OTTAWA — Jean Chrétien believes that the political class in quebec is “trapped” in an unnecessary debate on a problem that is non-existent : how to accommodate religious minorities?
And the former prime minister, predicted that the controversy, as to whether officials should ban the wearing of religious symbols, will eventually fade and that good sense will prevail.
“When you ask [to Quebec] the question : “do you Want that they lose their job?”, they respond : “Oh, no,”” said Mr. Christian, in an interview with The canadian Press.
It is a hot topic in Quebec for more than 10 years. This issue has led to a one-year consultation on “reasonable accommodation”, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, the Charter of values proposed by the Parti québécois during its brief stint in power and the law on the “religious neutrality” adopted at the end of the term by the last liberal government, which prohibited any person to provide or receive a service public in wearing an item of clothing religious covering of the face.
Last week, the liberals have suffered a spectacular defeat for the benefit of the Coalition avenir Québec, which has promised to prohibit officials in a position of authority, including teachers, judges, police officers and prison guards from wearing religious signs. The designated prime minister, François Legault, has threatened to use the controversial notwithstanding clause of the Constitution, if necessary, to override the Charter of rights and freedoms and to enforce the prohibition.
Mr. Legault has also promised to reduce 20 % Quebec immigration and to expel the newcomers who will not pass a French test or of quebec values in the three years following their arrival.
Jean Chrétien has said that the debate reminded him of the quagmire policy, which had resulted in the late 80’s and early 90’s at the request of Quebec to be recognized as a distinct society in the Constitution.
“Do you remember when everyone was trapped in the debate on the distinct society, [I said :] “We’re stuck in the snow. What should we do when we’re stuck in the snow? Relax, [riding] a little bit forward, a little to the back and you are finally back on the road”, he illustrated. Everyone was angry that I say things like that, but it turned out that I was right. I knew that the guy from Shawinigan didn’t care give a damn.”
Quebecers and other Canadians have finally started to settle down and switched to something else, and Mr. Christian predicted that this is what happens also in the debate on religious accommodation.
This will be the extent that Quebecers will realize that the prohibition of religious clothing may result in a “ridiculous” continued the former prime minister, as in France, where muslim women have been arrested for wearing a bathing suit in full on the beaches, but where there is “no problem if you are completely naked”.
Jean Chrétien also argued that tolerance of diversity is simply more convenient to give in to the fear of visible and religious minority communities.
“You know, you can be afraid of everything if you want to be afraid, he launched. A lot of people have a fear of planes, but end up taking the plane, because going to Florida on foot, it is a long journey.”
In regard to the provision for exemption, that the former prime minister Pierre Trudeau has accepted on the advice of Mr. Christian in order to get the support of the provinces to the Charter of human rights, Jean Chrétien said doubt that François Legault and the premier, Doug Ford, who has also threatened to use the provision, understand the consequences of such a move.
“I do not think that Mr. Legault knows a lot about the Charter of rights and freedoms, and Mr. Ford was certainly not a professor of law”, he said.
In 38 years, no federal government has had recourse to the notwithstanding clause, and Mr. Christian has said that they believe it was for a good reason : “because there is a huge price to pay, in the end”.
Doug Ford provided use of the provision to override a decision of a court in respect of a law of his government aimed at reducing the size of the council of the city of Toronto. Jean Chrétien has said that he is convinced that the government, Ford was “very relieved” when the decision had been overturned on appeal, making it unnecessary to use the notwithstanding clause.