Twenty-four word title obscures real changes and scope of “Values” Charter

Twenty-four word title obscures real changes and scope of “Values” Charter

Opinion piece submitted by Colin Standish

Opponents of the “Values” Charter (Bill 60) allege this new legislation will violate Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights of Freedoms. However, this will likely not be the case if Bill 60 is passed. This is because Bill 60 proposes a radical revision of the preamble and the limitation clause for fundamental freedoms in the Charter of Human Rights which risks shielding it from most challenges to its legality under Quebec law.

Bill 60 is presented as a measure addressed to public and para-public sectors, and even their suppliers. However, its application could also reach far beyond this. The fact is we seriously risk seeing the worst excesses of the Charter apply to all private persons and dealings in Quebec, from employment to contracting to almost any individual relationship you could imagine. This is far greater in scope than we’ve been told.

And, Bill 60 proposes to do what Bill 14, the Parti Québecois’s failed language law, could not: enforce the absolute primacy of the French language while violating the human rights of all Quebecers.

The changes would add to the Charter of Human Rights’ preamble the “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 are fundamental values of the Québec nation,” for interpreting basic rights. Since the Charter enjoys quasi-constitutional status, applying to all private and public spheres and laws under provincial authority, these modifications could have a wide application to human rights.

This change is problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the Charter would recognize a hierarchy of rights, which raises problems in regards to international law.

Secondly, the equality of men and women, admittedly important, is already mentioned twice in the Charter, and in its preamble.

Thirdly, primacy for the French language could come to the potential detriment of minority languages and repeats a similar move in Bill 14 to include in the preamble predominance for French over basic rights.

Fourthly, the excessive constraints on the freedom of religion in Bill 60 would likely conform to the new Charter.

Fifthly, it proclaims that these controversial proposals are fundamental values.

However widely shared the values of gender equality and separation of state and religion, it is certainly not a general view that they be imposed in a way which disregards all other basic freedoms. On a final note, it would constitutionalize at the provincial level the notion of a “nation”, self-proclaiming nationhood and perhaps buoying future claims of statehood. It contradicts Marois’ recent assurances that, [translation] “the Charter was not tabled to give us an advantage on the question of sovereignty.”

Just in case the preamble does not constrain basic human rights, the government has hedged their bets. The changes to the limitation clause for fundamental rights would repeat the new preamble (minus the nation part) and add, “while making allowance for the emblematic and toponymic elements of Quebec’s cultural heritage that testify to its history.” These changes would be grafted to the first paragraph which serves, “as an interpretive tool for private law relationships.”  It is not a limit on government authority.  Meaning, there are no obvious limits as to how far these changes could extend to all private persons and relationships.

The PQ has consistently focused on the most superficial representations of religion (though sacred to believers): clothing. If a government was serious about a more secular state wouldn’t they first consider abolishing the tax-free status for religious institutions and personnel? Or, perhaps, re-naming the countless municipalities and streets that are named after saints and parishes? Or, the most glaring contradiction, removing the cross from its own legislature?

Thankfully, the PQ’s incoherence applies to the drafting of its own laws. Bill 60 as a whole would likely fail the Oakes test for limitations on rights and be rendered unconstitutional under the Canadian Charter. The PQ government is incapable of producing any measurable reasons for why the Charter is required. Its own Bouchard-Taylor Commission reported accommodation was a “crisis of perception.” Bill 60 would have a prejudicial effect on non-francophones, newcomers and minorities who are currently vastly underrepresented in Quebec’s civil service, and suffer from lower employment rates and income than other Quebecers. The changes will only compound these issues and penalize populations that require assistance and understanding.

I thank God, as it were, that this new Charter does not reflect the values of Quebecers. All Quebecers and Canadians can be united against the so-called “Values” Charter which would cruelly deny minorities the same rights to cultural self-expression claimed as inalienable by its majority group.

Human dignity, our most basic of rights and values, hangs in the balance.

Categories: Opinion

About Author

Colin Standish

Colin Standish has a law degree from Université Laval in Quebec City and a history and politics degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Colin was born and raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Compton-Stanstead. He has learnt French in order to be able to study his chosen degree subject in the language.

Write a Comment

Only registered users can comment.