Quebec’s human rights commission says the Parti Québécois government's proposed charter of values violates the province’s existing human rights law and would not survive a court challenge.
It says the ideas outlined in the government's policy paper jeopardize several fundamental rights and calls it a misguided attempt to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
However, the minister responsible for the proposed charter, Bernard Drainville, has dismissed that unequivocal condemnation of the proposed charter, saying the provincial human rights commission is out of step with Quebec society.
The war of words began in a news release issued earlier today.
In it, the commission said the proposed charter runs contrary to “the spirit and the letter” of Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which the province’s national assembly adopted in 1975.
“The government’s proposals are cause for serious concern. They represent a clear break from the Charter [of Human Rights and Freedoms],” said the commission’s chairman, Jacques Frémont. “It is the most radical proposal modifying the Charter since its adoption.”
Right to display religious symbols guaranteed
Frémont said the right to display one's religious symbols is protected by the provincial human rights charter, through the guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
"Banning religious symbols would exclude people from a large number of jobs based on the wearing of a religious and inferred perceptions of that symbol," the commission said in its release, "thus infringing their rights to freedom of expression and to equal access to employment."
Expanding on the right to religious freedom in an interview with CBC Radio News, Frémont said, “It’s a fundamental right, and the state has an obligation to remain neutral. What that neutrality means is that the state cannot force anyone not to wear religious signs if it is the person’s wish to do so.”
Equality between genders already protected, commission says
While one of the main goals of the values charter say is to ensure equality between women and men, Frémont told CBC that province’s human rights charter already guarantees that.
“Rights of men and women and equality rights are well-protected already,” he said.
Drainville said there have been "numerous cases" in which religious accommodations have undermined the principle of equality between men and women.
Frémont says his commission, which has the mandate to investigate such cases, simply hasn't seen evidence of that.
"We don't see a substantial number of complaints," he said. "We don't see huge tensions."
What really needs to be addressed is the issue of “real equality,” he said.
“The real issues are access to labour, access to high positions and discrimination against women who are pregnant,” Frémont said. "These are the issues we see on an everyday basis at the commission.