Quebec's values charter: What is it and what will it change?
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois receives the tables Charter of Quebec values from Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship Bernard Drainville at the legislature in Quebec City, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Parti Quebecois's proposal for a so-called charter of values has already sparked a heated debate across the country, as well as several public protests.
The PQ says its aim with the document is to establish the neutrality of the state and create clear rules on religious accommodations for public employees, to "contribute to integration and social cohesion."
Here is a look at what the proposed charter would and would not allow, if passed into law:
What would the Values Charter ban?
The charter would forbid all public employees from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols and headgear, including Muslim face veils, Jewish yarmulkes, or large crucifixes. "This restriction would reflect the state’s neutrality," the proposal for the charter states.
Does that mean all Quebeckers would be banned from wearing religious gear?
The rules would apply only to publicly-paid employees. These include police officers, prosecutors, doctors, teachers, daycare workers and other government workers.
The charter would affect non-government workers when it comes to face veils, however, as it would make it mandatory for everyone to have their face uncovered while receiving a state service, such as applying for a driver's licence.
What religious symbols would be allowed?
The charter would allow public sector employees to wear "small" religious symbols, such as a necklace with a small crucifix, or earrings with the Muslim crescent.
What is considered small and who would enforce the rules?
The proposal included graphics showing the kinds of religious symbols the government would allow for employees. But the proposal did not include plans for a formal measuring system, leaving the meaning of "small" as undefined.
Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for the charter, has said there would be no need for “religion police" to enforce the rules, and that common sense would prevail in disagreements. The charter proposes that state ministries and organizations adopt their own implementation policies to ensure religious neutrality and to manage requests for religious accommodations.
Will all politicians have to stop wearing religious symbols?
The plan also would exempt officials who have been elected by the people. That would mean that a riding could vote for a candidate who wears a turban. But it would then be that official's job to ensure that government employees in his riding would not wear turbans while working in the public service.
What else would the charter do?
The charter would enshrine, for the first time, the concept of religious neutrality of the state into the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter of Rights would also be amended to include a framework of rules to oversee accommodation requests.
Would towns like Saint-Hubert, or hospitals like Hôtel-Dieu de Québec have to adopt more religious-neutral names?
The charter would not require the removal of religious elements that are considered "emblematic of Quebec's cultural heritage." So the names of towns, schools and hospitals would not need to be changed. As well, the crucifixes in the Quebec legislature and atop Mount Royal in Montreal would not need to be removed since they too are considered part of the province's heritage. Christmas trees would also be considered symbols of culture, not religion.
When does the charter take effect?
So far, the charter remains a plan as it has not been tabled in the legislature yet. A bill on the matter is expected sometime this fall.
The bill would need the support of the opposition to pass, since the PQ has a minority government.
If it does pass, it would then almost surely face court challenges, since many legal experts argue the charter is likely to be considered an unreasonable violation of freedom of religion under both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Rights.
If a bill fails to pass before the next provincial election, many political observers say Quebec voters can expect the values espoused in it to be among the campaign issues.
Would the changes take effect right away?
The charter would allow some institutions to "opt out" temporarily for up to five years. In order to do so, universities and municipalities, for example, could have their boards of directors or municipal councils adopt resolutions allowing personnel to wear religious symbols. Drainville has said the aim of the opt-out is a "transitional measure" meant to give institutions "time to adjust" – not to avoid the framework.
The one exemption, again, is the face veil. The opt-out would not apply to the obligation of having one’s face uncovered while providing or receiving a state service.
Workers in subsidized daycare facilities and primary and secondary schools would not be allowed to opt out. But workers in home-based daycares would not be prevented from wearing religious wear.