Charles Taylor slams CAQ plan to ban religious symbols for some civil servants

Philosopher Charles Taylor says the new CAQ government "doesn't get the point" of the report he co-authored that's been frequently cited by the CAQ as justification for its controversial plan to ban the wearing of religious symbols by some civil servants.

Co-author of Bouchard-Taylor report calls CAQ plan 'ridiculous,' 'dishonest' and 'a lot of blather'

Philosopher Charles Taylor, who co-authored the 2008 report on religious accommodation in Quebec, said the CAQ government is 'using the report to do things the report condemned totally. It's a very dishonest operation.' (Oleksandr Makhanets/Wikipedia)

Philosopher Charles Taylor says the new CAQ government "doesn't get the point" of the report he co-authored that's been frequently cited by the CAQ as justification for its controversial plan to ban the wearing of religious symbols by some civil servants.

Premier ​François Legault said again today, in announcing his cabinet, that he intends to proceed quickly with a ban that would prevent peace officers, judges, Crown prosecutors and teachers from displaying religious symbols in order to ensure the state is secular.

That means items such as kippas, hijabs or crosses couldn't be worn on the job.

Legault and the new minister who'll be responsible for implementing the ban, Simon Jolin-Barrette, have both said their plan is based on consensus that emerged from the recommendations of the 2008 report on religious accommodation co-authored by Taylor and sociologist Gérard Bouchard.

The CAQ plan includes some of Bouchard and Taylor's recommendations, but it ignores others — and goes further, in some cases.

François Legault, seen here being applauded after the swearing in of his cabinet, said at that ceremony he plans to proceed quickly with a ban that would prevent Quebecers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols. (Radio-Canada)

"It's either very ignorant or very intellectually dishonest," Taylor said of the CAQ plan in an interview with CBC News Thursday, as Legault's new cabinet was being sworn in.

"They're using the report to do things the report condemned totally. It's a very dishonest operation."

Religious symbol ban never intended for teachers

The most controversial element of the CAQ plan is its inclusion of teachers in the ban on religious symbols. 

Bouchard and Taylor explicitly recommended against including teachers in the ban.

"We meant it to apply only to people with functions that we called 'coercive authority' — police and judges.  Functions that can put you in jail," Taylor said.

We're dealing with a situation which will heal itself over time because as people get to know each other, these kind of fears disappear.- Philosopher Charles Taylor

"We thought that maybe it's too shocking for people to have people coming after them, as it were, who obviously belonged to a religion which was not that of the majority," he explained.

"Teachers can send students home to write 200 times, 'I will always do my homework,' but they can't do really serious things like put you in jail."

"It's not at all the same kind of thing."

Philosopher Charles Taylor, left, and sociologist Gérard Bouchard issued their report on the accommodation of minorities in Quebec in 2008. Taylor said if he were asked to advise the government now on how to manage religious accommodation, he would tell them to do nothing. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Taylor said he's worried about the consequences of the ban.

"They'll have alienated a lot of people. They'll have made a lot of our more talented immigrants move to Ontario or the rest of Canada, where they don't have this kind of harassment,"  Taylor said.

"It's just a very bad idea."

'A lot of blather'

Over the last few weeks, Legault and Jolin-Barrette have both been questioned about the apparent inconsistency of pressing ahead with the religious symbol ban while ignoring Bouchard and Taylor's recommendation to remove the crucifix from the National Assembly.

The CAQ has said it intends to keep the crucifix in the National Assembly, despite Bouchard and Taylor's longstanding recommendation that it be removed. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Last week Legault said he didn't consider the crucifix a religious symbol, but rather a part of Quebec's history and traditional values.

Taylor called that "a lot of blather."

"I mean, if that's not a religious symbol, what is a religious symbol?" he asked.

"It's really very, very ridiculous."

'Drop it'

Taylor has said in the past, he no longer believes the ban on religious symbols for judges and police officers is necessary. 

He said he agreed to the recommendation at the time of the report as a compromise with his co-author, Bouchard.

"In order not to jeopardize the whole thrust of the report  — which was basically to say individuals should be free to express their own opinions and their own commitments — I agreed to go along with that," he told CBC News.

Taylor said if he were asked to advise the government now on how to manage religious accommodation, he would tell them to do nothing.

"Drop it," Taylor said.

"We're dealing with a situation which will heal itself over time because as people get to know each other, these kind of fears disappear."

Despite his fears about the consequences of the CAQ plan, Taylor said he's optimistic about the future.

He believes younger people are more open to religious diversity and that support for widespread bans on religious symbols won't last.

"We just have to get through ten years without creating too many wounds and too many divisions," Taylor said.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.