How to Beat Bill 60

Excellent retro shot of the Jewish General Hospital before it began it's multi-phase expansion - I'm guessing 1984
Excellent retro shot of the Jewish General Hospital before it began it’s multi-phase expansion – I’m guessing 1984

Defy it.

With extreme prejudice…

A tip of the hat is owed to Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, head of the prestigious Montreal Jewish General Hospital, for firing the opening salvo in the people’s defiance of Bill 60, the proposed charter on state secularism in Québec.

Among other things the bill stipulates all public-sector employees would be banned from ‘ostentatious displays of religion’ including wearing a yarmulke, hijab or turban while on the job. The ubiquitous displays of Catholicism in every conceivable aspect of daily life in Québec gets to stay as these are deemed to be of ‘historical and cultural value’, though apparently, the historical and cultural value of our ethno-cultural minorities constitute some kind of threat to middle-class, mainstream Québécois society. This means the large glow-in-the-dark cross atop Mount Royal, inasmuch as the crucifix behind the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly, will not be removed, but some Sikh surgeon will have to remove his turban if he wants to keep his job.

I’m an atheist, a socialist and a progressive. But I’m also a libertarian, though not in any contemporary American sense. I believe an individual ought to be free from religious persecution, insofar as their religious practice neither harms themselves, their relations or their community, nor places an inconvenience on the society at large. This thought is not my own – from my understanding this is the law of the land. Freedom from religious persecution is in the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

The Canadian Charter of Values.

I’m with Tom Mulcair on this one, the proposed Bill-60 is nothing but politically-motivated, state-sponsored discrimination.

I believe an argument can be made in which it is in the state’s interest to propose a dress code in the public service, especially in the domains of health and education. Certain religious garments, such as the niqab or burqa, would present an inconvenience to the public interest – the face is covered, and it’s as simple as that. These kinds of face coverings present an unnecessary communication barrier; it’s completely impractical throughout the entirety of the public service.

But let’s put this aside for a moment and ask ourselves a question – is it even worth formalizing such an objection of these particular garments? How many Muslim Québécoises who wear these particular garments are actually applying to the provincial civil service each year? Do we have to make fundamental alterations to our province’s legal and political foundations or can this simply be an edit to some kind of internal HR manual?

It reminds me of Herouxville passing laws against women being stoned to death or burned with acid. It was an amazingly insane instance of unencumbered small-town ‘multi-culturalism panic’.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not already covered by the Criminal Code? Do we not have laws against murder and assault? And do we not already have a secular judiciary, one that is blind to religious consideration so as to liberate the state from such an incumbrance?

pauline-marois

This kind of panicky, irrational fear was unfortunately poorly articulated by none other than Québec uber-vedette Celine Dion. As Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies points out, her concerns that she thinks justifies the charter’s implementation are ludicrous – no one’s taking down any goddam Christmas trees. Ms. Dion’s comments are a perfect representation of the kind of misguided thinking that has become troublingly prevalent amongst an a swath of the Québécois middle-class (though it’s by no means a Québec phenomenon; you could make the argument that Québec is following France’s example too closely, and that both share similarities with a host of xenophobic laws passed throughout the United States in the past decade).

The bill is hypocritical to the core and is, in essence, a method by which the PQ can sew its values into the provincial political fabric at a moment when a referendum is out of the question and the grip on power tenuous at best. The PQ knows it has an election somewhere on the horizon and as long as its economic record remains what it is – which is shitty – the Québec Liberals have a real shot at regaining power at some point in the next six months. Since the Marois government can’t do much else it is going into a perpetual campaign mode, and Bill 60 is their attempt to shore up their political base. They’ve spun it every which way – it’s pro-women, it’s modernizing – but it’s also, fundamentally, unfair and its unnecessary, punitive implications are too large to ignore.

The grim reality is that if this bill goes into law, a great many people, almost all of whom live and work in the Greater Montreal region, are suddenly going to find themselves in a position in which they have to choose between their jobs and their faith; religious minorities will be officially persecuted in the province of Québec. And who will bare the brunt of this new legislation? Why women of course; thousands of working moms who live in Montreal. Here’s a fantastic argument by Anne-France Goldwater as to why this so-called charter of values is a blatant attack on working first-generation Québécoises, a state-sponsored attempt to deny recent-immigrants access to the lucrative pool of civil service and public sector jobs.

In Québec’s political context Montreal is a prize and power base for one party and a liability, an inconvenience for another. Multiculturalism works in Montreal, and I would argue it evolves into a special kind of interculturalism all on its own, without government interference. But this flies in the face of the PQ stands for, and their vision of Québec. The PQ views itself as Québec incarnate, in much the same way that Tea Party Republicans view themselves as ‘real Americans’, and both are using the same fundamental tactic to achieve diverse goals – they define terms and tone first. The PQ has been doing this for years; Bill 101 established that there was a threat to the French language and culture in Québec and the bill was the response to it. Today it’s a fundamental component of our laws and most accept that this is the case, regardless that current statistical and demographic information is telling us the complete opposite.

This is Bill 101 2.0

Much like its linguistic forebear, Bill 60 places economic and socio-political limitations on minority populations. It is a ghettoization measure, and may result, much like the ‘Anglo Exodus’ of a generation ago, in a minority exodus of a kind.

So how do we, the free-thinking, address such Draconian laws?

We must defy them.

Director General of the hospital, Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg put it best “Since the bill is inherently prejudicial, there is no point in taking advantage of any clause that would grant us temporary, short-term relief” when referring to five-year implementation delays specifically designed for institutions such as the Jewish.

He went on to say that if the bill ever becomes law, the hospital will simply ignore it outright.

Right on.

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