NATIONALISM UNDER GUISE OF SECULARISM FOR PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYEES-Bill 60
On September 10 2013 Quebec’s Minister, responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, Bernard Drainville, introduced the “Charter of Values”, or Bill 60. Though now considered a dead political initiative the Parti Quebecois sought through Bill 60 to introduce the concept of neutrality and secularism as part of the discourse about employees in the public sector, who are presumably bound by the doctrine of separation of church and state. Though many aspects of the Bill received support from a variety of quarters, the Bill proved to be of quite a controversial nature.
Among other things Bill 60, Quebec Charter of Values, bans all public sector members from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols” while on the job. Masked as religious neutrality and an effort to achieve secularism in religious accommodation, portions of the Bill sought to “restrict public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs, niqabs, kippas, turbans and other items while on the job.” (Patriguin, 2013) The Bill’ served as a catalyst for the eruptions content has ignited long-standing political debates in Quebec and the rest of Canada about the appropriate model for the long-standing democratic principle of separation of church and state, religious accommodation and other principles of human rights law in a province that insists on its distinctiveness within the Canadian confederation.
Advocates for Bill 60 are quick to point out that the Bill is intended to be neutral and provide a further degree of separation between the church and state. Opponents of the Bill on the other hand contend that it is discriminatory, unconstitutional and is unworkable in modern day democracies. From the-point of view of Bill 60’s critics, the legislation threads unreasonably and indefensibly on religious freedom and hence runs afoul of existing human rights law that prohibits illegal discrimination based on religious beliefs and creed.
Opponents of Bill 60 are quick to point out that Bill 60 appears to be primarily concerned with the wearing of overt religious symbols such as “head scarf’s” and other symbols identifiable with religious groups such as Muslims, Jews, Indo-Pakistani, etc. Each side of the debate appears convinced that its view on the subject is correct.
Labeled as unconstitutional by Quebec and other legal communities, Bill 60 predictably created sharp political and ideological divisions among and within the electorate. A protracted political debate erupted in the aftermath of Bill 60’s introduction into the legislature. In the months following the introduction of Bill 60 the Quebec Liberals vowed to kill it should the electore opt to unseat the Parti Quebecois in the following election. Party member Philippe Couillard was quick to register his opposition to the Bill. Coulliatd is “against any law that leads to employment discrimination, and that Muslim women who wear a veil will always be welcome in his own party” (Benjamin Shingler and Melanie Marquis, 2013), adding to this is the threat that his party would make every attempt to stall such debate from every passing through the cacus, before the PQ plan of structuring social values would come into legislation. A recent quote had Couillard admitting that, “the big mistake that the government is making is to make people believe that, in order to defend what is specific about Quebec, we must trample on other people’s rights.” (Benjamin Shingler and Melanie Marquis, 2013).
Well, the Liberals won the election in February 2014 and some commentators now believe that Bill 60 died a quick and unremarkable death. Now that the rhetoric has subsided and ideological divisions quelled It is time now for a post-mortem analysis of Bill 60. Was Bill 60 a piece of nationalist legislation? Why was it essential for the Parti Quebecois to intoduce such legislation? What does Bill 60 tell us about the state of governance in terms of the state as employer?
Issue I Was Bill 60 a piece of nationalist legislation?
When deconstructed the contents of Bill 60 reveals an obvious nationalistic piece legislation. Its purpose was to insulate Quebec nationalist from change or disruption in the future. That the legislation was introduced by the Parti Quebecois is no accident. That the Parti Quebecois is nationalist bent on achieving sovereign state status with the Canadian confederation is no political secret. For more than twenty years now, the Quebecois nationalist, distinct society agenda has been no secret. The party has made several bold and calculated political moves, all intended to achieve either political separation from the Canadian confederation, or maintain francophone cultural hegemony within Quebec’s borders. The plebiscite, Bill 101 and other events in recent past have all been consistent with the Parti’s Quebecois’ political agenda. When nationalist Quebecers seek to define “francophones” as persons with historical roots in France they are simply touting a party line bent on maintaining cultural dominance. Make no mistake though; Bill 60 was a political effort for Quebec to maintain its place in Confederation. Quebec nationalism is the larger political agenda. Maintaining its distinctiveness, regardless of external economic and social forces was the primary agenda.
A starting point for the analysis in this paper is the recognition that Constitutionally Quebec has been the beneficiary of a federal state that recognizes Catholicism as Quebec’s “official” faith. So much of Canada-Quebec relations are based on a faith/culture based realities. Indeed within the federation are massive amounts of inter-governmental flows of funding tied to Catholicism of which Quebec has been a primary beneficiary. Human Rights legislation stands alongside these historical constitutional faith-based principles. Human rights legislation bans discrimination on the basis of religion. Every person within Canada has religious freedom. The negative is also true, the freedom to choose religious affiliation also means a freedom to choose not to affiliate and freedom to refuse to be dominated by a particular set of religious belief. Making matters worse in Quebec is that the free religious freedom is accompanied by a legal obligation to on an employer to accommodate.
