Human rights trump laïcité
Might I contribute a few observations about arguments made in the letters The Low Down has published concerning Bill 21?
While Canada is far from a theocracy (saints be praised,) the idea of “God” already has a prominent place in our polity. The first words of the Canadian Charter of Rights refer to the, “supremacy of God.” Our national anthem exhorts God to “keep our land glorious and free.” The House of Commons begins its daily proceedings by asking God to “guide... our deliberations.” Despite (or because of ?) these theological assertions and appeals, Canada is a successfully secular society, where almost all disputes about religious practices can be solved through “reasonable accommodation” without the heavy hand of legislation.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. When Québecois swept away decades of repression and intimidation by the Catholic Church, it was indeed a glorious revolution.
However, the religious tyrannies and cruelties of the past do not justify discrimination and coercion in the present or the future. If there is any evidence of intimidation or undue influence by any religious group in Québec, let’s address it directly rather than issue a government bull or fatwa against hypothetical threats.
The views of the majority make a political point, not a moral one. In our history, most Canadians supported the imposition of a head tax on Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s and the internment of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s. We now recognize those actions as horribly and tragically wrong. Bill 21 is indeed popular. But one of the express purposes of the Canadian and the Québec Charters of Rights is to protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority. Basic individual human rights are more important than the political goals of laïcité, however popular. By invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Charter, Québec concedes that Bill 21 violates basic human rights. If we accept Québec’s argument, we take a step on a dark road towards intolerance justified by political expedience.