Chantier Politique

November 19, 2016

English Edition, No. 22

Bill 62

National Assembly Blames Women and
Youth to Cover Up Its Own Cowardice

Bill 62
National Assembly Blames Women and
Youth to Cover Up Its Own Cowardice

- Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec (PMLQ)
Bill 62 Is Irrational and Should Be Repealed
- Georges Côté


Bill 62

National Assembly Blames Women and
Youth to Cover Up Its Own Cowardice

A Pyrrhic victory is a victory which is only achieved with heavy losses on one's own side. Such is the conclusion which can be drawn from the passage of Bill 62 by the Quebec National Assembly on October 18. The bill is justified on the grounds that the less than one per cent of women in Quebec who wear a face-covering garment are somehow responsible for blocking society's path to progress because they are somehow depriving 100 per cent of the population of the enjoyment of their rights.

The government's claim that it is defending public right and a civil democracy is based on a convoluted notion of separation of church and state called an "unfinished" struggle. This struggle is presented in the most out of context and absurd way. That separation of Church and State was settled in Quebec in 1874 when the British Privy Council decided the case of Joseph Guibord. It stopped the interference of the Church in matters pertaining to the civil authority thereby settling the issue that the state was secular not ecclesiastic and the civil power, not the ecclesiastic power of the Church, prevailed over temporal affairs.[1] Despite this, the Church continued its oppressive rule over temporal affairs because it served the ruling circles to maintain feudal relations in the countryside. This continued until it was smashed in the 1950s and 1960s in order to create a massive pool of cheap labour to serve U.S. imperialist expansion into Canada at which time Quebec provided the highest returns on investment. That period of economic expansion and social and cultural changes in Quebec was called the Quiet Revolution.

The problem today is not of some church power controlling the state and temporal affairs but that private interests have seized control of that aspect of the civil power which previously served what was called the public good. To blame a tiny number of women who wear a face-covering garment for allegedly oppressing other people who do not share the beliefs this garment allegedly represents is pathetic. It is a miserable attempt to divert attention from what is blocking the progress of society as well as from their own cowardly refusal to address the real issues facing the economy and society. Several years back it was the "criminal" construction workers who were "using violence" on the construction sites and so-called depriving other construction workers of their rights, all while the rights to association and collective bargaining of the entire collective of construction workers were under brutal attacks by private monopolies and governments in their service. Two years ago it was the "non-law-abiding municipal workers" who were "invading and vandalizing" city council and depriving the residents of Montreal of their right to municipal services, all while services were being privatized with a noted deterioration for users and the City of Montreal was transferring huge amounts of public money to private promoters.

In the case of Bill 62, attacking those women who are the most vulnerable shows cowardice indeed. That's why Liberal MNAs always have to preface their interventions with a phrase about how they stand for "women's equality," just like the old habit of those who say "I'm not a racist but..." before launching into racist epithets. These parties use their positions within government and state to pay the rich at the expense of the very public good they claim to defend with this bill.

The attempt to blame this tiny number of women for the problems facing Quebec society is not only absurd, it is cowardly. These women need the backing of the state to defend them, not attack them and everyone knows it. For this reason, the Liberals ploughed ahead by concocting a second reason to justify this huge diversion. They used the passage of this bill as an occasion to wreak revenge on students who dared defy them in 2012. The students struck hard against the real corruption involved in the privatization of education and the construction of facilities in the education sector and the government hit back by providing a new wretched definition of minority rights according to which those who stand up to defend the right to education are a minority whose actions are depriving the majority of the enjoyment of their rights. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, the Liberals' wretched argument claimed that the Student Associations have no legal persona and are therefore not representative of the student bodies despite being elected. The revenge motive is evident in the fact that when intervening on Bill 62 in the National Assembly, Liberal MNAs never miss an opportunity to say that "face-covering garment" will also apply to those wearing masks when participating in protests, such as during the broad student movement of the Spring of 2012 against the Liberal government's tuition fee increases. The Liberal municipal government of Montreal attempted to criminalize the wearing of face-covering garments by students with bylaw P-6, but in June 2016 the Superior Court of Quebec struck down P-6 as unconstitutional.

Criminalizing the fighting students and blaming them for all the problems in the education sector was used to divert attention from the fact that there is money for education but it is used to pay the rich -- stolen by corrupt private arrangements the government is making with its cronies in the construction industry and other sectors which provide services for private gain.

