Human rights and Quebec's Charter of Values.

AuthorMcKay-Panos, Linda

On Thursday, November 7, 2013, the Quebec government tabled its Charter of Values, Bill 60. The Bill provides that public body personnel must maintain religious neutrality in the exercise of their functions. It also restricts personnel from wearing objects "such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overtly indicate a religious affiliation" (section 5). Both personnel of public bodies and those receiving services from public bodies must ordinarily have their faces uncovered (section 6). It appears to ban headgear, such as turbans, kippahs, hijabs, niqabs and other such clothing, as they indicate a religious affiliation. Under the Bill, the National Assembly can decide whether the crucifix in the Legislative Assembly will remain as a reminder of the province's Roman Catholic heritage.

How does the proposed new legislation fit into existing Canadian human rights law? While Canadian governments are bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ("Charter") each province has individual human rights laws that apply to selected activities of individuals and governments. Unlike the human rights laws in most other jurisdictions, which focus on discrimination, Quebec's law, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, RSQ,

Chapter C-12 ("Quebec Charted), covers a broad array of rights and freedoms (similar to the Charter). It even includes rights, such as property rights, that are not included in the Charter. Many rights cases arising in Quebec rely on both the Charter and the Quebec Charter.

In addition to passing the headgear and clothing requirements set out above, Bill 60 seeks to amend the Quebec Charter as follows:

41. Section 9.1 of the Charter is amended by adding the following sentence at the end of the first paragraph: 'In exercising those freedoms and rights, a person shall also maintain a proper regard for the values of equality between women and men and the primacy of the French language, as well as the separation of religions and State and the religious neutrality and secular nature of the State, while making allowance for the emblematic and toponymic elements of Quebec's cultural heritage that testify to its history.'

The idea behind this is that everyone, regardless of belief, has the right to participate fully in Quebec society.

Both the Quebec Charter and the Charter guarantee freedom of religion. The current minority government in Quebec, the Parti Quebecois, seeks to amend the...

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