Canadian Jews file brief with gov’t commission on secularism legislation

Jewish leaders: ‘Bad solution to non-existent problem’.

By
December 24, 2013 23:55
2 minute read.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Canada PM Harper 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Blair Gable)

Two Jewish communal umbrella organizations filed a joint brief against a proposed Québécois secular charter on Friday, arguing that it is a violation of their constituents’ religious freedom.

The Federation CJA and the local branch of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs submitted their brief to a provincial parliamentary commission that is set to examine the measure, dubbed Bill 60, next month.

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“Our brief calls on the government to recall its bill because it unduly violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” CIJA director of public affairs for Quebec told The Jerusalem Post.

The advocacy organization also plans on testifying before parliament regarding the measure.

Bill 60 would ban the wearing of “conspicuous religious symbols” by public sector workers. The ban on prominent crucifixes, hijabs, niqabs, burkas, turbans and kippot would apply to groups such as teachers, police officers, civil servants, hospital staff, judges and prison workers. Official documents give the nod to discreet religious symbols, such as a small crucifix or a ring with the Star of David, but not to veils, large crucifixes or turbans.

Quebec Minister of Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville has explained that he believes that “very obvious symbols...send a clear message: ‘I am a believer and this is my religion.’” The government’s website laid out the reasoning behind the new charter, which would mandate amending the province’s charter of human rights, explaining that “a number of high-profile religious accommodation cases have given rise to a profound discomfort in Quebec” and that as a result, “to maintain social peace and promote harmony, we must prevent tensions from growing.”

The prohibition on “the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols by state personnel... would reflect the state’s neutrality,” according to the government website.



However, it appears that some public displays of religion will still be permitted, including Christmas trees in public offices and a large crucifix in the National Assembly.

Government offices will be closed on the holiday.

The Federation CJA and CIJA disagreed, writing lawmakers in their brief that the proposed charter is “a bad solution to a nonexistent problem.”

Asserting the bill would constitute a violation of civil liberty laws and of basic human rights, the Jewish groups said the government was acting as if there was a problem while “no empirical studies have been used to demonstrate a decline in the secularism or religious neutrality of the state.”

“This framework marginalizes individuals of minority faiths by undermining the principle of state religious neutrality,” they averred, calling for the bill to be withdrawn.

Despite several high-profile medical and academic institutions stating they will not comply with the ban should it become law, the Quebec Federation of Nurses’ Unions has stated that it supports the measure, according to CBC News.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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