A new coalition in favour of Quebec's Charter of Values says it has gained the support of former Supreme Court justice Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, a figure who stands to offer high-profile legal heft to proponents of the ban on religious headgear in the public service.
Ms. L'Heureux-Dubé, who retired from the top court in 2002, could not be reached for comment on Monday; her office said she was travelling outside the country. However, organizers of the newly formed Rassemblement pour la laïcité say the retired justice told them she endorses their views, and they have published her name in a list of backers.
The coalition supports the PQ government initiative to forbid public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols as a way of showing the state is neutral. "She has read our statement and she is in agreement," said Daniel Baril, an organizer for the group, which is to unveil its full list of signatories on Tuesday.
Ms. L'Heureux-Dubé's would be a rare voice in the legal community to speak in favour of the PQ's proposal. The charter has opened sizable rifts in public opinion and faced criticism by most legal experts that it would not withstand a challenge under the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights.
Ms. L'Heureux-Dubé has been outspoken about her backing for equality between men and women. During the height of the debate over so-called "reasonable accommodations" of religious minorities in Quebec, she said sexual equality had to be considered more often in legal decisions. "I don't believe that a fundamental right can be reasonable if it's not compatible with the notion of equality," she told Le Devoir in 2007.
She told Radio-Canada in May this year that the British model of social integration was creating ghettos, that women in veils were separating themselves from the mainstream, and that minorities had to adapt to common values such as sexual equality. She was critical of the decision of a Montreal YMCA to glaze over the windows of one of its exercise rooms at the request of a neighbouring synagogue.
"Are we going to turn completely against our values? We have the values of equality between men and women. I don't see why we'd let people … say, 'Now we're following another way of life.' No."
She also said that some rights were more fundamental than others; "civil rights" such as freedom of religion and expression should not be placed on the same footing as rights such as sexual equality. "There are civil liberties that can be reduced in terms of what is reasonable in a free and democratic society," she told Radio-Canada.