The Charter of Québec Values: Fomenting Hatred to Divert Attention

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by Alexandre Gagnon Couture PhD

About Alexandre Couture Gagnon: Alexandre is originally from the Bas-St-Laurent region, two hours east of Québec City. She recently completed her PhD in Ontario and is a Professor of Analysis and Design of Public Policy at École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP). Her research focuses on national and religious minorities in Europe and North America. Alexandre contacted us and is happy to share her research and opinions with our readers. For more about Alexandre click here

I would like to propose a parallel reading to that of Mr. Archambault on the Charter of Québec values (see: Letter from a “pure laine” Outremonter to a Hassidic Friend). Although his expertise is undeniable, I question his argument that Québec’s nationalism and the legislation of reasonable accommodations are inevitably linked. In my view, politicians have a duty to articulate Québec’s nationalism without inciting fear of “the other” – the negative consequences of which would be both unfortunate and unnecessary. The following is based on my doctoral studies as well as my personal perception.

Distracting public opinion

The Parti Québécois (PQ) uses a political technique as old as the world: fomenting fear of “the other” in order to enhance its own popularity.

For a politician seeking votes or a change of topic in the public debate, a quick solution is to identify tantalizing societal difference as a focal point for public unrest. Here, it’s the “bearers of religious symbols.” In order to control the political agenday, the PQ has created, in the “secular” majority of Québec society, a distinction between those who wear religious symbols and those who do not wear them. The Charter of Québec Values effectively acts as a vector of hatred among Quebecers; among the so-called “seculars” it creates a disdain for religious minorities.

When politicians and artists, our elite, support a policy, it gains in power. The PQ awakened our fear of “the other” simply by designating them as “bearers of religious signs.” Because of the strong political support of the Charter of Québec Values, “secular” Quebecers now feel it is within their rights to not like some features prevalent in “the other,” which they have come to define as wearing religious symbols.

Individuals all have a little fear of people different from themselves. This is normal. Merely talking about a group other than your own generally invites prejudices – try it, it’s human nature. Ask someone you know about the inhabitants of a nearby town and they will have an opinion, likely based on almost anything, or at least something greatly wrong. If you lived in that nearby town and you know they are wrong, you can inform them. No harm done, after all, they are not running for office to “teach” the inhabitants of nearby town that they are in the wrong (contrary to the current PQ). But an informal discussion is not the same as practicing politics.

Informal Discussion vs Serious Reflection

Politicians should not act on the basis of prejudices and must take into account the consequences of their actions. If we live in a prosperous place governed by the rule of law (and not the rule of force, for example), it is partly because our politicians have historically given much thought before putting in place policies that can be divisive, and because they have not fallen into the trap of enacting laws based on uninformed informal discussion.

Politicians are expected to inform themselves of the issues and the consequences of their policies. Because politicians are elected, paid, and respected for their reflection on societal problems, they must go beyond informal discussion where they can easily fall in the trap of being misinformed or worse, uninformed. A policy cannot be based on “Yeah, it’s true, I think these people have a problem!”

The Charter comes with a very steep price

The negative consequences of the adoption of the Charter of Québec Values would be multiple and significant for the province. It is not consistent with the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms nor the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The consequent litigation that will follow should the Charter be voted into law by the National Assembly may be steep.

In addition, a majority vote in favor of the Charter would likely be criticized by international organizations. It would be bad publicity for Québec on a global scale. Our reputation already took a hit after Parizeau’s 1995 speech on the ethnic vote. We can expect a similar fallout this time, and indeed probably worse because the information is now transmitted more quickly across the world through social networks and the Internet.

In sum, the Charter of Québec values acts as a vector of hatred. It awakens the fear of “the other”, now defined as those “carrying religious symbols” in the “secular” Québécois.

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