Quebec Government’s Proposed Charter of Values Stirs Much Opposition

The Quebec Charter of Values is a proposed bill in the Canadian province of Quebec introduced by the governing Parti Québécois, which is supposedly designed to address the Quebec controversy on reasonable accommodation. According to the proponents of the bill, the proposed charter will promote neutrality in the government, by limiting the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols such as yarmulkes, turbans, or jihabs by public sector employees, including state-funded education and health-care workers. The bill will also make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service.

There is much opposition to the bill. All of the Montreal municipalities put out a resolution against it. As none of the opposition parties are in favor of the bill, it probably won’t pass. However, the PQ will likely call an election, with the Charter of Values as a key element of the election.

Anthony Housefather, mayor of Cote Saint Luc, a municipality near Montreal with a large Jewish population, is one of the main opponents of the bill, and called it odious and loathsome. “It is a terrible proposed law,” he insists. “It profoundly touches our community, as 65 to 70 percent of the population of the municipality is Jewish.”

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, Rabbi of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem in Cote Saint Luc, is an outspoken opponent of the bill. In an article in the Canadian Jewish News, he explains, “The PQ feels that public officials shouldn’t display religious symbols, because it would compromise their neutrality. But one wonders: what does neutrality mean? Why not apply neutrality to other forms of expression? Will they allow someone running for the PQ to wear a Montreal Canadiens jersey? …. Perhaps the PQ should order candidates not to wear regional baseball caps, with names such as Montreal or Herouxville written on them. After all, by showing favoritism to one region, they are losing their neutrality!’

The Jewish General Hospital has been strongly opposed to the bill. If it passes, hospital employees will not be allowed to wear yarmulkes, even the hospital director, Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, who wears one. The hospital has issued a brief, stating that it will not follow the bill, even if it is adopted.

The bill is a great threat to the freedom of religion and civil rights in Quebec. In a rally held on December 2, Rabbi Steinmetz eloquently stated, “I oppose this law because it is divisive. It is stirring up a tremendous amount of animosity over a problem that does not exist… Now, people with head coverings are getting assaulted. Today, I would be nervous about wearing a  kippah in other neighborhoods of Montreal, and I was not nervous a year ago. This charter is undermining our society. We are here not just to oppose it, but deny its legitimacy. …This is quite simply a question of civil rights, we cannot allow freedom of religion to be taken away.”