty of conscience and expression subservient, inter alia, to the ‘value’ of state secularism,” the brief states.
Bill 60 would amend the Quebec rights charter to give primacy to the values charter.
The society says these alterations, which are “undefined, ambiguous and discriminatory,” would infringe on fundamental freedoms “not as a result of proven security concerns or pressing considerations of general well-being but according to simple ‘inclination’ of the government of the day.”
Although the bill’s goal is to enshrine state secularism, the society finds that, on the contrary, the state would not be “acting with neutrality, equanimity and equality towards its citizens.”
“For more than 65 years, our society has promoted cultural and religious diversity on the bench and in public service, and maintained that ethnic or religious origin should never be a barrier to the advancement of qualified people,” said lawyer Theodore Goloff, who chaired Lord Reading’s ad hoc Bill 60 committee.
“Bill 60 runs counter to these fundamental beliefs and values, and should be withdrawn.”
He said the society hopes it will be invited to make a presentation before the committee.
The society also maintains that the bill undermines judicial independence by excluding people who wear religious symbols from becoming judges.
Open display of signs of faith is “their right by law,” according to the society, and their prohibition is “a gross interference with the administrative independence of the judiciary.”
The society also thinks the bill would lead to labour strife between employers and unions, resulting in “an unmanageable spike in grievances and other litigation.”
Furthermore, the charter would have a negative impact on children, the society thinks, instilling “intolerance for others who are different.
“Rather than reinforcing family values, the bill creates the sense that they are only to be practised covertly rather than as part of each child’s individuality and life experience.”
The society takes particular exception to the suggestion that teachers wearing religious garb are incapable of being religiously neutral in their professional conduct.