Premier Jean Charest has announced his government will introduce an amendment to the Quebec Charter of Rights this fall to give the equality of women with men precedence over freedom of religion.
He did so shortly after the province’s advisory council on the status of women proposed such an amendment and on the very day that new poll results were published confirming Quebec’s opposition to the accomodation of non-Christian religious. No doubt Charest and the Liberals are politically motivated to take this step. Mario Dumont and the ADQ are running hard with the whole issue of “reasonable accomodation.”
At the Bouchard-Taylor hearings, a common fear expressed is that religious freedom is being used as a pretext to treat women as inferiors. Thus the negative reaction to dress codes where women must cover themselves while men walk around dressed as they want.
What’s behind this issue is that Christian or non-Christian fundamentalism puts some women in situations where equality is rendered impossible by doctrines used by religious leaders to exercise control over women’s lives e.g. contraception, abortion, male priesthood. Particularly older French women who lived with the Catholic clergy’s control over their lives are especially sensitive to any similar manifestation from other minority religions. The Catholic Church still bars women from the priesthood and opposed their right to vote well into the 20th century.
On the other hand, the distinguished civil rights lawyer, Julius Grey, calls what Charest is proposing to do “electoral demagogy.” Grey is not aware of of any jurisprudence in which the Quebec Charter’s freedom of religion has been used to limit women’s right to equality. Grey and other experts say the government should not be decreeing a hierarchy of fundamental rights in which some turn out to be less fundamental than others. Their position is that when there is an argument about competing rights the final arbiter should be the courts. They further contend that Charest is in fact taking what is a legal issue and transforming it into a political one.
Do you think the Quebec government should be decreeing a hierarchy of rights?
Do you think women’s equality should trump religious freedom?