Quebec’s contentious secularism bill banning religious symbols for teachers, police officers and other public servants in positions of authority was voted into law late Sunday.
Quebec Premier François Legault’s government used its majority to push through Bill 21 by a vote of 73 to 35 after applying the mechanism of closure to end debate on the bill prematurely. The Parti Quebecois also voted in favour, while the Liberals and Quebec solidaire were opposed.
The bill prohibits public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job. Its opponents say the law targets religious minorities while the government argues it affirms the Quebecois people’s secular identity.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec government introduced last-minute amendments toughening the law, making provisions for a minister to verify that it is being obeyed and to demand corrective measures if necessary.
Liberal member Marc Tanguay said the changes would result in a “secularism police.”
Just before the final vote, the bill’s sponsor, Simon Jolin-Barrette, minister of immigration, diversity and inclusiveness, asked all legislators to “convey the principles of state secularism with calm and respect.”
The legislation includes wording that preemptively invokes Section 33 of the Canadian Constitution, also known as the notwithstanding clause. As a consequence, no citizen will be able to challenge the bill on grounds it violates fundamental freedoms granted by law.
A Section 33 declaration, however, needs to be renewed every five years. Legault told reporters earlier in the day his government was closing a door that no one would choose to reopen.
“My prediction,” he said, “is that neither the Liberals, nor the Parti Quebecois — I don’t think they’ll be in power in five years — would want to change this law.”
Liberal Helene David quickly contradicted him. The Opposition critic for secularism told reporters a Liberal government would not renew Section 33. “We will see in five years what we will do,” she said. “There are strong chances we will want to repeal (the law).”
Bill 21 fulfills a major campaign promise by Legault’s party. The premier has often said the legislation is a “compromise” because his party decided against including daycare workers or private school teachers in the bill. The legislation also grants certain public sector workers such as teachers an acquired right to continue wearing religious symbols if they were hired before the law took effect.
Bill 21 also forbids anyone giving or receiving a state service with their face covered — largely seen as a measure targeting full-face Islamic veils.
The Liberals offered an amendment that would have let university students studying to become state employees affected by the law, such as teachers or lawyers, to have an acquired right to continue wearing religious symbols.
Jolin-Barette, said no. The so-called grandfather clause “would only to apply to those already working.”
Despite criticism from across the country by federal and provincial politicians, human rights advocates and many other groups, Legault’s government has stayed united in its drive to adopt the legislation.
Mr. Premier, we will remember you for this.Pierre Arcand, interim Quebec Liberal leader
Legault and his ministers have proclaimed that the bill will go down in history alongside other major pieces of legislation affirming the Quebecois nation’s values and way of life, such as the 1977 Charter of the French Language, known as Bill 101.
The premier said Friday the bill has allowed many Quebecers to regain a sense of pride. But Pierre Arcand, interim Liberal leader, said Sunday Legault’s legacy will be “this botched bill, that can’t be applied, that violates the rights of minorities. Mr. Premier, we will remember you for this.”
Bill 21 was the second law debated and passed over the weekend. In a 62 to 42 vote, the government used its majority around 4 a.m. Sunday to push through Bill 9, which reforms the province’s immigration system.
Jolin-Barrette’s bill gives the province more authority over who receives permanent residency in the province. The government says the new selection criteria will permit it to fast-track newcomers who better meet the needs of employers. Applicants in the old system were selected on a first-come, first-served basis.
The bill is controversial because it creates a legal framework that allows the government to force newly arrived immigrants to pass a French-language and so-called values test before becoming eligible for permanent residency.
While specific wording on the two proposed tests isn’t included in the bill, the legislation permits the province to institute the tests by way of regulation.
Immigration applications cancelled
Also contentious is the provision in Bill 9 permitting the government to cancel roughly 18,000 immigration applications — some from people who have waited in limbo for years as their files languished under the old system. Those applicants will have to start the process over again.
Including the applicants’ families, the fates of some 50,000 people wishing to immigrate to Quebec were at stake.
Opponents to the bill, including the provincial Liberals, said the Coalition Avenir Quebec government has provided “no credible explanation” to eliminate the applications.
The federation of Quebec’s chambers of commerce saluted the bill’s passing early Sunday.
“The concerted efforts of the government will lead to a better link between the skills of immigrants and those required for positions to fill in Quebec companies,” the federation’s president, Stephane Forget, said in a statement.
“These changes will have a very important impact to facilitate the recruitment of future employees ... and therefore, better integration of immigrants.”
Justice Minister David Lametti says he will look “very carefully” at a recommendation by a Liberal-dominated House of Commons committee that the government start consultations to revive a controversial hate speech law repealed in 2013 over free speech concerns.
It is the latest sign the Liberals are seriously considering bringing back a version of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, but one updated to target hate speech spread through social media.
Section 13 made it a discriminatory practice to convey messages over the phone or internet that contain “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt,” as long as those people were “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
Canada already has Criminal Code provisions that prohibit the incitement of hatred against identifiable groups, the promotion of genocide and the distribution of hate propaganda. A conviction comes with heavy penalties, including prison time. Given free speech concerns, however, the charges require the sign-off of an attorney general before being laid.
But complaints made under Section 13 were dealt with through the quasi-judicial Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, not the courts. The tribunal could levy fines of up to $10,000 and issue cease-and-desist orders. Critics of the day — including many Liberals — argued the law was overly broad and had weak safeguards to protect speech rights.
Liberal MP Keith Martin had tabled a bill to repeal Section 13 in 2008, but the bill died on an election call. The law was finally repealed in June 2013 by a private member’s bill from Conservative MP Brian Storseth.
