Co-author of Quebec secularism report at odds with partner’s change of heart

MONTREAL — The co-author of a report on secularism in Quebec is sticking by his position that some provincial employees should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols.

And Gerard Bouchard also says he doesn’t agree with his former co-chair’s change of heart on that point.

Bouchard told Montreal Le Devoir he finds Charles Taylor’s new position “disappointing” and says not legislating a ban on religious signs for judges, police officers and prison guards won’t reconcile the divisive issue in Quebec.

Taylor and Bouchard are influential voices in the province’s long-standing secularism debate, having co-authored a 2008 report on the accommodation of religious minorities.

One of its recommendations stated that provincial workers who are in a position of authority such as judges and prison guards should not be allowed to wear religious articles of clothing on the job.

Taylor, an award-winning McGill University philosopher, wrote an open letter this week stating the province shouldn’t take any more steps that could further “stigmatize minorities” in the wake of the Jan. 29 mosque shooting in Quebec City that left six men dead.

“The time when the majority in our society can act without regard for marginalized minorities is over,” he wrote.

Bouchard, who also penned an open letter in Montreal La Presse, said he respects Taylor’s decision to change his mind and noted there were signs in recent years he would do so, but that he doesn’t agree with him.

The respected sociologist and historian said Taylor’s new take will have the opposite effect and plunge the province into another acrimonious discussion on reasonable accommodation.

“The debate will start again and it will resemble the one we have had over the last 15 years, which is very emotional,” Bouchard told Le Devoir. “It will get out of hand and members of religious communites will undoubtedly end up getting hurt.”

Bouchard said prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols is reasonable and is essential to ensuring the credibility of people exercising those types of functions.

The Bouchard-Taylor report was the precursor to a contentious proposed secularism charter introduced by the Parti Quebecois in 2013 that would have extended to anyone in the public service.

More recently, the Liberal government has introduced a bill on religious neutrality that requires anyone giving or receiving services from the state to do so with their face uncovered.

But the Liberals are opposed to the clothing ban, despite the three Quebec opposition parties banding together to push the government to include it, saying it reflects consensus within Quebec society.

Bouchard said he is saddened to see any chance of reconciliation on the matter evaporate, noting Quebecers are “fed up” with the debate.

He blamed Premier Philippe Couillard for ignoring that consensus and lacking vision.

“We are back at square one, and I do not see when the stars will realign,” he told Le Devoir, adding it is rare that three out of four parties come together on the matter of religious symbols in the public service.

Couillard was asked later Friday whether he believes Bouchard’s values are outdated.

“I will not describe his beliefs,” the premier said. “I respect Mr. Bouchard. We agree with most of his report. We’re currently implementing the vast majority of its recommendations.

“I will not try to convince Mr. Bouchard, Mr. (Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois) Lisee or Mr. (Coalition for Quebec’s Future Leader Francois) Legault to change their opinions but they should have the same attitude toward me.”

The Canadian Press

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