• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Not “Secular” in Quebec, but SecularIST

The Parti Québecois’s now-notorious “Values Charter” has received its proper share of ignominy, albeit rather belatedly. The thing was a travesty of justice from the start—as, to his credit, Justin Trudeau was acute and bold enough to say right away. (Not so much the ever-cautious Mr. Mulcair, nor the ever-calculating Prime Minister.)

There is sometimes a fine line between nationalism and racism, and the Parti Quebecois has crossed it—again. So often their understanding of Quebecois society has been a pure laine one: “Justice,” for them, so very often means “just us.”

For what no one has heard yet from the PQ is what we always need to hear when legislation is proposed: Why does it matter in this case? What is the problem to which this is the solution?

I haven’t heard of Quebec being engulfed in flames of religious rioting, have you? I haven’t even read of accident victims being treated by Christian EMTs, only to be smacked in the face by large, dangling crucifixes. I haven’t heard of Jewish motorcycle cops having trouble pulling their helmets on over their elaborate kippas, nor of kids in daycare being terrified by the masked Muslim women looming over them.

Let’s be clear about the basic issues. Of course “official neutrality” toward all religions and ideologies (save those that are positively seditious) is right for the state, and for the conduct of its business by its employees. What’s wrong is for “neutrality” of principle and practice to be extended into neutrality of the person. What’s wrong is the insistence that when you represent the state, you cease being yourself, and particularly you cease to wear symbols of your fundamental (religious ) commitment.

Most ominously, this charter could be an exercise in a kind of negative idolatry: only the ideology of secularism can be imaged in the public sector by representatives of the state. No other loyalty, and hence no other identity, can be manifest. This is the secularism of the hardened anti-Christianity on the sharpest edge of the Quiet Revolution.

Less ominously, but cynically, the proposed law is an exercise in divisive politics, a way to drive a wedge between the PQ and its Liberal and Conservative rivals by blowing on the coals of Quebecois’ tradition of embattled resentment. “See?” the PQ wants to say, “we represent the real nation of Quebec. The values ‘we’ share are the values that we descendants of the French colonists share. All those autres that we have had to put up with will be put in their place. We’ve done it linguistically; now we’ll do it graphically.”

It is truly an astonishingly atavistic and revanchist policy, particularly coming from the region of the country with some of Canada’s best thinkers (Charles Taylor comes immediately to mind) regarding questions of religion and society.

Let’s hope that the practical goodwill of Confederation prevails, the spirit of Cartier and not the spectre of Lévesque. Indeed, young Mr. Trudeau has made his late father smile, and here’s hoping the rest of Quebec comes soon to its senses.