Earlier this spring, the Commons justice committee began a study into the issue of online hate speech. The report, written by the Liberal majority, was released this week and calls on the government to strike a working group to establish a non-criminal remedy for hate speech violating the federal human rights code. It said the remedy should apply “irrespective of whether that violation happens online, in person, or in traditional print format.”
“This remedy could take the form of reinstating the former section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or implementing a provision analogous to the previous section 13 within the Canadian Human Rights Act, which accounts for the prevalence of hatred on social media,” the report said.
Justifiable limits of free speech is something that any government should be looking into
Speaking on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting, Lametti declined to say whether he personally wants to see Section 13 revived, but pointed out the courts ultimately found it was constitutional, and said he’s taken note of suggestions on how the former law could be updated and improved.
“The justice committee has suggested (reviving it), a number of stakeholders have suggested it,” Lametti said. “What I will say is that I’ll take a look very carefully at what the committee had to say.”
Later, during question period, Maxime Bernier — the former Conservative leadership candidate who now leads the People’s Party of Canada — said the justice committee was proposing to “censor free speech on the Internet.”
“As (Bernier) well knows, free expression is something that we value in this country,” Lametti said in response. “He should also know … in the current context, with online platforms, that the limits of free speech, justifiable limits of free speech, is something that any government should be looking into — as the prime minister did when he was in Paris and looked at the Christchurch declaration.”
Lametti was referring to a meeting last month that had world leaders vow to take action against the spread of extremist content online. It was organized in response to a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51 people.
I’ll take a look very carefully at what the committee had to say
The government has been considering for some time whether to bring back Section 13. The National Post reported in January 2018 that the justice department sent correspondence to a hate speech activist in B.C., telling him that reviving it was possible.
“I note your suggestion that the Government should bring back the legislation that was in the Canadian Human Rights Act to deal with hate messages on the internet,” said the email signed by then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, dated Jan. 5, 2018. “It may interest you to know that this option is currently under review.”
If the Liberals do bring it back, they’d have support from the NDP. “The government should reopen and update the (federal human rights act) with today’s technology considered and, likewise, reinstate an updated version of section 13,” said the NDP’s supplementary report to the justice committee.
Conservative MPs on the committee, however, issued a dissent. “The repealed section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act or any modification of the same should not be re-introduced,” they said. They recommended instead that “sanctions respecting hate crimes online or elsewhere be dealt with under the appropriate sections of the Criminal Code.”
I'm really curious to see how JT handles this because you can bet your sweet ass he'd have a swift, firm response if this was happening in an English speaking province.
You don't know the Trudeau's relationship with Quebec to say that.I'm really curious to see how JT handles this because you can bet your sweet ass he'd have a swift, firm response if this was happening in an English speaking province.
That’s the point he is making, Trudeau knows he isn’t liked there but needs the votes to win so panders to you guys.You don't know the Trudeau's relationship with Quebec to say that.
Trudeau will only be sweet to Quebec because he needs the votes in the upcoming elections.
It won't have anything to do with the fact that his riding is in Quebec or his family is in Quebec.
Trudeau is disliked in Quebec as well: airhead, narcissistic, pretentious, ethnic (new Muslim votes) pandering, weak leadership.... You name it. That's just a sample.
Hyperbole aside, I'm not really seeing it. I'm mostly just hearing oil companies bitch about having actual standards rather than it being a free for all.it might not be a full out ban but it puts them in a check mate situation where it is going to be near impossible to get one done in the future
as long as the natives and environmentalists sign off on everything and you know how that goesHyperbole aside, I'm not really seeing it. I'm mostly just hearing oil companies bitch about having actual standards rather than it being a free for all.
It'll be a stricter approval system, but it also can help avoid the nonsense currently going on out your way with the pipeline. It also effects dams, and windfarms which pretty badly need to be more heavily scrutinized.
That's already an issue. Would you rather dump money into a pipeline you can't use, or not build a pipeline at all.as long as the natives and environmentalists sign off on everything and you know how that goes
the indians never have anything to do with the environment.it is always about moneyThat's already an issue. Would you rather dump money into a pipeline you can't use, or not build a pipeline at all.
The issue with the Indians has nothing to do with the environment, and everything to do with them not feeling like they're getting their share of the pie. Why do you think they're now trying to buy it?
The government has, for the first time, placed right-wing extremist groups on its list of outlawed terrorist organizations, adding the names of Blood & Honour and Combat 18.
Announced in the government’s Canada Gazette, the action came after the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said in a report on Friday it had increased its “posture” on the far right.
Blood & Honour was described by the government as “an international neo-Nazi network whose ideology is derived from the National Socialist doctrine of Nazi Germany.”
Combat 18 is the armed branch of Blood & Honour and has conducted murders and bombings, the government said in the description of the group on the Public Safety Canada website.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network chair Bernie Farber called the groups “extremely violent neo-Nazi organizations” and said he hoped other far right groups would be criminalized as well.
“I’m hoping this is just the beginning and that there will be more, but this is a really good first start for Canada,” he said.
Listing terrorist groups makes it easier to prosecute supporters and helps counter terrorism financing, according to the government.
Also placed on the terrorist list Wednesday were three Shia militant groups supported by Iran: the Al-Ashtar Brigades, Harakat al-Sabireen and the Fatemiyoun Division.
According to the government, the Al-Ashtar Brigades “aims to overthrow Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy.” Harakat al-Sabireen has operated in the Gaza Strip since 2014, the government said.