Restricting Liberty

Quebec’s Proposed Charter of Values Shames the Idea of Liberty

Resurgent separatist politics are driving calls for restrictions on religious freedom.

Rogerio Barbosa/AFP/Getty

“Vive le Quebec libre!”

It’s a clarion call for separatists in Quebec, a cry for freedom famously repeated by French President Charles de Gaulle on a visit to Montreal in 1967, and a phrase not used lightly when discussing Canadian politics. But it could also be a motto for all Quebecers—all Canadians—appalled by the nationalist Parti Québécois’s proposed charter of values, which prohibits public employees from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols like hijabs, turbans, or kippahs in the name of establishing the “religious neutrality of Québec’s public institutions.” (Small cross pendants are fine, as is the giant cross that hangs in the Quebec legislature.)

Long live a free Quebec? Sure.

Long live a Quebec free enough for a public school teacher to teach his students about equality without having to explain why he can’t wear a kippah in his classroom.

Long live a Quebec free enough for a judge to uphold justice in her courtroom without removing her hijab to put on her robes.

Long live a Quebec free enough for little boys and little girls to be cared for by anyone, regardless of their religion.

Amnesty International says the charter limits Quebecers’ "fundamental rights." A top Catholic bishop says it will “create ghettos.”

If Quebecers truly want freedom, they must reject the charter.

Long live a Quebec free from the government’s unconstitutional invasion into individuals’ religious liberty.

One year after de Gaulle’s visit, René Lévesque founded the Parti Québécois to advocate for Quebec’s independence. Two failed referendums curbed the nationalist cause in the province, but Pauline Marois’s election one year ago brought it back to the fore.

“The future of Quebec is to become its own country,” Marois said during her victory speech in September 2012. Yet separatism itself is no longer a reasonable, viable option for most Quebecers—only 28 percent of provincial voters supported separation at the time of Marois’s victory.

Her minority government is accordingly looking for a lightning rod, and—as is too often the case in base politics—the destructive draw of division has trumped the importance of actual governance.

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Still, this is a province and a country that has overcome the damage of divisive politics before, and it will do so again.

Vive le Quebec libre.