Always people are blamed for oppressing the rest of the people and depriving them of their rights. But arguments in defence of rights are not legitimate so long as they cover up the role of the state and who controls the decision-making power and the role of governments to pay the rich and to deprive the people of what belongs to them by right.

It all goes back to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission whose mandate was to examine "the cause of a malaise" existing in Quebec because of "tensions" between "dyed-in-the-wool" Quebecois and "newcomers." The Couillard government is pushing the same racist anti-people line as the Marois and Charest governments before it, even though when they won the elections in 2014 the Liberals declared that "diversity" had won over "disunity." The aim is to divert from the problems of the economy and society in the 21st century. There is no desire to sort out anything, just to find ever more wretched ways to pay the rich. Keeping in mind that the Quebec election is scheduled for 2018, it is clear the people have to formulate their own demands so as not to fall into the trap of taking sides on the "opposing views" of diversionary issues. This is the main way the rich and their representatives depoliticize and marginalize the people to ensure they make no headway in putting forward their own demands and affirming the rights of all.

The ruling elite resorts to diversion, like this one that there is a problem with the religious neutrality of the state and so-called divisions amongst the people, to split the people, create incidents for which the people are being blamed so as to justify the use of police powers and smash any attempts to create a political movement which empowers the people. The fact that by an amendment that was presented by the Liberals the bill extends to public transportation -- the space in which it says that delivery and reception of public services must be done with uncovered faces -- shows that this is a deliberate policy to cause trouble and divert the people from uniting on the basis of fighting for new arrangements that defend the rights of all and solve economic and political problems.

The attempt to hide and divert from the problems facing the affirmation of rights in Quebec and Canada will fail because the striving of the people for empowerment takes the form of their defence of the rights of all. The passage of this bill by the Couillard Liberal majority government in the National Assembly brings them nothing but shame. It will be a Pyrrhic victory indeed.

Note

1. Montreal printer Joseph Guibord was denied ecclesiastic burial by the Catholic Church when he died in 1869. He had been excommunicated because he was a member of the Institut Canadien de Montréal which promoted works blacklisted by the Church, including the writings of the French Enlighteners such as Diderot and Voltaire. Under Montreal Bishop Ignace Bourget who was acting in concert with the Papacy in Rome under Pope Pius IX, the denial of burial was part of a bid by the ecclesiastic forces to become the authority in all matters of a temporal nature. On November 21, 1874, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled Guibord would be buried in Côte-des-Neiges Cemetery whether or not the Church agreed. This ruling put an end to the pretense of the Church as the supreme authority over temporal affairs in Quebec.

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Bill 62 Is Irrational and Should Be Repealed

On October 18, the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard adopted Bill 62 by a vote of 66 to 51 with no abstentions. Bill 62, An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies (modified title), was first introduced in June 2015 by Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée. Vallée said that Bill 62 is aimed at "laying the foundations for a cohesion that is needed in Quebec." It is part of what successive Quebec governments for more than 10 years now have called working out "living together" ("le vivre-ensemble"). Eight sessions of special hearings and eight meetings of the Committee on Institutions were held prior to the bill's adoption.

When the Liberals were brought back to power in 2014, defeating the Parti Québécois (PQ) government of Pauline Marois, government leader Philippe Couillard proclaimed that the election was "a victory of diversity over disunity." The reference was to the PQ's Charter of Quebec Values, introduced in the National Assembly at the end of 2013, and said to be one of the main reasons for the PQ's defeat in the election. Since then, the Liberal government has been working on one version after another of Bill 62. The charter of values or a law to codify what are called "reasonable accommodations" and what people wear, how they behave and how they express their beliefs is being used to incite passions in Quebec to divert people from uniting in action to change the direction of the economy and deal with the serious problems Quebec is facing as a result of the anti-social offensive launched to pay the rich.

In 2007-2008 the Liberal government of Jean Charest created the Bouchard-Taylor Commission to investigate what it called a "malaise" and "tensions" between Quebeckers of immigrant and French-Canadian origin. This was a regurgitation of the old British divide and conquer tactics which opposed the creation of a Quebec nation based on all its inhabitants and declared that Quebec was "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" in a struggle "not of principles, but of races." This was said at a time when people of different nationalities, languages and religions had united in the rebellions of 1837-1839 against colonial rule. Similarly today, "tensions" and "malaises" are created to prevent the people from taking any initiative.

