Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau’s condemnation of Quebec’s plan to introduce legislation limiting the religious freedom of provincial civil servants is praiseworthy. It is refreshing and welcome to see a prominent federal party leader not pander to Quebec politicians’ xenophobic instincts. There are two other federal leaders we can think of who should do the same.
Mr. Trudeau was frank. “I have enormous concerns about the limits that would be imposed on people, on their religion and on their freedom of expression,” he said after a meeting with Quebec Premier Pauline Marois on Wednesday. Ms. Marois had just confirmed to him that her minority government is considering legislation to ban the wearing of religious headwear, such as yarmulkes, hijabs and turbans, and conspicuous crosses (which might mean small ones are okay), by provincial employees. The ban would cover a large swath of Quebec society: police officers, teachers, university professors, doctors, nurses and public daycare staff. The law would also ban religious symbols from the walls of public buildings, with the notable exception of the crucifix over the speaker’s chair in the provincial legislature.
Mr. Trudeau said the PQ government seems to be trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, and that is motivated by “fear of the other.” He also said such a law, to be known as the Charter of Quebec Values, would be a disservice to Quebeckers. “I don’t think it’s who we are and I don’t think it honours us to have a government that does not represent our generosity and openness of spirit as a people.”
The Opposition Leader, Thomas Mulcair, refused to comment on the grounds nothing has been tabled yet. Given that the PQ has been talking about passing such a law since it was elected last year, and held public hearings into it during the spring, Mr. Mulcair’s reaction is disingenuous. The same goes for the Prime Minister’s Office, which simply stated, “It’s a debate that will occur at the provincial level.” A provincial law that is destined to impinge on Canadians’ Charter-protected freedom of religion and expression is hardly a debate that Ottawa can avoid. Since when are Canadians’ rights not a matter for the federal government?