Quebec has extended its partial lockdown until May 4th. Premier François Legault had originally ordered all non-essential businesses closed until April 13th, but with COVID-19 cases still on the rise (up 947 since yesterday to 7944), Quebec will remain “on pause” as Legault put it, three weeks longer.
At the same press conference, Legault did have some good news. According to a Google Mobility Report, Quebec is the jurisdiction in Quebec that is respecting social distancing restrictions the most.
It didn’t really look like that yesterday in Montreal parks, though. In response, Mayor Valérie Plante’s administration closed Île Notre-Dame, the parking lots that serve Mount-Royal and the Atwater footbridge over the Lachine Canal.
These measures are to stop people from driving or otherwise communting to parks that aren’t in their area (some people who don’t live on the island of Montreal visited the mountain yesterday) or visiting parks in groups. The city also increased police presence in parks.
Plante also urged Montrealers to only visit parks near where they live and reminded the public that non-essential travel between parts of the city was strongly discouraged. Montreal remains under a State of Emergency.
Yesterday, in a continued response to COVID-19 (aka the Coronavirus) Quebec Premier François Legault ordered all shopping malls, hair salons, sit-down restaurants and spas closed until May 1st and extended school closings to that date as well. He also announced that police would now be enforcing a ban on groups of more than two people either gathered outside or indoors (where not everyone lives in the residence).
Yesterday there were 219 cases, today there are 628. While the new number is a little less than triple the previous one, it is also the first time the government is including presumed cases along with confirmed ones.
This jump was also anticipated, given the time it takes for the virus to show up. It’s still too early to tell how well the social distancing measures, which began here when Legault ordered all bars and gyms closed last Sunday, are working.
With the larger number, though, Legault ordered all in-person businesses not deemed essential to close by midnight tonight until April 13th. Or, as the Premier put it: “Quebec will be on hold for three weeks.”
What Is Considered Essential
Quebec just released the list of what is considered essential (post updated from a previous version without the list). You can read the complete list, currently in French only, on quebec.ca
In addition to healthcare (including veterinary), government (including garbage collection, postal service and snow removal) and infrastructure services and some construction services, the following can remain open:
Grocery stores and other food businesses
Big box stores in commercial centres with separate entrances offering hardware, grocery or pharmacy products
Agricultural product stores
SAQ and SQDC
Funeral homes, crematoriums and cemetaries
Takeout and delivery restaurants
Cleaners and laundromats
Medical and orthopedic supply businesses
Pet food and supply businesses
Workplace security equipment businesses
Telecommunications (equipment and service)
Local and national media (not just indie media like us that already work remotely)
Newspaper printing presses
Banking (at the bank and support centres)
Financial market services
Electricians, plumbers and similar services supporting emergency services
Construction equipment rental
Building maintenance and related services (alarms, ventilation, etc.)
Taxis and adaptive transport
Ports and aeroports
Vehicle repair and service stations
Businesses in the supply chain of essential businesses
We will update you on any changes as this promises to be a developing story for weeks to come.
December 12th, 2019 was a sad day for visible minorities in Quebec. The Quebec Court of Appeal denied the application to suspend certain sections of the Laicity Act aka Bill 21 until the Superior Court decides on their constitutionality.
A lot of eyes were on the Quebec Court of Appeal in anticipation of this ruling. Some in favor of Bill 21 even tried to undermine the court by questioning the impartiality of the chief justice, Nicole Duval Hesler. Among them were historian and Dawson College professor Frédéric Bastien, who publicly argued ten days before the ruling that Hesler could not be impartial because she has spoken in favor of multiculturalism and religious accommodation.
While most people would consider Hesler an enlightened judge, her critics cried bias, going insofar to file a complaint against her with the Canadian Judicial Council, the body responsible for ensuring the quality of judicial services in Canada.
The authors of the law knew that Bill 21 could not withstand a legal challenge by an objective court. It’s why they wrote the Notwithstanding Clause into the law, and why in anticipation of the Court of Appeal’s decision, they attempted to undermine its chief justice.
Turns out the bigots were wasting their time questioning Hesler’s impartiality, for while Hesler voted to grant the appeal, she was overruled by her fellow judges. In the 2-1 decision, the court decided that the Notwithstanding Clause written into the law made suspension of articles within it impossible until the Superior Court gave their own ruling on its constitutionality.
Now let’s talk about the Court of Appeal decision.
The ruling was the outcome of an appeal of a Superior Court decision rendered on July 18, 2019. The plaintiff in this case is Ichak Nourel Hak, a student scheduled to complete her Bachelor of Education this winter. She hoped to teach high school French in Quebec, but the passing of Bill 21 last June made that impossible.
The law bans many public service employees – including teachers – from wearing religious symbols while working. Hak wears a hijab, and the law as it stands only allows existing employees who wear such symbols to keep their jobs.
New hires and people seeking a promotion would have to remove the signs of their faith in order to work. As it stands, and in spite of the teacher shortage in Quebec, many people have found their job offers rescinded or their applications denied since the enactment of Bill 21.
Hak and three other groups, among them the English Montreal School Board and the Canadian Council of Muslims, are all working to challenge the law in court, but until those challenges are heard and decided, the law remains in effect.
Hak went to the Superior Court seeking an injunction to suspend articles 6 and 8 of the Laicity law until the constitutional challenges were decided.
Article 6 prohibits certain public employees from wearing religious symbols. It also defines religious symbols as all objects, especially clothing, symbols, jewelry, accessories and headgear worn with religious conviction or belief, as well as anything that could be considered religious clothing. Article 8 requires that members or employees of public institutions carry out their duties with their faces uncovered, and that anyone wishing to receive government services must uncover their faces in order to receive them – a clear reference to the Niqab worn by some Muslim women. Though the Laicity Law is supposed to apply to everyone equally, experts agree its effects will be felt mostly by Muslim women in Quebec.
