A woman was ejected from a government sponsored language class because she refused to remove her niqab Tues. March 9. This event was symptomatic of the attack on religious freedoms that has been taking place in Quebec as of late. This incident of the restriction of religious freedoms, as well as others like it, was plainly meant to satisfy a part of Quebec’s population which no longer represents the vast majority. As well, it demonstrates a lack of respect for democracy, and is dangerous for Quebec society as a whole.
The attack on religious freedoms in Quebec represents an attempt by the government to act in the interests of only one part of the Quebec population, to the detriment of the rest. The perpetrators of this attack, such as Premier Jean Charest, claim that they are protecting “Quebec’s values.” The question is, which “Quebec’s” values are being protected? The attempts to restrict people’s rights to sport religious symbols is an attempt to satisfy the “old” Quebec; the part of the Quebec population that is xenophobic, resistant to change and unwilling to live in present reality. Regardless of what Quebec’s demographics and values used to be, things have changed. Quebec is now a far more multicultural and diverse place than it was even 15 years ago. The influx of foreign immigrants has been a godsend for Quebec’s economy and society, bringing in people who are hard-working and actually reproducing at replacement level. With the benefits that these new immigrants bring, there must also be accommodation.
Quebec no longer has a monolithic population, and as such, its government cannot continue to act as if there is still any semblance of monolithic values. To infringe on people’s religious freedoms in the name of protecting common values is ridiculous in a society where the values, like the population, have become increasingly diverse.
The restriction of religious rights represents an attack on democracy. Freedom of religion is one of the core tenets of a democratic system, and by eroding religious freedom, the Quebec government is doing a great disservice to democracy. One of the most essential documents in terms of Canadian democracy, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically protects freedoms of religion and conscience, as well as freedom of expression. In restricting the right to both practice and express religious beliefs, the government of Quebec has demonstrated that it has no respect for the Charter, or for democracy in general.
The lack of respect for the part of the Charter which guarantees religious freedom does not bode well for the future of democracy in Quebec. The Charter is a document which is indivisible, and once even one right or freedom has been restricted, the whole document becomes to a certain extent worthless. We cannot afford to pick and choose which democratic values and ideals we want to adhere to, and which we don’t. Democracy and the Charter are a zero-sum game, a game which, if the Quebec government follows its current course, it will lose.
The Quebec government’s attack on religious freedoms is extremely troubling. The Quebec government is acting in the interests of an increasingly small part of the population, and in such a way that is detrimental for democracy in general. Hopefully, the population of Quebec, which has in the past demonstrated itself to be quite progressive and forward thinking, will rise up and let the Charest government know that religious freedoms, like all freedoms, must be protected.