I read Yoni Goldstein’s April 4 editorial “Speaking up against Quebec’s ban on religious symbols” with great interest. While I share his perspective that Quebec’s proposed Bill 21 is a repugnant law which needs to be withdrawn or defeated, I dispute his assertion that there has been a relatively muted response by Canadian politicians, at least Liberal ones.
As mayor of Cote-St-Luc six years ago, I helped lead the Montreal island suburbs in our opposition to the PQ’s Charter of Values. We even held a rally outside the Cote-St-Luc City Hall on a cold night in December which drew close to 700 people. At the time, I noted that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was the only federal party leader who was clear and unequivocal in his opposition to the Quebec law (as well as the other proposed bill by the PQ, Bill 14, which sought to further erode language rights of English speaking Quebecers).
This principled opposition to measures which trampled on the charter rights of minorities, no matter how popular they may have been in Quebec at the time, was one of the main reasons that I decided to run for the Liberal Party of Canada in the next federal election.
Fast forward to today when a new Quebec government seeks to pass a similar bill which tells children who will grow up wearing kippot, turbans and hijabs that they will never be able to aspire to certain jobs in the public service. Bill 21 applies the notwithstanding clause of the Quebec and federal charters in a bid to stop citizens from opposing a measure which blatantly violates freedom of expression and freedom of religion before the courts.
It mixes up the very important principle of the separation of church and state with an individual’s rights to practise his or her faith freely. This legislation would make Quebec the only jurisdiction in North America where Orthodox Jewish men would have to choose between their faith and the desire to be a police officer, prosecutor, judge or public school teacher.
Not only did I immediately take a strong stand against this bill, I also asked provincial, municipal and school board representatives to join me in holding another rally for religious freedom in front of the Cote-St-Luc City Hall on April 14 . Additionally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Attorney General David Lametti and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez have all been extremely clear in both official languages that we support the charter rights of Canadian citizens living in Quebec and strongly oppose any attempts to restrict people from wearing religious symbols in any job.
Liberal MPs across Quebec and Canada are united in support of this principle and are saying the same thing in both English and French. I would contrast that to our Conservative colleagues who say this is a provincial issue and I would note that Conservative MPs such as Pierre Paul-Hus and Jacques Gourde have both told the Canadian Press that the decision is solely up to the National Assembly and in Gourde’s case that it is entirely appropriate for different provinces to have different orientations on this issue.
I can confirm to The CJN readers, and my constituents in particular, that I will always fight for your religious rights, linguistic rights and other charter rights and I will never cave in to the argument that I should not do so because it will be unpopular. I am proud that I belong to a political party which shares that sentiment.