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October 5, 2019

Getting votes is ahead of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Canadian Charger

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In 2017, the Liberal government in Québec passed Bill 62, banning the wearing of face coverings for anyone providing or receiving government services.

At the time, the federal New Democratic Party under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership vigorously opposed this populist bill.  As a result, the NDP suffered major electoral losses in a province where they had recently gained a historic foothold.

Now the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) has passed the equally odious Bill 21, which forbids provincial employees in positions of authority – such as police, jail guards, judges, and teachers – from wearing any religious symbols.

That law is now being challenged in court by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and hijab-wearing Ichrak Nourel Hak, a Université de Montréal student training to become a teacher. Under the new legislation she would not be allowed to teach school wearing her customary religious clothing.

Bill 21 is a flagrant violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in both the letter and spirit of the law.

Québec Premier François Legault and his CAQ party cynically skirted the Charter by invoking the Notwithstanding Clause, which gives a provincial government power to pass laws that violate the Constitution. 

Legault has gone on to demand that Québec candidates in the upcoming October federal election must agree not to be involved in any court challenges to Bill 21.

Three of the five recognized federal party leaders have given in to this draconian demand: Conservative leader Andrew Scheer; Green leader Elizabeth May; and New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh, a practicing Sikh who wears his faith’s traditional “five articles” including the turban and kirpan (a ceremonial dagger).

They are all after Québec voters. Who gives a damn about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Not Scheer, Singh, or May.

So, is Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau any better? 

Trudeau says he reserves the right to intervene, but first wants the ongoing court challenge to Bill 21 to run its course (which could take years).

Trudeau, Scheer, Singh, and May have all expressed righteous opposition to Bill 21, but words are nowhere near enough. So far, they have all failed to walk the talk of unity in diversity and enlightened multiculturalism. They are more afraid of suffering the fate of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair who stood against populist policies and discriminatory legislation. 

Trudeau’s position may be less blatantly hypocritical than that of his prime ministerial rivals, but it is nowhere near good enough to reassure Canada’s religiously visible minorities.

And now he’s squirming out from under yet another scandal, thanks to a youthful history of playing “Mr. Dressup” with overtly racial overtones. In trying to minimize the damage those black-face antics inflicted on his clean image, he argues that he’s always advocated for minority rights. 

Well, not so much anymore.

If he stands back and holds off on any intervening action until the current case against Bill 21 meanders its tortuous way through the courts, he and the rest of Canada stand to lose big-time, and with no recourse. 

But as PM, Trudeau has it in his power to act now.  Within a year of Bill 21’s adoption, he could meet with the Governor General and request the withdrawal of royal assent. Sadly, it seems he has chosen not to do so for fear of losing too many Québec votes – a risky numbers-game that can only end badly for all.

Let’s welcome the ethically unflinching Thomas Mulcair back into this unhappy situation. Thankfully he has not changed, as demonstrated by this excerpt from a recent Toronto Sun article:

“Freedom of religion shouldn’t depend on focus groups and polling.  It’s a fundamental right, not a popularity contest.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is there to protect all of us.”

Today, we are in an age of lesser, weaker, and short-sighted leaders – leaders unwilling to stand up for our treasured Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in case doing so might cost them votes.

To my fellow Canadians: As you prepare to make your ballot-box decision this October, remember … Justin Trudeau is no different.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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