The Superior Court refused to suspend these parts of the law because of the Notwithstanding Clause written into it. The Quebec Court of Appeal maintained that decision.
So what is the Notwithstanding Clause and why can it affect a provincial court decision?
All laws in Canada, be they provincial or federal, are subject to the Constitution, which takes precedence over all other laws. Included in the Constitution is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Laws that violate the Constitution can be challenged in court, and in the case of a successful challenge, struck down. In order to avoid such challenges, governments can use the Notwithstanding Clause.
The Notwithstanding Clause is section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is written into our constitution to allow governments, provincial and federal, to enact laws that violate sections seven to fifteen of the Canadian Charter – sections referring to equality, freedom from discrimination, and the rights of the accused in criminal cases – provided they indicate within the law that it applies notwithstanding the Charter.
The Clause is not, however, the great block to legal challenges Premier François Legault makes it out to be, as it’s only valid for five years. At the end of the five year period, the National Assembly can let it expire thus opening it to new legal challenges, or they can renew it by another act of parliament.
The five-year limit allows for governments to change and in cases where a law has been struck down by the courts, it can buy governments time to keep the law in effect while they rewrite the law so that it conforms to the Charter.
Any legal challenges to the Laicity law will either have to wait for the five years to expire, or find ways around the Notwithstanding Clause to successfully challenge the law. Current challenges include, but are not limited to:
That the law violates section 28 of the Canadian Charter guaranteeing equal treatment before the law of males and females given that the law disproportionally affects women. In the past, section 28 has only been used to interpret laws, not challenge them.
That the law criminalizes the wearing of religious symbols in certain professions and therefore is unconstitutional on jurisdictional grounds as it was enacted by a provincial government when only the Federal government can enact criminal legislation
The law is too vague
The Court of Appeal was not there to render a decision on the Laicity law’s merits. It was there to decide whether or not the law allowed them to suspend certain parts of the law until its merits are decided by another court.
The Court of Appeal recognized that the Laicity Law causes harm to the people it affects, especially women. It recognized that the grounds for the legal challenges – set to be heard by the Superior Court in October 2020 – have merit. It refused to suspend the law until those challenges are heard and decided, stating that the use of the Notwithstanding Clause tied their hands at this stage.
Until the actual challenges to the Laicity law are heard and decided, do not lose hope. Be an open and vocal critic of François Legault and his government and step between those using the law as an excuse to harass and assault innocent people.
Support movements like “Non à la Loi 21” and wear one of their buttons with pride. Show solidarity with Quebec’s religious minorities and laugh openly and loudly at people who defend the law as anything but the legalized bigotry it is.
The fight is not over until we say it is. So keep fighting.
Featured Image of the Quebec Court of Appeals building in Montreal by Jeangagnon via WikiMedia Commons
On October 30th, 2019 the Quebec government under François Legault and the CAQ announced that they would be making an addition to the requirements for people seeking to immigrate to Quebec. It’s a test of allegedly ‘democratic values and Quebec values’. The announcement resulted in praise by some, harsh criticism by others.
It should be said right off the bat that this article is not going to discuss how blatantly xenophobic this announcement is. It is not going to address the fact that, like Bill 21, this values test is clearly pandering to the most disgustingly xenophobic racist people in Quebec and that the path the government has taken may unfortunately culminate in a slew of hate crimes in Legault’s name. My colleague, Jason C. McLean did an excellent job of addressing this last week.
This article is going to look at the practical aspects of such a test and what impact it would really have on would-be immigrants to Quebec.
For those unfamiliar with the immigration process, federal and provincial governments have concurring jurisdiction on issues of immigration. However it must be noted that while Quebec can choose its immigrants through Quebec Selection Certificate (CSQ) program, it is Ottawa that ultimately gets the final say as to who gets to live in Canada permanently as permanent residents and eventually citizens.
The Quebec government announced that all adult immigration applicants and their adult family members will be required to take the test and get at least 75% to pass. If they fail, they will have an opportunity to take the test a second and third time. Minors and people with a medical condition preventing them from obtaining a selection certificate would be exempt.
The same day, the Quebec government released a series of sample questions that might appear on the test. The questions include those about the equal rights of men and women, LGBTQI rights, and regarding Quebec’s controversial religious symbols ban. If the samples are any indication, it is highly possible that some Canadian Conservative and People’s Party voters would not themselves pass it.
In order to fully grasp the actual impact this test would have, I reached out to the people with the Non à La Loi 21 group, who have been leading the fight against the religious symbols ban François Legault forced through the National Assembly last March. As they have been actively fighting prejudice in Quebec, I asked if they had any thoughts on this test. They put me in touch with Me William Korbatly, a lawyer operating out of Ville Saint Laurent.
He says that the Quebec government is within its rights to impose any condition in order to get a CSQ. Korbatly feels that such a test would be easier to pass than the mandatory French test required in order to get a CSQ, and would therefore not have a significant impact on the immigration process.
He points out that the test is useless because many people would have no problem giving the correct answers on the test even if they themselves don’t believe in what they’re answering. Once applicants have their CSQ or permanent residency, the government won’t be able to hurt them even if they openly declare their disagreement with so-called “Quebec values”.
“The problem lies not in the technicality but rather in its raison d’etre. We all know the hardline nationalist identity political agenda that the CAQ is pursuing. This test is merely another publicity populist coup to show to their audience that they stand up for their values and the ‘valeurs québécoises’.”
Me Korbatly feels that this values test is just another distraction from what is really going on in Quebec and the failures of our current government.
“Presenting the ‘laicité’ as defined by the CAQ and which was passed and integrated within the Quebec Charter of Rights by a closure motion, as a Quebec value is dishonest and doesn’t represent the real open and tolerant nature of Quebec and Quebeckers. What the CAQ is doing since the passing of Bill 21, is hijacking the opinions of all Quebecers and reducing them to their populist identity agenda and wedge politics so they can hide their failures in the execution of most of their promises such as the deal with specialist physicians, Hydro Quebec, the maternelle 4 ans, the maisons pour les ainés, and the list is long.”
