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A Practical Guide for Discussion of the Charter of Quebec Values

David RAND and Veronica ABBASS

Given the elevated degree of emotivity, antipathy and even hysteria which have been widely displayed by critics of the new Charter of Quebec Values, it is necessary to establish a few ground rules before any constructive discussion can possibly occur.

2013-09-12



A Practical Guide for Discussion of the Charter of Quebec Values


Given the elevated degree of emotivity, antipathy and even hysteria which have been widely displayed by critics of the new Charter of Quebec Values, it is necessary to establish a few ground rules before any constructive discussion can possibly occur.

  1. The ideas expressed in the Charter, as well as arguments for and against them, must stand on their own. The provenance of the ideas — from Quebec, from the French-speaking world, from the Quebec government, from a sovereignist political party — is of at most secondary or tertiary importance, if not completely irrelevant. A hatred of Quebec separatists is not an argument against the Charter, just as a love of them is not an argument for it.
  2. Ascribing hidden intentions to the authors of ideas is always risky and often scurrilous. In particular, accusations of intolerance, xenophobia or racism (in increasing order of seriousness) must be solidly explained and well supported by evidence before they can even be considered. The targets of such alleged behaviour must be made explicit: Who or what is not being tolerated, and how is that intolerance unjustified? (We all know that some forms of intolerance are justified and even necessary.) Who are the strangers who are the targets of alleged xenophobia, and in what way are they targeted? What race is being discriminated against and in what way is that discrimination expressed? In particular, an unsubstantiated accusation of racism — a very serious charge — is unacceptable and immediately discredits the accuser, indicating that any discussion with them is probably a complete waste of time.
  3. Deliberate confusion of the distinct concepts of race and religion is unacceptable. Islam is a religion, not a race. The same can be said of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and all other religions. If you are of the opinion that a person or a group or a political party is guilty of religious discrimination or religious bigotry, beyond what can be considered legitimate criticism of religion, then make your argument for that. However, making accusations of racism in this context is both irrational and defamatory.
  4. Criticism of the proposed Charter must be based on what the Charter actually says, not on some arbitrary extrapolation of what it says. Condemnations of the prohibition on wearing of religious symbols can be summarily dismissed unless they are accompanied by acknowledgement that this prohibition applies only to public service employees while on duty, not while they are off duty and not to anyone else (such as clients).

So what is left? The merits and faults of the Charter’s proposals in and of themselves are what need to be discussed. One of the major stipulations of the Charter is the prohibition of religious symbols in the public service, either displayed by the institutions themselves or by employees on duty. It certainly seems to be the most controversial proposal. Public service employees are already expected to exercise restraint with regard to expressions of partisan political views while on duty. Is it a reasonable restriction on personal freedom to require that employees of the state, while on duty, refrain from obvious declarations of religious allegiance as well? Is this restriction justified or unjustified?



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