In recent time’s globalization and a highly mobile workforce has had the attendant effect of religiously diversifying workplaces in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. Canada’s constitutional guarantee of the free movement of people within its borders helps to cement religious and ethnic plurality in Quebec’s workforce, regardless of Quebec’s own view as to what constitutes a “true Frenchman” (footnote here).
As is true elsewhere in Canada, religious plurality within Quebec’s borders has created inter-faith cleavages in the workplace for which Quebec as legislator and Quebec as employer creates sharp conflicting interest. Quebec as a state needs publicly to adopt principles that appear democratic. Quebec as employer, on the other hand, presents the best opportunity for nationalist to achieve a nationalist objective.
Human Rights legislation and jurisprudence expect it to create an inclusive workplace. The creation of such a workplace is not something that just happens simply because a group of people are put together to work under a set of employment policies and procedures. In fact, human rights jurisprudence in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada all impose vicarious liability against an employer that fails to remedy a poisoned workplace environment.
There is another more important reason for Quebec now to move toward secularization, to the extent permissible by enshrined constitutional principles. If one accepts that Quebec has a long-standing political imperative of preserving its distinct society status within confederation, and if one accepts that the use of state power has historically been the most important tool available to achieve this end, then the question for Quebec nationalists and sympathizers is how does Quebecers today ensure the survival of Quebec nationalism in the post-modern characterized by globalization and a highly mobile workforce. One answer is limited secularization. Could it be that nationalist Quebecers can imagine a day when its state, its francophone Quebec state loses its constitutional position in the confederation simply because the electorate and its public service are numerically controlled by a religious group other than its current Catholic Francophones? Quebecers are quite aware of the distinction between religious pluralism and secularization. As a state employer hell bent on a nationalist agenda, it cannot afford to replace Frencophone Catholicism with multi-faith religious images. In the post implementation period of the Bill, neither St. Jean Baptiste’s images nor his importance will wane, nor will the inveterate nature of Catholicism in existing policy and procedure. Christmas, Easter and other religious holidays are in no threat of eradication in the post-Bill 60 era. In fact, Quebecers may well be on good argumentative grounds if it says that Christmas and Easter holidays are now of general application and are devoid of any religious significance, despite their judaeo-Christain roots.
What Quebec has done masterfully through Bill 60 is to balance its need to be an employer compliant with human rights obligations with its political fears of losing its place in confederation. How so? Bill 60 will be defended on the basis that it prevents no one from believing whatever they want to. Curtailing the public display of “conspicuous religious symbols does in no way prevent anyone from practicing whatever religion they want. Quebec will no doubt contend that the public consists of people from virtually every conceivable religious stripe. The restriction does not impair a person to practice their faith even in the workplace, the argument will go. Rather, the restriction is the outward impression people get when dealing with civil servants. Gone will be complaints and requests from members of the public not to be served by people wearing particular religious symbols. All public servants will be void of all openly religious references. Supporters of the Bill may even go so far as to say that the Bill’s contents are consistent with the preservation of individual religious rights as it aims to reduce, if not eliminate religious disputes and challenges a public employer faces when balancing inter-faith and inter-faith rights in the workplace against the backdrop of secularization.
Yolanda Geadah in her article “Over My Dead Body” opines that there is a confusion between religious liberty and wearing a symbol which has no reflection on person’s belief. Articles of clothing while they reflect on a belief system, are not religious symbols, and they are certainly not “conspicuous religious symbols”.
Issue 2 Bill 60s Implications for public-sector employee’s vulnerabilities?
If as a society Canadian agree, in aggregate, that Quebec has the right to a distinctive society status then it begs the question of the most effective mechanism Quebec has to achieve that objective. Arguably, the best way to achieve its distinctiveness lies in the use of its state power as employer to direct this political end. “Distinct society” status is interwoven with the efficacy with which Quebecers can use of its power as an employer to support policy options targeted to achieve and maintain that status.
An employment in the public sector is largely to achieve the policy objectives of the Executive Branch of Government.
This must be distinguished from the right of certain employees to the position held, once employed into it. What this means is that no one is entitled to a job. Within the Canadian confederation, having a job is largely privilege determined solely by the employer, subject of course to the limits set out under human rights and other legislation designed to prevent employer abuses.
For the Parti Quebecois, there is a practical question of how to ensure the preservation of cultural and linguistic hegemony within its borders. French nationalists are acutely aware that cultural preservation and “francophone cultural dominance” can only be achieved if the state apparatus can be used to achieve nationalistic ends.
