Candidates say they oppose bill, but it’s unclear if they would contest it if elected
NDP federal leadership candidates Guy Caron, Niki Ashton, Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus chose their words carefully on Sunday, Aug. 27, when speaking about Quebec’s Bill 62 during the party’s French-only debate. The bill, which is still being discussed by a parliamentary committee, would ban individuals working as public servants in Quebec from covering their face when working. With just a few weeks left until a candidate is chosen to lead the party, the four candidates all agreed that the state had no right to tell people what to wear.
Despite the candidates’ agreement that the government does not have the right to make those decisions, it was hard to understand if all of them would respect the bill. Following the debate, Singh, an Ontario legislature MP, told reporters it was important to him to separate the church and the state, but then added that it was “absolutely clear that Bill 62, as it’s proposed, contravenes the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” and he wouldn’t support it. When pressed by reporters about whether he would be willing to contest the bill in court if he was elected prime minister — something Caron has accused Singh of wanting to do — the candidate pivoted his answer, telling reporters that “communities would do it.”
When asked if Singh’s willingness to contest the bill could undermine the NDP’s push in Quebec, Caron responded “for now, [the candidates] are only debating.”
In an interview with the Toronto Star on Aug. 26, Singh criticized Ashton and Caron for their stance on the issue, calling out the two candidates for “inconsistent understanding of human rights.” Caron’s recently-released “Québec 2019” platform reads: “The National Assembly of Quebec has all the authority and rights to legislate on issues of secularism and in its jurisdiction,” arguing that “since the Quiet Revolution, Quebec has placed secularism and the religious neutrality of the state at the heart of its evolution.”
Ashton later told the Huffington Post “there is a consensus [with] Quebec’s political leaders emerging on secularism, and the government should respect the will of Quebecers on this matter.” The comments from Ashton, who is writing a thesis on millennial feminism, sparked criticism on social media. The day after her comments were published, she clarified on Twitter that she would “not compromise on a woman’s right to wear what she chooses.”
After the debate, Ashton said she was open to contesting the bill in court, but said it was hypothetical to talk about the issue since the bill is still being discussed in the National Assembly. Caron, meanwhile, didn’t say that he would contest it, explaining that he opposes the bill, “especially as a Quebecer,” but respects Quebec’s provincial government right to decide of the issue on their own.
Caron argued the Sherbrooke declaration — the NPD’s 12-year-old policy for Quebec establishing the province’s right to self-determination — implies Bill 62’s process should be respected.
Angus didn’t answer reporters’ questions when asked if he would contest the bill if he becomes the party leader. “It’s a conversation in Quebec, and I have a lot of [trust that] the progressive movement will establish a balance between individual rights and society’s rights.”
Photo by Kirubel Mehari