The curse of the Canadian constitution is the notwithstanding clause.
It allows provinces to override rights to further their own political agendas.
As English-speaking Quebecers we have a painful history with the clause.
Back in 1988, the Quebec government used it to override a Supreme Court decision on bilingual signs.
The court had ruled that Quebec’s ban on the use of any language except for French on outdoor commercial signs violated freedom of expression found in the Canadian Charter of Rights.
Notwithstanding Real Danger
Some argue that it was the beginning of the end for the Meech Lake Accord designed to bring Quebec into the constitutional fold.
In December 1988, Robert Bourassa lost 3 English speaking ministers. Richard French, Herbert Marx and Clifford Lincoln.
In the National Assembly, Lincoln had these words
I”n my belief rights are rights are rights. There is no such thing as inside rights and outside rights.”
And when Meech died because two provinces refused to sign on, the floodgates opened. Lucien Bouchard left the Tories, The Bloc Quebecois was born, the PQ under Jacques Parizeau was elected in 1994, all leading to the 1995 referendum in which we came within 50 thousand votes of losing the country.
All because of the use of Section 33 of the constitution also knowns as the not-withstanding clause? Hardly the sole reason, but you can connect the dots.
Support for the Meech Lake agreement started a downward slide after Quebec’s Bill 178.
Governments who want to override the basic rights of citizens should tread carefully when resorting to using it
At the Core of the CAQ
But our CAQ government is going full speed ahead to use Section 33 to override the Quebec and Canadian Charters over the wearing of religious symbols in the public service. The law would mostly affect teachers but Legault is going even further than the PQ proposed. No wildlife officers wearing kippas.
Legault knows the clause would be unconstitutional . He knows it would abrogate basic Canadian human rights. But he will use it to silence debate.
This government plans to stomp over guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination.
Legault will reignite the ugly politics of division.
And once again minorities will feel under siege and not welcome.
Is this the kind of Quebec we want?
Welcome to Quebec?
You want to see what it will be like. Just look at the case of Anjou councillor Lynne Shand who went on a public diatribe about being treated by an opthalmologist wearing a hijab.
On Facebook she wrote. “ “If it hadn’t been an emergency I would have refused to be treated by her. I’m angry because it’s really the Islamification of our country . We must accept them, give them reasonable accommodation”.
Shand later said sorry.
“Its like bringing your religion in my face”
But this is the reality of the CAQ vision of Quebec.
A Quebec where the premier denies Islamaphobia exists.
In some ways, they may be worse for minority rights than the PQ and that is saying a lot.
What are “Quebec” Values?
All in the name of Quebec values.
My values include the rights of minorities to exist and flourish and not to regulate what people wear.
My values are about goodwill, decency and equal justice for all.
Legault is heading onto a political landscape littered with landmines.
That damn notwithstanding clause strikes again.