Source: The Star
OTTAWA—On the eve of the only French debate of the NDP leadership race, contender Jagmeet Singh criticized two of his opponents for their statements on a contentious Quebec law that would ban face coverings, such as the niqab worn by Muslim women, for people who are giving or receiving public services.
Singh told the Star that he unequivocally opposes Quebec’s Bill 62, and predicted that, if passed, it would be found to contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as Quebec’s own human rights law.
He went on to call out two of his leadership opponents — Quebec MP Guy Caron and Manitoba’s Niki Ashton — for their positions on the matter, which he said amount to an “inconsistent understanding of human rights.”
Caron, the only Quebecer in the contest, released a “Quebec 2019” policy platform this week. It included a pledge to respect the Quebec legislature’s “authority” to pass laws on secularism, and said there is a consensus emerging from both left- and right-wing parties in the province over legislation that would impose some limits on religious clothing.
Caron’s platform also made clear that he personally believes government has no place dictating what people are allowed to wear.
Ashton, an MP from Manitoba, initially appeared to agree with Caron. In a statement this week to the Huffington Post, she said, “There is a consensus emerging” in Quebec on secularism, and that “the Canadian government should respect the will of Quebecers on this matter.”
She subsequently told the Star she disagrees with Caron’s position, but would hold judgment on the Quebec legislation until something is passed in the National Assembly. She emphasized that no government should dictate what people can wear, calling it a “line in the sand” that shouldn’t be crossed.
Singh dismissed the position of each candidate.
“To me, it doesn’t sound like a consistent position. It doesn’t seem like they’ve thought this through and provided a consistency, or a consistent respect for human rights,” he said.
“Human rights shouldn’t be a matter of popularity,” he added. “(Rights are) not supposed to be subject to the whims of the majority.”
The fourth candidate in the race, Charlie Angus, this week said he doesn’t trust politicians to legislate how women dress. “I also know that any legislation at the provincial or federal level has to be charter compliant and that’s the way it should be,” Angus said.
The debate over secularism and the appropriateness of religious symbols in public institutions has burbled through Quebec politics for years. Recent examples include a controversial proposition from the Parti Québécois during the 2014 election for a charter of “Quebec values” to legally enshrine a version of secularism in the province.
The leadership candidates vying for Thomas Mulcair’s position as party leader have all remarked on Quebec’s “distinctness” from the rest of Canada. As Caron’s platform for the province pointed out, Quebec’s historical experience — the Catholic Church was closely linked with government and provided social services like education until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s — has led to a particular debate on the separation of state and religion in the province.