Given that the test will be ultimately meaningless, here’s hoping new arrivals to Quebec say what is needed to pass so they can come here. After all, diversity is strength, and the more diverse Quebec is, the more our leaders will have to abandon their hate.
Featured image by abdallahh via Flickr Creative Commons
The Quebec Government just passed a “Quebec Values Test” requirement for prospective immigrants. It was one of Premier François Legault’s easy-to-keep campaign promises aimed squarely at the most bigoted elements of his base.
My colleague Samantha Gold will have a detailed look at the specifics and talk to some of those it actually affects in a few days. For now, just know that it’s exactly as bad as you think it is, only it’s worse.
Though passed after Bill 21, the infamous religious symbols ban, it effectively acts as a first step towards forced assimilation into white mainstream European settler culture. It also attempts to normalize the xenophobia inherent in Bill 21.
Insulting Questions That Distract
While the government hasn’t released actual questions that will be on the test, they did offer media five sample questions covering the general areas. Most of them are basic and, frankly, insulting.
There’s the one about what the official language of Quebec is. Gee, could it be the one the test is written in and also the one prospective immigrants have to take a whole other test on?
While that one may be insulting to the test taker’s intelligence, some of the others are potentially worse. Those are the ones also designed, most likely, to mollify progressive-minded people who already live here.
They ask about whether or not men and women are equal in Quebec and also if men can marry men and women marry women here. The questions ignore the reality that gender equality and LGBTQ rights might very well be the reasons behind the applicant’s desire to immigrate here in the first place.
Then there’s one about whether or not a police officer can wear a religious symbol on the job. Of course, Bill 21 goes much further than the police, but why not cherry-pick scenarios?
Coupled with the two questions I just mentioned, the intent is clear. The CAQ want to imply that a woman who chooses to wear the hijab, for example, cannot possibly be for gender equality.
At the same time, they want people to think of Bill 21 as something that actually has to do with secularism, gender equality and LGBTQ rights, when, in reality, it’s just about turning racist fears of the so-called “other” into votes. Nice try, assholes.
The final question they released, though, is really the white frosting on this cake of intolerance. It’s multiple choice:
Identify which situations involve discrimination. A job is refused:
To a woman who is pregnant
To a person lacking the required diploma
To a person because of their ethnic background
While the correct answer should be that refusing a job to someone for being pregnant and/or for their ethnic background constitutes discrimination, Bill 21 really muddies the waters. It has made it not just okay, but also law, to discriminate against someone proudly displaying their ethnic and cultural background when applying for a job.
Five Better Questions
Okay, so here are five more accurate questions that the CAQ should ask:
Are you aware that the current government of this province is actively scapegoating immigrants to appeal to their xenophobic base?
You know French is the official language, women and men are equal and the LGBTQ community have rights, but did you know the government is using all of that to justify their bigotry?
Did you know that this is actually Native land and the Quebec Government really should have no say in who comes here or not?
If you do come, hockey is really a thing here and so is poutine (fries, cheese curds and gravy). So, get ready for that.
Just fill out the “test” the way they want and then come here and help us get them removed from office.
Seriously, though, this “test” is the sort of racist BS we’ve come to expect from the CAQ. It’s sad, but it’s also what we’ve got to deal with for the next few years.
Pride has become many things over the years. For some it’s a great party – a chance for peoa ple of all genders and sexual orientations and identities to bust out the rainbows and costumes and dance in the street. For others, Pride celebrations are political acts – assertions that people of all genders and identities have a right to live their best lives.
For many others, mainstream Pride celebrations have become too corporate and too much of an opportunity for cis straight white people, particularly politicians and major corporations, to solicit LGBTQI votes and business while doing nothing to help them. Some people have fought this by organizing resistance movements within Pride, while others have opted to stage their own separate protests.
I had the privilege of speaking with those who attended the parade and those who organized counter protests within and without.
Before I go into that, we need to discuss the history of Montreal Pride as there are still some (idiots) who wonder why the LGBTQI community needs a celebration at all.
The gay pride movement as we know it began with the 1969 Stonewall riots. True to the assertion that Pride started as a protest against police brutality, the riots were in direct response to police raids of establishments catering to the gay community.
The Stonewall Inn was a mob-owned bar that primarily served gay men in Greenwich village in New York. In June of that year police conducted a raid and in response to it and years of persecution, a riot erupted. It was this riot, led by black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson and others that sparked Pride marches and the mobilization of LGBTQI rights around the world.
The first Pride parade in Montreal happened in 1979 on the tenth anniversary of Stonewall. What started as a fifty-two-person march has now become an eleven-day festival with over two million participants.
Our local gay rights movement really got off the ground following the Sex Garage raid of 1990, which you could call our Stonewall. This led to the formation of Divers/Cité, the group that ran Pride until 2006.
This year the festival was marked by scandal. This is partly due to the announcement that Quebec Premier and critic of minority rights Francois Legault would be marching in the parade, as well as a recent CBC news story about how Sophia Sahrane, a black woman, was fired from Montreal Pride within an hour of submitting a report to them saying that they had not done enough to include visible minorities.
Many people objected to Francois Legault’s participation in Pride. At the head of this movement was Sam Kaizer, an activist behind the “Let go of Legault” petition calling on Montreal Pride to rescind its invitation to allow the Premier to march in the parade.
“When I started the petition, I was mostly concerned about the rights of our religious minorities, especially Muslim women,” he said. “But I was informed that the CAQ has done nothing towards the recognition of trans identities (and) the CAQ has not contributed anything to the advancement of LGBT+ rights.”
