Skip to main content

Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for Quebec's controversial secular charter project, was quick to exploit the York University reasonable accommodation story, predicting that the need for such a charter will soon be felt throughout Canada.

J. Paul Grayson, the sociology professor who sensibly refused a student's request to be exempted from a seminar because he didn't want to mingle with female classmates, told a reporter from Le Devoir that he supports Quebec's plan to provide a framework for requests for accommodation and to ban religious signs in the public sector.

"There is a need for the same kind of initiatives that are debated in Quebec," he said. Prof. Grayson's decision was overturned by the university's hierarchy, an inept move that was widely condemned.

Story continues below advertisement

The York story and Prof. Grayson's uninformed comments about the charter provided fuel for Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois's government just in time for the parliamentary commission on the secular bill that began Tuesday. The PQ project triggered a stormy polemic last fall, and the hearings are expected to last for as long as two months, guaranteeing it's not about to end.

Unfortunately, Prof. Grayson's unconditional support for the Quebec charter only added more confusion to the debate.

This charter deals with reasonable accommodation, but its main and more controversial provision is the banning of religious symbols for civil servants, public-school and university teachers and health-care professionals – a plan that has nothing to do with the incident at York. Even if staff there had been denied the right to wear a kippah or a veil, it wouldn't have prevented Prof. Grayson's student from asking to be spared the company of women.

While the ban on religious symbols would constitute an unacceptable denial of a basic civil liberty protected by both the Canadian and the Quebec rights charters, it wouldn't stop religious zealots from seeking unreasonable privileges.

As for the requests for religious accommodation, the charter stipulates that they should be granted if they don't pose undue constraint on an institution, don't penalize other employees and don't violate the principle of gender equality. This last principle was ignored by York's administrators when they overruled Prof. Grayson's decision.

It goes without saying that universities and other institutions should add gender equality to the criteria they use to evaluate requests based on religion.

This was the usual practice in Quebec, years before the charter proposal. For instance, while requests for days off for religious holidays are often granted, those that rest on the refusal to interact with the other sex are generally refused.

Story continues below advertisement

Actually, there was no need for a secular charter to deal with reasonable accommodations. The Commission des droits de la personne du Québec, the province's own human-rights commission, which strongly condemned the ban on religious symbols, considers that the charter's provision about accommodation to be totally unnecessary, since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms already guarantees full protection against gender discrimination.

Despite a handful of spectacular cases that were disproportionally inflated by some populist media, Quebec's health services and school boards report practically no problems at the ground level. Just 3 per cent of the complaints received by the rights commission over a period of six years are related to religious accommodation. (Of those, the majority came from Jehovah's Witnesses.)

English Canada certainly doesn't need a secular charter. All it needs is administrators able to say no to unreasonable requests.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter