The Canadian Association of Muslim Women Lawyers (CAMWL) joins a chorus of voices from across the country and within Quebec in denouncing the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) proposed Quebec Charter of Values, which would prohibit public servants of minority faiths from wearing mandatory religious symbols at work. The proposed Charter is intolerant and unconstitutional, and any anticipated benefits are far outweighed by its devastating impact on religious minorities. In particular, the CAMWL is deeply concerned about the proposed Charter’s effects on Muslim women who wear hijab and/or niqab.
The proposed Charter discriminates against and will disproportionately affect minority religions in the province. Symbols like yarmulkes, turbans and hijabs are considered mandatory articles of faith to those who wear them. The proposed Charter bans these symbols, but spares the unmistakable cross on Mount Royal and the cross above Quebec’s Legislative Chamber. This is a clear violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically sections 2(a) and 15, which uphold the rights to religious freedom and equality, respectively. The proposed Charter also replicates the marginalization in Canada of pre-existing Indigenous faiths, many of which include traditions that, until recently, were also banned, even criminalised. The discriminatory effect of the proposed Charter is unjustifiable in a free and democratic society.
The CAMWL further notes that the proposed Charter’s targeting of minority faiths is an affront to the key principle that democracy is not simply rule of the majority over (vulnerable) minorities, but includes (when necessary) the fundamental protection of minorities from the majority. The proposed Charter marginalizes minority communities by presenting them as threats to Quebecois identity. It assumes that those perceived as members of religious minorities are not and can never be authentically Quebecois, and that they should not help shape the values of their home province.
The proposed Charter also damages the livelihoods of religious minority communities. By tying employment in the public sector to mode of dress, employees from minority faiths are less likely to be able to serve the public. Rather than welcoming these communities to contribute to and participate in all aspects of life in Quebec, the proposed Charter sends the message that they are not welcome in places as essential as courts, hospitals, and schools, among others.
We emphasize our concern that the proposed Charter will marginalize and disempower the many Muslim women working or interested in working in the public sector, by forcing them to choose between their livelihoods and their deeply held religious beliefs. The CAMWL supports the position that in this case, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects individuals from having to make such a decision.
The CAMWL reiterates that the proposed Charter is unconstitutional and intolerant, and that it will have a severe and disproportionately negative impact not only on public sector employees from minority faiths, but on attitudes towards diversity in general. Indeed, whether or not the proposed Charter passes constitutional muster, the damage has already been done: far from uniting the province, it has paved the way for open animosity since its proposal, including an attack on a mosque in Saguenay. We stand with other justice-seeking groups in asserting that a far better approach would be to embrace all individuals and their desire to participate as full and equal members of Quebec society by acknowledging their right to express their faith as an intrinsic part of their identity.
We are also supported in our position by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association; read their statement online.