Unfortunately, though Kaizer’s petition got over three hundred signatures, Legault marched in the parade anyway. For Kaizer, this was not a total loss because Legault was booed almost the entire time and Kaizer’s petition helped spark important discussions about Pride. His hope was to raise standards for participants in the parade.
“I think only members of the community and allies should be permitted to march, not people who just want to look good in the media,” he said.
One person who marched in the parade was Jodi Kazenel. She was invited to march with her mentor, Dr. Laurie Betito, a phycologist with a specialty in sexuality and radio personality for CJAD. For Kazenel, the parade is about being part of a celebration of love and diversity and bringing awareness to how much more must be done for 2SLGBTQIA+ rights around the world and across Canada.
As for the criticisms of Pride Montreal as being increasingly corporate, racist and transphobic, she feels that if Pride helps raise awareness of these issues, then it’s a good thing. That said, she does have reservations about corporate participation in the parade:
“Corporations must ensure that their outward portrayals of inclusion and acceptance are reflected inside their workplaces, policies, medical allowances, and the like. Transphobia and racism have no place in Pride. Pride Montreal, all organisations, all corporations, all individuals must do their part to be inclusive of the entire 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which includes trans folks and POC.”
Sadly, there are many in Montreal who feel that Pride Montreal does not represent them. Among them are Adrienne Moohk, co-founder of GRIND’HER – a group that seeks to create pro trans, pro sex, pro sex worker lesbian cruising spaces, and Naomi Champagne. They are the organizers of the Pride is a Protest March which took place on the same day as and followed the Montreal Pride parade.
For them a major problem with Montreal Pride is the lack of black transgender women, ironic given that one of the leaders of Stonewall was a black trans woman. For them the firing of Sophia Sahrane was proof of the organization’s refusal to include or represent people of colour.
“Now, pride is centred around mostly white drag queens… Pride does not include black transwomen, nevermind does not centre them – and in fact, doesn’t seem to have much room for black people at all. or trans people!” Adrienne said, adding that many black and transgender people have walked away from Montreal Pride feeling traumatized.
In their eyes, Pride owes black, brown, and transgender communities representation and the fact that the event has become so corporate is also a problem.
“Pride started as a protest, but now is a corporate institution, that is actually quite dangerous to the lives of the most marginalized and while they def 100 should figure out better representation, all they do is appropriate people and their movements, instead of bring about real positive change which is quite dangerous,” Adrienne added.
For artist and transgender woman Candi Krol, attending the march over the parade was about feeling represented:
“(Montreal) Pride doesn’t speak for me or many others from marginalized communities under the LGBTQ+ banner, queer, trans, POC… pride has become an overly corporate white cis gay male thing that actively excludes us. Banks, politicians, corporations etc. pretend to care, but they are clueless. The gay rights movement was started by mostly drag queens, trans and queer POCs who lived on the fringes of the gay culture. They not only seem to forget this, but actively try to erase our history. I haven’t felt like pride supported or represented me in years.”
As to what Montreal Pride can do to better include people of colour and transgender people, Adrienne and Naomi feel that financially supporting marginalized groups would help. Pride in their eyes has so much money they could be handing out to community organizations to better support transgender people and people of colour.
They also feel that Montreal Pride doesn’t hire enough black, brown, and transgender people when Pride should be made up of a majority of them. Despite demands for inclusion, the organization doesn’t listen.
“There is an organization in Montreal called Taking What We Need, who fundraise for broke ass trans women who need it. They should have given them serious money, maybe room on the program.”
That said, the rights of LGBTQI people have a long way to go before equality is achieved. This is not just about homophobia or transphobia, but about racism, sexism, trans misogyny, police brutality, and corporate greed.
We owe it to ourselves as a society to actively scrutinize people who claim to support human rights, but actively undermine them when in a position to help. In the meantime, Montreal Pride will continue and so will all the other protests and rightful demands for change.
Lately, talk in Quebec political circles has focused on the CAQ Government’s proposed law 21. Currently a bill before the National Assembly, it is better known as the Religious Symbol Ban.
In a nutshell, it bars people considered to be public servants, such as teachers, bus drivers, nurses and police officers, from wearing religious symbols while on the job. This includes hijabs, kippahs, turbans and, what some may erroneously think is the only item banned, the Niqab.
Canada is a secular society, but we are a society that has recognized that secular laws and practices can coexist with many people’s religious beliefs and expressions. It is why in Montreal, for example, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and seculars live together in relative harmony. If Quebec Premier François Legault gets his way, this might all change.
Legault and his Coalition Avenir du Quebec party ran on a platform of promising to bar people who wear religious symbols from positions of authority in the province. They are attempting to do this with Bill 21.
This article is not going to discuss how the CAQ is so clearly pandering to the most disgustingly racist, xenophobic members of Quebec society. It is not going to talk about how the Bill represents the longstanding dispute between welcoming, diverse, multicultural Montreal and the rest of Quebec.
This article is going to talk about what Bill 21 actually contains and the very real fallout for the Quebecois affected if the bill passes. For the purposes of this article, “Quebecois” means anyone living in Quebec (and not just people descended from the original French settlers).
Bill 21 contains important changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, a quasi-constitutional law enacted in the 70s that contains some of Quebec’s strongest protections against discrimination. As the Quebec Charter is only quasi-constitutional, it can be changed by a simple act by the National Assembly.
Bill 21 changes section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter from:
“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.
Section 9.1 Quebec Charter of Human Rights, current text
“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.”
Proposed version of Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights
The change thus creates an obligation among citizens to have respect for democratic values, state secularism, public order etc. in the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Quebec Charter. It does not, however, abolish section 10 of the Quebec Charter which states that:
“Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”
Section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights
The Charter also forbids discrimination in “the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” based on the aforementioned grounds. As these sections of the Quebec Charter remain on the books, any institutions that enforce Bill 21 could find themselves open to legal action under said Charter which also states victims’ rights in such cases:
“Any unlawful interference with any right or freedom recognized by this Charter entitles the victim to obtain the cessation of such interference and compensation for the moral or material prejudice resulting therefrom. In case of unlawful and intentional interference, the tribunal may, in addition, condemn the person guilty of it to punitive damages.”
