Nothing solves the problem of a slow summer news week in Quebec like a juicy reasonable accommodation story to chew on. Proving once again that there really are no limits to its fascination with stories related to the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, the Quebec press spent much of last week slowly pondering the implications of the July 24th Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour of provincial rules which force members of a Hutterite community in Alberta to have their photos taken to get a driver's licence.
Many in the province's media wondered how the decision might affect similar reasonable accommodation cases in the future. In his column last Thursday, Le Soleil's Jean-Marc Salvet suggested that the federal government should take a cue from the Supreme Court's decision and revise its stance on allowing people to vote in federal elections with their faces covered. Mr. Salvet pointed out that Stephen Harper promised to address the problem in September 2007, "at a time when the crisis over reasonable accommodation was approaching hysteria," but has since backed away from the issue. Mr. Salvet opined that it is time now to revive this debate, which "concerns the very principles … that form the basis of our democracy."
In a post to the La Presse editor's blog, André Pratte wondered if the Supreme Court decision might signal a "change in direction" in the court's interpretation of rights. "In reading this judgement, it seems the Court has made a 180 degree turn since its decision on the kirpan issue three years ago," he wrote. Although Mr. Pratte made a point of quoting dissenting Supreme Court judge Rosalie Abella, who called the decision "troubling," he predicted that "those who think the courts have been too generous in their interpretations of the right to religious freedom will be delighted with this latest decision."
Le Journal de Montreal's Richard Martineau, who has devoted many a polemical column to the injustices of reasonable accommodation, was indeed delighted with the Supreme Court ruling. He declared that he planned to "celebrate" the court's decision, which he thought underscored that "there is a limit" to how much Canadian society should accommodate cultural and religious minorities.
Mr. Martineau wasn't the only one celebrating. In an op-ed published in Le Devoir titled "The Limits of Reasonable Accomodation," Jean-Louis Roy - a visiting scholar at the Université de Montreal law school - commended the Supreme Court's decision for having "established that the integrity of the communal systems of this country have primacy over the exemptions or restriction sought out by communities invoking freedom of religion." While Mr. Roy approved of this most recent decision, he pointed out that for the majority of the Alberta Hutterite community, the drivers' license photo was never an issue. He concluded by suggesting that in future debates over cases of reasonable accommodation, it will be important to "clearly identify who is making the request" to avoid considering a particular practice as "a requirement for an entire community," when it is, in fact, a request coming from a "dissident minority" within that community.
Column of the Week
In his column published on July 29, Le Soleil's Gilbert Lavoie reflected on the current state of the ADQ's leadership race. He wrote that the "moment of truth" is fast approaching for the four declared candidates, who have until August 18 to collect 1,000 signatures and officially register as candidates with the party.
The race to replace former leader Mario Dumont has so far generated very little media interest, but Mr. Lavoie argued that despite both the reaction from the press and the ADQ's poor showing in recent polls, "the number of internet hits related to the ADQ and the leadership candidates is very high." He took this as a sign that the upcoming leadership race "might garner more interest than we thought."