Rene Levesque and others who followed in his footsteps were quite successful in using Quebec’s state apparatus to create a French counterweight to Montreal powerhouse Anglophone community Westmount. Outremont literally means the other mountain. Quebec nationalist are keenly aware that preserving French nationalism and cultural hegemony cannot occur without the weight of the state and its legislative ordinances. They are also aware that as politics go the Parti Quebecois may in power today and out of power tomorrow, but successive governments rarely repeal the legislation of a prior administration on political grounds, except in a limited set of circumstances. Ontario’s former Premier Mike Harris who repealed the Employment Equity Act in its entirety, is one modern day exception
In the context of Bill 60, then, the dispute is whether Quebec, as employer, can impose its own brand of secularization in respect of the privilege of working without being discriminatory. In other words, the current debate about Bill 60 alleged discriminatory effects on the basis of religion begs this question: What if the Quebec Charter of Values is not in any direct conflict with individual religious freedoms, but instead is Quebec’s secular model adopted in furtherance of the separation of church and state? What if Bill 60’s intention can be harmonized with anti-terrorism and other existing laws already upheld by members of the Canadian judiciary?
Few can seriously argue with any degree of cogency that a state in its role of employer is in a different position than other employers. It is simply the truth that a state concerns itself with political questions the answers to which are sensitive. Anywhere in Canada, including Quebec, the right of an individual to hold a specific religious belief, also into includes the null hypothesis, the right to hold no religious belief at all. While Quebec, as a public sector employer, is not in a position to dictate that all of its employees subscribe to a particular set of religious belief, it does have the right as employer to curtail religious factionalism, religious disputes in its workplace caused by the open display of religious symbols of any kind.
Muslims around the world have been unfairly targeted by many other religious groups in the wake of 911 and based on prevalent, but often biased media reports of terrorist activities. To think that attitudes towards Muslim prevailing in the wider society will be left at the footsteps of Quebec as an employer is to display organizational naïveté.
Historically, Quebec has used the power of the state to position its own brand of nationalism. The Quebec use of its power of employer has played an important role in the so-called quiet revolution the genesis of which has been attributed to Rene Levesque.
Quebec’s use of its state power has been to achieve a political counterweight to Westmount in Outremont. It is this same use of state power that may well be fuelling Bill 60’s intention. Stated differently, in order for Quebec to balance the need for a Quebec nationalist agenda with religiously diverse beliefs, it must, as a state, find ways to secularize issues that can create religious cleavages in the workplace. This is particularly true, given that Quebec Catholicism is historically a constitutional feature of Canadian confederation. John Rawlson Saul notes that it is unfortunate that the three pillars of Canadian confederation are Christian English, French and the outside.
In the short term Quebec cannot create a wholly secular set of public sector organizations when so much of its identity is wrapped up in a religious identity through which funding flows. Quebec is constrained by centuries of Canadian constitutionalism. That been said, Quebec has a legitimate employer interest to move toward secularizing religious images in the workplace.
There is another more important reason for Quebec now to move toward secularization, to the extent permissible by enshrined constitutional principles. If one accepts that Quebec has a long-standing political imperative of preserving its distinct society status within confederation, and if one accepts that the use of state power has historically been the most important tool available to achieve this end, then the question for Quebec nationalists and sympathizers is how does Quebecers today ensure the survival of Quebec nationalism in the post-modern characterized by globalization and a highly mobile workforce. One answer is limited secularization. Could it be that nationalist Quebecers can imagine a day when its state, its francophone Quebec state loses its constitutional position in the confederation simply because the electorate and its public service are numerically controlled by a religious group other than its current Catholic Francophones? Quebecers are quite aware of the distinction between religious pluralism and secularization. As a state employer hell bent on a nationalist agenda, it cannot afford to replace Frencophone Catholicism with multi-faith religious images. In the post implementation period of Bill neither St. Jean Baptiste’s images nor his importance will wane, nor will the inveterate nature of Catholicism in existing policy and procedure. Christmas, Easter and other religious holidays are in no threat of eradication in the post-Bill 60 era, in fact, Quebecers may well be on good argumentative grounds if it says that Christmas and Easter holidays are now of general application and are devoid of any religious significance, despite their judaeo-Christain roots.
Balancing human rights issues with it interest in preserving Quebec’s.
Fear drives both sides.
The state is Quebec most powerful tool to en.
The Bill is not placing undue hardship or oppression towards a specific group of people per say, instead, it is permitting Quebec to obtain full membership into a secular workforce where religious symbols.
Democratic state is of the people for the people. Quebec’s place in Canadian confederation has always been special. That special place has always been a Canadian constitutional question and has traditionally been resolved on the basis of language, culture and faith. Bill 60 targets faith and arguably moves towards secularization by banning the wearing of religious attire.
What Quebec did in Bill 60 is arguably no different than what the Conservatives have done with respect to Muslim women wearing the ???.
In other words, One way to achieve the separation of church and state in the employment is for the state itself to embrace all religions.