Quebec Charter of Human Rights
Matt Aronson, a lawyer in Montreal says that “if a state funded institution practices discrimination as an employer, causing damages to a citizen, it’s possible that not only could a citizen sue to have the discrimination stopped, they may even be able to sue for punitive damages. Now, there is a section of the Quebec Charter that allows for rights and freedoms to be limited in scope by laws, but that would be a fairly difficult retort to state sanctioned discrimination.”
As a result, the government can and will find itself open to costly lawsuits if Bill 21 passes as increasing numbers of people have publicly committed to fighting back.. The English Montreal School Board, for example, has publicly stated that they will not enforce the Bill, and a public protest in scheduled on Sunday, April 7th, in Montreal.
True to Legault’s election promise, Bill 21 bars government employees from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions. This is the list of employees who will be affected – I am including the full list so people fully understand how many will be hurt if this law passes:
Judges, clerks, deputy clerks, and sheriffs
Members of the Comité de déontologie policiere – the group responsible for holding police to account for misconduct
Members of the Commission de la fonction publique
Members of the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole
Members of the Commission des transports du Quebec
Members of the Commission Municipale
Members of the Commission quebecoise des liberations conditionelles
Employees of the Regie de l’energie
Employees of the Regie d’alcools, courses, et jeux
Employees of the Regie des marche agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec
Employees of the Regie du batiment du Quebec
Employees of the Regie du Logement
Members of the Financial Markets Administrative Labour Tribunal
Members of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec
Chairs of the Disciplinary Council
Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions and lawyers and notaries working for said commissioners
Arbitrators appointed by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
The Quebec Justice Minister and Attorney General
The Director of penal prosecutions
Lawyers, notaries, and penal prosecuting attorneys
Peace officers who exercise their functions mainly in Quebec
Principals, vice principals, and teachers of educational institutions under the jurisdiction of the school boards
It must be noted that the law does contain a grandfather clause allowing all current employees wearing religious symbols to keep their current jobs. That said, anyone hoping for advancement would have to choose between their faith and a promotion to even be considered a candidate for one.
In addition to barring people wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 also demands that some government employees keep their faces uncovered in the exercise of their functions, a provision clearly meant to exclude women who choose to wear the niqab. Those affected include:
Members of the National Assembly (MNAs)
Elected Municipal officers except in certain Indigenous communities
Personnel of elected officers
Personnel of MNAs
Personnel of the Lieutenant Governor
Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions
Persons appointed by the government to exercise a function within the administrative branch including arbitrators whose name appears on a list drawn up by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
Peace officers who work mainly in Quebec
Physicians, dentists, and midwives
Persons recognized as home childcare providers
Anyone else designated by the National Assembly
Employees of government departments
Any bodies receiving government funds
People and bodies appointed in accordance with the Public Service Act
Employees of municipalities, metropolitan communities, and intermunicipal boards, and municipal and regional housing bureaus with the exception of some in Indigenous communities
Employees of Public Transit Authorities
Employees of school boards established under the Education Act
Employees of public institutions governed by the Act respecting health services and social services
Employees of bodies in which most of the members are appointed by the National Assembly
Institutions accredited under the act respecting the Ministere des Relations Internationales
Private family-type resources governed by the Act Respecting Health Services
In addition to barring certain government employees from having their face covered in the exercise of their functions, the law also requires certain people to show their faces in order to receive government services “where doing so is necessary to allow their identity for security reasons.”
The law does make an exception where the face is covered for health reasons, a handicap, or requirements tied to their job. The law also says that there will be “no accommodation or derogation or adaptation,” which means there are no exceptions anywhere.
Bill 21 not only alters the Quebec Charter of Human Rights to exonerate the government from open acts of discrimination, it also applies the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to bypass articles 2 and articles 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply by including in a discriminatory law an article stating that said law applies notwithstanding the Charter.
Articles 2 of the Canadian Charter deal with fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion, and articles 7 to 15 deal with legal rights including the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, equal treatment before the law, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Article 30 of Bill 21 states that it applies notwithstanding these articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the Notwithstanding clause has a failsafe in it requiring the government to renew the law in five years or open itself to legal challenges when that time expires.
That said, all hope is not lost. The law is currently tabled, meaning that the National Assembly has begun to consider it. It has not, as of the publication of this article, passed.
That means there is still time to resist. If you value our province’s protections against discrimination, contact your members of the National Assembly and pressure them as you never have before.
Point out that Quebec has a labour shortage and alienating and barring people won’t work to solve it. Tell them that the scores lawsuits they’ll face will be more expensive than any benefit they hope to gain if the Bill passes.
Tell them that if they want a truly secular state, all towns and streets and institutions bearing the names of Catholic saints should be changed immediately. Let them know how ridiculous their position is.
The fight is only over if we the people give up, so keep fighting.
Featured Image: Screengrab of François Legault defending Bill 21 in a Facebook video
Today, the Plante Administration announced that after City Hall renovations are complete, they won’t put the crucifix back in the City Council chambers. Yes, this move is about secularism of the state, as the Mayor made clear:
“The crucifix is an important part of Montreal’s heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference on March 20, 2019
Plante also reiterated that she still opposes Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols like kippahs and hijabs. The state, for her, and for me, and for anyone who really thinks it through, is the democratic institutions, like the City Council. chambers and not the wardrobe of teachers and bus drivers who work for the government.
Or, to put it in other words, a council member wearing a crucifix and, say, a security guard wearing a turban in the council chamber are just two people expressing their personal beliefs through what they wear. A religious symbol on the wall, though, is the state aligning with the particular religion the symbol comes from.
