Within a few weeks, the Parti Québécois will file its long-promised “Charter of Québec Values,” with which it hopes to achieve a major breakthrough among francophone voters. On August 20, Le Journal de Québec unveiled the details of the key measures that will be part of this bill. Representing one of the few promises Pauline Marois has kept from the 2012 election campaign, the charter is a clear attempt to use ethnic nationalism to lather the popularity of her party.
According to the Sun Media Group newspaper, the charter will ban the apparent wearing of any religious symbols in institutions funded by public money, including hospitals, childcare, colleges and even universities. This ban will first be imposed on all staff of these institutions, but it will be extended to students and even hospital patients whose religious symbols cover their face.
So the PQ government has decided to “promote equality between men and women” (sic) by attacking the latter, who wear the hijab. Although sanctions are not yet known, it is already clear that it will no longer be possible for a Muslim woman to teach in a public school or work as a paratechnical in a hospital, unless she accepts to conceal a part of her identity. Fortunately, we learned from Le Journal de Québec that “the Marois government doesn’t plan to impose its new charter in Québec homes!”
These measures will be implemented, we are told, to ensure “state neutrality”—as if a religious symbol in itself decides the policy of an institution and of its application to a given situation. A Catholic fundamentalist opposed to abortion rights who works in a healthcare centre may not wear a visible religious symbol, but his ideology has as much chance of influencing his actions than for a Muslim nurse wearing a hijab or a Jewish doctor wearing a yarmulke. In fact, the Catholic guy will probably have a bigger influence in his milieu since his religious convictions will be more insidious.
In principle, each staff is required to apply the policy of his/her employer, regardless of their beliefs—in this case the employer being the state. However, under the PQ charter, the National Assembly will continue to enact laws beneath the crucifix that stands above the seat of the President… So it is with this so-called “state neutrality!”
In fact, state neutrality does not and never has existed. The state has always been and will always be the instrument of the ruling of one class over another. In Canada and Québec, the state faithfully upholds the interests of the bourgeoisie, the only difference depending on which particular fraction of this bourgeoisie occupies the dominant pole at a given time.
Any worker who has faced a court injunction or got clubbed by the cops for going on strike knows this. Any protester who has been bludgeoned or pepper-sprayed or kettled in a mass arrest with hundreds of her comrades knows this too. Any Aboriginal person who tried to exercise her rights on Aboriginal territory knows this perfectly well. When the armed component of the state hits its “enemies;” when its judiciary criminalizes and imprisons people, it does not make any discrimination based on religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs).
In fact, the PQ doesn’t care at all about the so-called “state neutrality.” As we learned from the same article from Le Journal du Québec: “Despite the magnitude of the proposed changes to improve the secular character of the state, the Marois government made it clear that it will preserve the Judeo-Christian heritage of Québec.”
Just as the state is not neutral, there is no such thing as “Québec values.” In fact, Québec values are those of its ruling class. The equality between men and women that is upheld by the PQ as a “Québec value” is not especially “Québécois.” Do we have to recall that Québec was the last province in Canada to grant voting rights to women in 1940? The advances that have been made in this area are the only result of the struggles waged by women; and those struggles challenged exactly those “values” that were dominant at a certain time in Québec—and that are still largely today, unless we consider that equality between men and women is now attained.
Following the election of the PQ government in September 2012, we warned Québec proletarians against the trap of ethnic nationalism. Especially in a context of global economic crisis, the capitalists like us workers to turn our anger against our fellow comrades, rather than against them. This is as true in Greece as in France (where National Front leader Marine Le Pen loudly applauded the victory of Pauline Marois and the PQ), and it is also true in Québec and Canada.
In the coming weeks, the PQ will attempt to have us mobilized on issues of “secularism” and “religious accommodation” hoping there will be no one left to oppose its own version of Jean Charest’s Plan Nord, oil exploitation on Anticosti Island, the maintenance of a system of charges tailored for big mining companies, the Hydro-Québec 6.5% rate increases, the rise of university tuition or the cutbacks in welfare, inspired by Diane Finley and Stephen Harper, that the PQ is implementing. It would be wise for us to not let the PQ distraction trick work.
Let’s oppose the PQ charter! Unite with workers of all origins to fight the capitalists and their state!