When the Couillard government took power, it mandated the Quebec Commission on Human and Youth Rights to hold a year-long consultation on "systemic discrimination and racism in Quebec" but announced on October 19 that the mandate has been withdrawn due to a "crisis" it had caused amongst the personnel of the Commission. It has instead decided to launch a forum to "increase the value of diversity and fight against discrimination," the details of which are yet to come.

The entire law is presented according to the liberal outlook of balance between the rights and freedoms recognized by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the limits imposed by social cohesion or "living together," including what the law calls the need for communication between people, the need for identification and for security.

The preamble states, "[T]he Québec State and its institutions are founded, among other things, on the principles of the rule of law, separation between the State and religious institutions, and the State's religious neutrality." The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms recognizes fundamental freedoms such as freedom of conscience, religion and expression, and values such as equality between men and women. It adds that "the rights and freedoms of the person are inseparable from the rights and freedoms of others and from the common well-being." It then says that religious neutrality is necessary to ensure that all are treated without discrimination on the basis of religion. In this respect it directly addresses the conduct of public service personnel, who are specific targets of this law.

At no point in the deliberations on the bill, whether in committee or in a session of the National Assembly, was any example provided of the alleged discrimination committed by public service personnel on a religious basis. No facts were given that would illustrate that this problem exists. Furthermore, nowhere is it said why a law is required to govern such situations should they take place. Public service bodies already have codes of ethics for cases of discrimination. The Human Rights Commission can also be called upon; workers have unions to defend them, and other measures. The law introduces a solution to a problem without showing that the problem exists in order to justify the use of arbitrary powers of the state to intervene against employees and public service personnel and against the organizations themselves in the name of non-discrimination.

Services with Face Uncovered

On this topic the law simply states, "Personnel members of a body must exercise their functions with their face uncovered.

"Similarly, persons who request a service from a personnel member of a body referred to in this chapter must have their face uncovered when the service is provided."

Despite the minimalist text, the discussion on this subject in the various circles of power has been long and convoluted and, once again, no data is presented on the phenomenon of providing or receiving public services with a covered face, nor on why it is a problem for Quebec society if it exists. Why a law is required when the different public services have norms that govern things like clothing is not raised. It is hard to imagine a person renewing their driver's license or health insurance card, which requires a photo, without revealing their face.

All of it goes to show that the aim of the law is not to ensure the proper functioning of public services, despite what the law and Couillard government representatives say. If this were the case, the government would not be so hell bent on destroying them with neo-liberal funding cuts and privatization.

According to the law, the measures concerning the uncovered face for public services aims "to ensure quality communication between persons and allow their identity to be verified, and for security purposes."

Let's take an example. On August 15, Minister Vallée adopted amendments that, among other things, extended the application of the law to public transportation. Here is what she had to say in the National Assembly on October 4, when that body debated the Committee on Institutions' report on Bill 62.

"The obligation to have one's face uncovered in our society is, for me, quite logical, and fits precisely with these values of living together and the importance of ensuring quality in our communications... Just recently history has shown how uncomfortable people are when people voluntarily hide their faces. Remember, on August 20 [a demonstration in Quebec City to support welcoming Haitian refugees following the regressive measures of Trump in the United States] ... the incidents that took place here, nearby in Quebec City, people were wearing hoods, sunglasses, with scarves covering their faces, completely obscuring who they were. This does not signal integration into society, on the contrary ... Some of those people used public transportation, and that caused some fears. So, the obligation to have one's face uncovered is simply an obligation that falls within the framework of living together and is completely legitimate."

In this way she reveals not only a deeply disturbing racist outlook but the intention to declare whatever the government wants to declare as the "delivery and reception of a public service," which comes under the category of the criteria of "communication, identification and security." The police powers will decide when and under what conditions these criteria apply, because "fears are aroused" among the public.

In the case of youth wearing masks at demonstrations, why the youth have to protect themselves from the criminalization and repression of the state is passed over in the name of "living together."

By extending the application of the law to public transportation, the government shows its intent to create maximum tensions by making everything arbitrary, hoping that this prevents people uniting in action in defence of the rights of all.