Not everyone sees it this way. I’ve already seen quite a few internet comments decrying the move as an attack on our traditions and I’m sure there will be talking heads on TV tonight and columnists in Quebec’s dailies tomorrow pissed off about what Plante did as well.
I’m sure that a good chunk, if not most, of the people coming out in opposition to removing the crucifix today will turn out to be the same people who were screaming religious neutrality of the state when the topic was Legault’s plan. I’ve already seen some commenters try and spin it that Plante is just anti-Christian and pro-Muslim.
While few will be that openly bigoted, those that previously supported the religious symbol ban and now oppose the move to remove the crucifix should admit that it isn’t about secularism at all, but about assimilation. They just lost any progressive secularist cover they may have enjoyed until now.
Those that support Plante’s move, want to get rid of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly as well and support Legault’s ban, well, at least you’re consistent. Those that oppose both the symbol ban and removing the cross, you’re consistent as well.
Those like me, and now Montreal’s mayor, who don’t want the state to dictate what teachers can wear and think a government chamber is no place for a religious symbol, our logic makes perfect sense.
Those who think we should ban all religious symbols but the Christian ones, you’re not secularists, you’re cultural fundamentalists. And you just lost your political cover.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh just put a new face on the opposition to Quebec’s religious symbol ban: his own.
In an interview with CBC Radio Montreal’s Daybreak, host Mike Finnerty asked him about the new CAQ government’s promise vigorously enforce a religious symbol ban and fire civil servants (police, teachers, etc.) who wear religious symbols on the job. While most of the public focus has been on Muslim women who wear the hijab, Singh, a Sikh, who wears a turban and kirpan (Ceremonial dagger), would also be affected by this ban if he was a Quebec civil servant:
Singh responded to this the best way possible, Sure, he couldn’t very well have said that wearing a turban is fine for Prime Minister but not a schoolteacher, but it’s still good that he’s taking a solid stand. It’s also quite politically savvy of him to refer to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms when asked about the Canadian one.
This is way better than the “I don’t like it personally, but you’ve got to respect the courts” message former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair put out during the last federal election. Sure, the Bloc Québécois was attacking the NDP over their opposition to the Harper Government’s challenge to a court ruling that allowed women to wear a niqab at citizenship ceremonies, but they were doing it viscerally and Mulcair responded with an appeal to respect judicial rulings and an attempt at partial appeasement.
Not sure what he was thinking, really. The staunch bigots were going to return to the Bloc regardless, unless the NDP changed its stance, which wasn’t going to happen. Progressives, on the other hand, were looking for stronger anti-Harper messaging.
Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister who won a Majority Government with more than a handful of seats in Quebec, including some former Bloc strongholds that had flipped to the NDP in the 2011 Orange Wave, had this to say on the subject at the time:
“You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.”
That was bold. That was principled. That’s what someone not politically timid and completely controlled by advisers who favour the safe choice says.
Too bad he turned out to also be a total shill for Big Oil, which, incidentally, was the other part of the Bloc’s attack on the NDP in 2015 (Muclair was kinda wishy washy on pipelines). The Bloc actually released an ad with an oil pipleline dripping crude that turned into a niqab.
Eco-left and hard right in the same ad. Only in Quebec, I guess.
This is a strange place politically. We embrace leftist ideals and inclusiveness on many issues, but then go and elect a reactionary provincial government that promises a form of exclusion that even Trump hasn’t tried.
I think Singh gets this. That’s why he made a point of mentioning his support of LGBTQ and women’s rights and that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wants to head in the other direction along with his opposition to the religious symbol ban.
Singh, and everyone else, knows that the Bloc is imploding, this time with no outside help. He wants to make it clear to Bloc supporters jumping ship that voting Conservative means supporting a bunch of things that they may not be ready to get behind. They can’t greenwash or pinkwash their bigotry this time.
What’s most interesting, though, is how Singh is attempting to redefine the ban on religious symbols as anti-secular. During the interview (not during the clip above), he said:
There’s no way to say that you’re not supporting one identity or other, because there are certain identities that don’t require a kippa. But there are other identities that have headgear. I think it’s a hard argument to make, that one is more neutral than the other, because there’s always a certain tradition that may not have headgear and one that may or may not have a certain way of dress. I think that the point should be that we we have a society that is secular through the values that we promote — that sets freedom and access to justice for all. That there’s no barriers based on who you are. Those are the ways that we ensure that it is a secular society.
He’s right. Secularism means no state religion, not the state banning individuals, including those working for the state, from wearing the garments of their religion on the job while at the same time keeping a symbol of one religion on display in the National Assembly.
Singh is also reminding Quebecers that Muslim women who wear hijabs aren’t the only ones targeted by this ban. Sikhs who wear turbans like him and Jews who wear kippahs are also in the crosshairs, if not in the spotlight.
Will this bold strategy work? Honestly, who knows. Quebec politics are always a gamble.
Sure, a recent poll showed that nearly two thirds of Quebecers are in favour of a religious symbol ban, but that poll doesn’t show how many of them consider it an important enough issue to base their vote on. Maybe the CAQ won in spite of their bigotry, not because of it.
One thing is clear, though: trying to play it safe by appeasing the hard right while running as a left alternative is a recipe for disaster, especially in Quebec. When Mulcair tried it, he effectively turned Trudeau into the principled, inclusive opposition to the Bloc and, in the eyes of the rest of Canada, Harper. At least Singh won’t make that mistake.
Whether this stance translates into a better Quebec performance for the NDP has yet to be seen. Regardless, Jagmeet Singh speaking out against the religious symbol ban and redefining what it means is what the federal NDP needs.
* Featured image Creative Commons via OFL Communications Department
Quebec City versus Ottawa. Quebec’s provincial government versus Canada’s federal one. It’s the sometimes amicable rivalry, sometimes bitter fight that has dominated our politics for the past fifty years or so.
