Secular 'values' charter backers, critics clash at hearings

The second day of public consultations on Quebec’s Bill 60 is hearing from a range of voices in support of and against the controversial secular charter.

Some say Bill 60 violates Charter of Rights, others say legislation doesn't go far enough

CBC's Shawn Lyons looks at the first day of hearings into Quebec's controversial secular charter. 2:40

The second day of public consultations on Quebec’s Bill 60 is hearing from a range of voices in support of and against the controversial secular charter.

The hearing Wednesday morning started with Martin Laperrière, an independent citizen who said the province is already secular, and who argued that the charter is going too far and that it's unconstitutional.

Laperrière was followed by Fernand Morin, a retired lawyer and law professor at Université Laval.

Morin, who is also against the charter, said the legislation legitimizes intolerance among Quebecers and conflicts with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The third speaker was Michelle Blanc, an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Blanc, who is transgender, has been an outspoken proponent of secularism as a blogger and a member of  Les Janettes — a pro-charter group founded by author, radio and TV personality Janette Bertrand.

Blanc said Bill 60 doesn't go far enough. She described being spit on in the streets of Montreal by women wearing veils because she belongs to the LGBT community.

Pauline Marois denies plans to call an election

With more than 200 hours of testimony still to get through, there are many who feel an election could also bring an early end to the hearings and see Bill 60 debated on the campaign trail instead.

The province's two major opposition parties have made it clear they will vote against the provincial budget, which would topple the minority government and trigger an election.

But Premier Pauline Marois said the Parti Québécois doesn't want to go to the polls over the proposed legislation.

"If they decide to bring us down and the charter hasn't been passed, one of the consequences will be that it becomes an election issue," said Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for Bill 60.

No major changes to Bill 60

Marois and Drainville both reiterated Tuesday that the hearings will not lead to any substantive alterations of Bill 60.

Marois said outside the hearings that the ban on religious symbols is essential to Bill 60 and will remain.

"It's a basic part of the project," she said.

Drainville said the religious neutrality of the state must be "visible, apparent and concrete."

He also maintained that Bill 60 is a moderate document that offers made-in-Quebec secularism.

"It's a bill for Quebecers that reflects what we are as a society," he said.

It remains unclear how the legislation would be enforced, if passed. Drainville continues to duck questions about whether government employees would lose their jobs if they wear religious symbols.

"If a person refused to take off the religious sign, they would be confirming they are putting their religion above everything else, above the common interest and above the law," he said.

The PQ government argues the charter would shield the province from what it describes as encroaching fundamentalism, and says it would provide protection against gender discrimination.

with files from The Canadian Press

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