Confronted with the accusation that the government is seeking to criminalize the use of the public space, the government has invented the concepts of "interaction" and "extension of public space." It says Bill 62 would apply only in the case of an interaction of a person of authority in a public service with a person who receives a public service. When the person moves in the "extension of the public space" the ban does not apply.

The Minister said at an October 24 press conference, "Take, for example, public transit ... To achieve the aim of identification, an employee of a transportation company can ask a person to uncover their face to check the validity of their ticket if the fare requires a photo. As we know, in the vast majority of cases, tickets are magnetic without photos. Take, for example, the OPUS card in Montreal. On the other hand, in Montreal certain tickets, for example, discounted tickets, are provided with a photo and identification is required at the outset by the Montreal Transport Service. So this interaction, which is the verification of identity, can be required and obviously must be done with face uncovered. However, once you have taken your seat on the bus or the subway, you are moving into the extension of the public space. The law does not intend to govern the extension of the public space."

The example is given of how this would function in the context of a library. "In the library, for identification and communication purposes, a person who comes to a public library must have his or her face uncovered when interacting with an employee of the library. Such a requirement is not required when moving through library aisles when viewing a document."

The simple fact that people in positions of power consider such situations while saying they do not want to criminalize the use of the public space shows that this is precisely what they have in mind. This alleged protection of the "extension of the public space," ceases to exist when a person of authority interacts with the person for reasons of "communications, identification and security." This means that youth who are gathered in a park and have their faces covered stop being part of the "extension of the public space" if a person in a position of authority decides to interact with them because he interprets their clothing as a security or communication problem, which "raises fears" among people. The same thing applies with regard to Muslim women who wear a face veil. A difference is interpreted as a justification for creating conflicts and deploying police powers against the people.

Early Childhood Services

An entire section of Bill 62 is devoted to early childhood educational services. Here, the obligation to provide and receive services with the face uncovered includes a series of obligations to ensure that "children's admission is not related to their learning a specific religious belief, dogma or practice and that the activities organized by subsidized childcare providers do not involve learning of a religious or dogmatic nature."

Claiming that the obligation of the state is to promote religious neutrality, this section of the act is a near word-for-word replica of the Parti Québécois' Charter of Values, which banned wearing the veil in these services. In this regard, Bill 62 and the deliberations on it among those in power were marked by the assertion that the role of the State as guarantor of rights and freedoms is threatened or disturbed by the power of a religious institution or belief. There is no evidence that either Quebec or Canada are threatened by the return of ecclesiastic state power. There is plenty of evidence, however, that the direct usurpation of state power by private monopolies and oligopolies and their supranational institutions are a matter of serious concern for the workers and the people. Yet the parties which have formed a cartel in the National Assembly do not agitate for the state to stop representing these private interests in its relations with the people and their well-being.

The very act of passing laws and other measures that aim to "settle" differences between people by means of arbitrary police powers shows that it is the act of an authority that refuses to address problems of society and of the economy which are at the basis of divisions and insecurity for different sections of the people.

The "principles" and "parameters" that the Liberal government and the National Assembly as a whole are trying to enshrine in law, are in fact the acceptance, in the form of "values," of the Islamophobia that comes from the wars of aggression and regime change that are led by the United States and in which Canada is participating. These "principles" and "parameters" set the terms under which the State is to manage and criminalize behavior. People's behaviour, dress codes and beliefs are hypocritically being made the issue and a notion is peddled that security lies not in the defence of the rights of all but by controlling how people behave, dress and relate to each other. This can never create a "living together" that is secure and peaceful for the people. Quite the contrary; the persistence of the ruling elite to "sort out" these matters through police powers leads to one crisis after another and it must be stopped.

Bill 62 is irrational and creates all sorts of problems for the people and should be repealed. It is a reminder to the workers and the people of Quebec of how much the Liberal government and the National Assembly are in conflict with the demands of society, with the need to sort out the problem of building a modern Quebec that takes up the challenges of harmonizing individual interests with collective interests and both individual and collective interests with the general interests of society. There is zero chance that such a reckless and self-serving approach as that of the Liberals and their claims to defend rights as abstractions can even begin to sort out the problems of society today. What is required is to firmly defend the rights of all and to provide a new direction to economic, political and other affairs.

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