Now, with the election of a Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government for the first time ever, it looks like things are going to change. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have already called out new Premier François Legault a couple of times, there’s only so much he can do without risking federal over-reach, which is never a good ideal in Quebec. Plus he will soon be busy fighting to keep his own job.
It looks like the next great intergovernmental battle, at least for the next three or four years, will be the National Assembly versus Montreal City Hall. Legault versus Plante. Here’s why:
From Side-Pander to Not Necessary
Back in the day, from the late 1960s to a few weeks ago, power always shifted between Liberal (PLQ) and Parti Québécois (PQ) governments. Both parties understood that Montreal votes were important enough for them to pander to us a bit during during election campaigns but not as important as votes off-island and across the rest of Quebec, which most of their policies were crafted to deliver.
Now, the governing party has almost no representation in Quebec’s largest city. They won only two seats here, Bourget and Pointe-aux-Trembles, both on the island’s eastern extremities. Flip them to any other party and the CAQ still has a strong majority.
Legault has a mandate, but he didn’t get it from Montreal. He doesn’t even have to pretend to care about what Montrealers care about, he doesn’t need us to hold power. We’ve gone from a side-pander to not needed to win.
That doesn’t mean their policies won’t affect us. In fact, the most overtly reactionary will pretty much only affect us.
Montreal needs to stand up to the CAQ and, at least on a few issues, it looks like we already are or are prepared to.
Banning Religious Symbols
Legault has promised to strictly enforce Bill C-62 which bans those providing or using government services (teaching in a school or riding the metro, for example) from doing so while wearing religious symbols. He plans to use the Notwithstanding Clause if the courts stop him.
The PLQ, who won the most seats in Montreal, are unlikely to fight against the implementation of a law they wrote and passed (sure, they probably thought they would get some votes on the right before the courts struck it down, but Legault won’t let the Canadian Charter stop him). Québec Solidaire (QS), who came in second here, may help fight this, but they only have ten seats in a Majority Government.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, on the other hand, has said she has no problem with civil servants wearing religious symbols, including police officers. She opposed Bill 62 as a candidate and while she said she will wait and see what the CAQ plan looks like, opposing it would just make sense.
The Greater Montreal area and the Island of Montreal are the most ethnically and culturally diverse parts of Quebec. It’s also where most immigrants live. Here, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Jewish man wearing a kippah is not a strange sight, it’s part of daily life. They are members of our community with the same right to provide or avail themselves of government services as the rest of us.
Of course it’s like that. Montreal is a metropolis. Cultural, religious and ethnic diversity are essential parts of being and staying a world-class city, as important as a large population and a decent public transit system.
Close to two million people live on the Island of Montreal and over four million in the Greater Montreal area. The CAQ wants us to look as white and Christian as, say, Trois-Rivières with a population under 150 000. While he claims to be a Quebec nationalist, Legault’s attitude towards Quebec’s officially designated metropolis is not only bigoted, it’s also quite, um, provincial.
If Plante does ultimately end up refusing to implement the new Quebec Government’s plan when it comes to Montreal employees and people receiving services from the city, I don’t know what Legault could do to make her. Things could get interesting.
Implementing Cannabis Legalization
When it comes to legal weed, Plante isn’t taking a wait and see approach. In Montreal, you can smoke your legal cannabis anywhere you can smoke tobacco or vape, but you can’t spark a joint near schools, on a terasse, in hospitals, on a bus, or basically anywhere you can’t smoke a cigarette.
Legault, on the other hand, is considering a province-wide ban on smoking pot in public, such as on sidewalks or in parks. Basically he’s treating it like booze, while conveniently forgetting that there are public places called bars where you can legally consume alcohol and if you bring a sandwich to a park along with a bottle of wine, it’s a picnic.
Five Montreal boroughs, all held by the opposition party Ensemble Montréal (formerly Équipe Denis Coderre), are planning similar bylaws. While it’s a really out-of-touch idea, I understand how a borough can make such a regulation, just as I understand how a city can make an opposing regulation.
What I don’t get is how a provincial government can pass what should be a municipal zoning regulation to supersede existing zoning regulations. Pot smokers aren’t criminals anymore, just people facing fines if they light up in the wrong place.
If Plante tells the Montreal Police (SPVM) not to enforce provincial ban on smoking cannabis in public, except in the boroughs where it was banned, and they listen, would Legault send in the SQ to enforce it? Could that even work?
And then there’s the Pink Line. A Plante campaign promise that would see a new metro line run from Montreal North through Rosemont, the Plateau, Downtown and NDG, all the way to Lachine.
As bold as that is and as pie in the sky as it may sound, Plante already got the Federal Government to sign off on investing money in it. While QS fully incorporated it into their transit proposal, Plante decided to have a photo-op during the campaign with Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard who had only said he would consider it.
It’s clear her transit plan caused her to have an unofficial ABC (Anyone But CAQ) approach during the campaign. And with good reason: Legault had said his administration would oppose the new metro line.
So, faced with the worst possible election outcome for the future of the project, Plante adopted a go big or go home approach and announced yesterday that she was moving ahead with the Pink Line and creating a project office to study the potential impact on urban development, mobility and socio-economic needs. This office will compliment studies the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is already doing and have a budget of $1 Million.
Basically, if project office determines that the Pink Line is feasible and shows how it can be done right, and two thirds of the money is already there, Legault, who will probably be sitting on a pile of legal cannabis sale revenues and tax money by then, will be boxed into a corner. It’s a bold strategy and one that may pay off.
Whether it does or not, prepare for a fight. Maybe a slow-moving, incredibly polite and bureaucratic one, but a fight nonetheless. A political fight on three, maybe more, fronts. Montreal versus Quebec has just begun.
The Quebec elections are over and we are about to have a new government. People fed up with Philippe Couillard and wary of the sovereigntist messages of Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois took their votes elsewhere, putting François Legault and his party, Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ), in office.
