On the second day of public hearings for Bill 21, the Quebec government’s secularism bill, the National Assembly committee studying the bill heard testimony from historian Gérard Bouchard.
The provincial Coalition Avenir Québec government based its proposed legislation on the famous 2008 Bouchard-Taylor recommendations, but both authors of that report — philosopher Charles Taylor and Bouchard — have come out against the bill.
Bouchard stands behind the report he co-authored in 2008, but Bill 21 is not what he recommended. For starters, he said, he’s against using the notwithstanding clause.
“In that sense, I think this is a radical project,” he said.
The Bouchard-Taylor report recommends public-sector employees in positions of authority — judges, Crown prosecutors, police and prison guards — be prevented from wearing religious symbols on the job. Teachers were not included.
“The teachers were not included in our recommendations because we had no proof that it was detrimental to the church, the teaching and the children. And this is exactly what I’m criticizing in this project today. They have no proof,” Bouchard explained.
Bouchard acknowledged that the religious symbols debate in Quebec has contributed to social tensions.
He added that he thinks passing Bill 21 will make things worse.
However, he said he does not have high expectations that the government will change its mind.
“What I know about Mr. (Simon) Jolin-Barrette is that he’s a very nice guy. I get along well with him; I’ve met him before. But I think his conviction is very strong. And I don’t expect him to change major parts of his bill,” Bouchard said.
Meanwhile, Taylor has distanced himself from the report altogether.
“But if you never learn from your mistakes, you’re never going to learn, right?”
On Tuesday night, Taylor told the National Assembly committee that he didn’t foresee 11 years ago how his report would stigmatize religious minorities and feed intolerance.
“Society is full of Islamophobia,” Taylor said, adding: “Then the government steps in and seems to confirm that.”
“I disagree with Mr. Taylor,” Premier François Legault told reporters on Wednesday.
“After you put the framework then it’s clear. Then people who are racist, who would like to take an extreme position, they will have to accept the compromise,” the premier explained.
However, Bouchard was adamant — in his opinion, he says, there’s nothing to suggest that this bill will put an end to this debate.
Bill 21 hearings continue Thursday in Quebec City.