Quebec’s dress code creates divisions

For all the talk about a large consensus in Quebec being behind Premier Francois Legault’s bid to ban the wearing of religious symbols for some public employees, Montreal’s political class is not buying his government’s controversial Bill 21.

That will not stop the Coalition Avenir Quebec government from passing restrictive measures that would impose a secular dress code on all future teachers, police officers and other public service workers in so-called positions of authority.

But it does undermine the premier’s rationale that he is addressing a situation that justifies overriding both the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights to achieve what he describes as a pressing collective goal for the province.

Given its diversity, Montreal is where Bill 21 will have the most impact. The province’s metropolis is also at the heart of an expanding opposition movement to the proposed provincial policy.

That movement already includes school boards that would, under the bill, have to turn down applicants for teaching positions who would not abide by a secular dress code.

The English Montreal School Board has warned it will not implement the law, paving the way for a frontal confrontation with the province.

The union that represents public school teachers is also opposed to the measures, as is Montreal’s municipal council, with Mayor Valerie Plante leading the charge.

Plante has called on the Quebec government to offer Montreal a regime that reflects its diversity. That call earned her threats and invectives on social media, in some cases, laced with anti-Muslim rhetoric.

On the weekend, Quebec Solidaire — the province’s left-wing party — reversed its support for a limited ban on the wearing of religious symbols by workers in a position of authority to join the provincial Liberals in opposition to the imposition of restrictions.

The shift leaves only two of Montreal’s 27 members of the National Assemby — the duo elected under the Coalition Avenir Quebec banner last fall — in favour of the bill.

At this juncture, there is little light shining between Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives and Jagmeet Singh’s NDP on Bill 21.

Trudeau was more forceful in his denunciation of the bill than his opposition rivals, in part because he has less cause to fear internal dissent on the issue.

Both Scheer and Singh — even as they denounce Legault’s policy — have to guard against one or more dissidents from their Quebec caucuses breaking ranks.

For all the forcefulness of Trudeau’s reaction, there has so far been no indication that he is considering turning to some of the constitutional powers vested in the federal government to overturn the Quebec law.

There is a debate as to whether the federal government could overturn the law using its power of disallowance, which has not been invoked since 1943.

But beyond constitutional complexities, a move by Trudeau to overrule the will of the National Assembly would shift the debate from the full exercise of religious freedoms to Quebec’s jealously guarded provincial autonomy.

In any event, the decision as to whether to intervene is one Trudeau may not have to take.

Any federal move to block the implementation of Bill 21 would have to come after its passage into law, which will not happen until late June at the earliest.

By then, Parliament will have adjourned, and will not sit again — absent some unforeseen emergency — until after the federal election.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dashcam captures hair-raising near miss on Highway 2

Paramedic says his emergency driving training kicked in to avoid collision

Updated: Red Deer mourns loss of philanthropist Gary W. Harris

Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre stands as lasting legacy to businessman’s generosity

Skip The Dishes launches alcohol delivery in 3 Alberta cities

Some Alberta residents can now get their beer and wine delivered through… Continue reading

UPDATE: Road clear following three-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

Police say there was a “serious collision” near Sylvan Lake Wednesday afternoon.… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

David Marsden: Hospital unfairness makes me ill

The provincial government clearly isn’t without money. If it was, it wouldn’t… Continue reading

P.E.I.’s Birt through to championship round at Tournament of Hearts

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Suzanne Birt reached the championship round at the… Continue reading

Teachers focusing on innovations at Red Deer convention

More than 1,750 delegates are attending the Central Alberta Teachers’ Convention. The… Continue reading

Passengers leave ship docked off Japan after quarantine ends

YOKOHAMA, Japan — About 500 passengers left the cruise ship Diamond Princess… Continue reading

Quebec premier calls for federal ultimatum to end rail blockades within days

OTTAWA — Quebec’s premier says he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to… Continue reading

Canada’s laws don’t apply to chiefs who oppose pipeline

Re: “Blame the chaos on Trudeau,” David Marsden, Opinion, Feb. 15. I… Continue reading

We should be getting more dairy and eggs at lower prices

The last time the federal Conservative party selected a new leader, three… Continue reading

Most Read