Many people are scared, and they have every reason to be. The CAQ ran on an aggressively secularist, anti-immigration, right-wing nationalist (within Canada) platform.
The day after the election, people’s worst fears were confirmed when Legault announced that he would use the Canadian constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to bar civil servants from wearing religious symbols. To use a popular Quebecois expression, ça commence ben mal (we’re off to a bad start).
For all those in despair, I want to give reasons to hope. This article will look at a couple of the CAQ’s more controversial policies, the legality of them, and the ways we can fight back within the system.
One of François Legault’s most controversial statements during the election was that he would expel any immigrants Quebec that failed to pass a French and “Quebec Values” test within three years of their arrival.
Here’s the thing: Quebec cannot legally do that.
The decision on whether or not to expel immigrants is federal jurisdiction. This is not to say that Quebec has no discretion in matters of immigration. One of the ways people can immigrate to Canada is via Quebec’s immigration programs such as Quebec Skilled Worker, Quebec Investor, or Quebec Experience, all of which have limits set by the provincial government on how many people they are willing to accept.
These programs do not guarantee you permanent residence (PR). Once you have a Quebec certificate via one of these programs, you can apply for permanent residence.
The application for PR will be assessed by a federal Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) officer and they get the final say as to whether or not you get permanent residency, not Quebec. It is also the CIC that has sole jurisdiction to issue expulsion orders.
As previously stated, François Legault announced on Tuesday that he would be willing to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause to ban government employees from wearing religious symbols. In Quebec, that would apply to everyone from teachers to doctors to public transit workers, cops, and civil servants.
It should be said that if the new government is truly committed to secularism, they need to take down all the crosses in public buildings, a gruelling and expensive task given Quebec’s history with the Catholic Church. It must also be said that their rules should include forbidding anyone in civil service from wearing a cross or crucifix.
Fortunately for people whose faith dictates the wearing of visible symbols, the Notwithstanding Clause is not the magical failsafe Islamaphobes and anti-Semites seem to think it is and it will not allow a government to do what it wants indefinitely.
The Notwithstanding Clause is Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It says:
“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”
Section 2 of the Charter deals with freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the press, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Sections 7 to 15 deal with such rights as “life, liberty, and security of the person” and protection from arbitrary detention, search and seizures, and other rights in criminal and penal proceedings.
Most importantly in this case, article 15 entrenches the right to equality before and under the law “without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”
The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to keep a law in place that violates these rights provided they expressly declare that the legislation in question applies notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This declaration by a government would not apply indefinitely. According to paragraph three of the Clause, said declaration “will cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.”
There is good reason for this entrenched delay.
The Notwithstanding Clause is generally applied by provincial governments in the face of the courts striking down controversial legislation on constitutional grounds. The five-year delay allows said governments to rework the law so it conforms with the Charter in cases where the courts do not give them such a delay.
Quebec, for example, used the Clause to keep Bill 101 in place after the Supreme Court struck it down, using the five years to rewrite the law to fit the Charter. Once the five years is up, the government can choose to re-enact a declaration as per the Clause and the delay restarts.
That said, there is a catch, because guess what else happens every four to five years? Elections.
Using the Notwithstanding Clause is a hugely unpopular move. Canadians have embraced The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a way of using the courts to protect them from, for example, xenophobic laws enacted by governments.
A legal challenge to Bill 62, the law enacted by the Liberals barring the wearing of religious symbols by government employees and people using government services, is currently underway and will likely be struck down by the courts. The CAQ can use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep the law in place if they wish, but it might cost them a second term.
The CAQ officially take office once Quebec’s Lieutenant Governor, J. Michel Doyon swears them in and names François Legault as our Premier. Many of us are scared and angry so let’s turn this anger into action and use our power as the people to curb their worst ideas.
* Featured image of François Legault on election night via YouTube
It’s one of those headlines that sounds great: “Anglos, it’s time to get over the 1995 Quebec referendum.” Yes, it is. Glad The Montreal Gazette finally realized it.
However, the paper’s Facebook plug of the op-ed revealed what guest opinion writer Lise Ravary only got to at the end of her piece. That fear of another Quebec referendum was “a bad reason to spurn Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)” this election.
Fine, sure, it’s not. By the same token, fear of a referendum is not a good reason to spurn Québec Solidaire either. But there are several good reasons not to vote CAQ this year or any year.
They’re not an alternative to Quebec’s two natural governing parties, the Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ). They’re the same, only meaner.
The PQ gave us the Charter of Quebec Values and lost, in large part, because of it. The PLQ, who had campaigned against the Charter, brought in the absurd Bill C-62, turning bus drivers and librarians into the Niqab police.
Not to be outdone, the CAQ is proposing that all prospective immigrants to Quebec have to pass a values test. Women who wear the Niqab would have to remove it while taking the test.
While a “values test” is, in and of itself, a huge red flag to anyone who believes in cultural diversity, tacking on the bit about the Niqab is a pander to the basest instincts of the far right. Sure, only 50-100 women in Quebec wear the Niqab out of a population of over eight million, but François Legault is on the case and will make sure another 10 or 20 don’t sneak in!
The non-cultural aspects of the CAQ policy doesn’t differ much from the status quo pro-corporate stance of their main rivals, which is probably why The Gazette has no problem easing the fears of Anglos considering them as an alternative. They’ve been leading in the overall polls, too, since last November.
For years, I have been waiting for the so-called “national question” not to be a factor in a Quebec election, especially for the Montreal Anglo community, my community. I’ve also been waiting for a break in the PLQ/PQ cycle of dominance that has lasted over 50 years.
But not like this.
The CAQ isn’t change. They’re more of the same with a different branding, one tweaked for the far right. They’re the bigots Anglos, most Anglos, don’t have to be afraid of.
Yes, we should get over the 1995 Referendum, but no, electoral xenophobes should not benefit.