Kudos to the Government of Quebec, Re: Charter of Quebec Values, Montreal Gazette, September 13, 2013

Civil servants in Quebec, like civil servants everywhere in Canada and every other country in the West, are supposed to offer their services and carry out their duties and responsibilities in a neutral and impartial manner and are not supposed to let religious considerations enter into how they do their work. They represent a secular state and have to take a strictly secular approach while on the job.

Not only must they be neutral and impartial they must also appear to be neutral and impartial.

That is patently impossible if they are wearing overt, conspicuous, obviously religious clothing and symbols when working.

The Government of Quebec recently announced that it intends to adopt a charter which would forbid civil servants from wearing overt, conspicuous obviously religious clothing and symbols when working. This is a very positive step because it ensures that civil servants will be neutral and impartial and will also appear to be neutral and impartial. A civil servants religion should have no bearing whatsoever on how he or she does their work and the Government of Quebec is ensuring that it doesn’t and doesn’t appear to either. A person who receives services from a civil servant in Quebec can now be assured that those services will not be tainted by religious considerations and that of course is all to the good. Civil servants who feel that they have to take their religion to their work will have to choose between their religion and their work and that is all to the good too, religion having no place in the civil service of a secular state and neutrality and impartiality being fundamental to civil service philosophy and practice.

Let’s face it, would you be comfortable receiving services from a civil servant whose face who was veiled or who wore a burka, especially if you were Christian or Jewish or came to Canada to escape Islam and Islamists? No you would not, nor should you be placed in such a situation to begin with. Would you be comfortable if you were a young Muslim woman trying to escape from a tyrannical family and in fear of your life and were confronted with an Islamic civil servant, veiled or covered or not, when you sought help? No you would not, nor should you be placed in such a situation to begin with. Would you be comfortable if you were a devout Muslim and the civil servant you had to deal with was a devout Christian or Jew? No you would not, nor should you be placed in such a situation to begin with.

The examples abound.

Would you, as a Canadian, be comfortable being served by civil servants, Judges, Lawyers, Doctors, Social Workers, Policemen, By-Law Enforcement Officers, the lot, who covered their faces or wore a burka or wore other overt, conspicuous, obviously religious clothing or symbols, especially if they represented a religion that was antagonistic to yours and/or your situation? No you would not, nor should you be placed in such a situation to begin with.

Allowing civil servants to cover their faces or wear a burka or wear other overt, conspicuous, obviously religious clothing or symbols would also lead to other demands, would be the thin edge of the wedge as the saying goes. Very soon we will hear of civil servants who refuse to deal with individuals they don’t approve of on religious grounds or who treat particular recipients of service differently because of their religion or ethnicity or situation or some such thing. Civil servants religious demands won’t stop with gaining the right to cover their faces and bodies and wear overt, conspicuous, obviously religious clothing or symbols. Allowing them to do that will bring religion squarely into the civil service of a secular state and lead to more and more demands based on religion… rest assured, the demands won’t stop with clothing and symbols, not at all.

Kudos to the Government of Quebec for proposing the new charter. It is progressive, long overdue, well in keeping with Canadian values and well in keeping with the notion of a neutral, impartial, professional civil service as well. It keeps religion out of the civil service and protects recipients of service from religion.

Can’t argue with that. Let’s hope that the Government of Quebec has the foresight to enact the charter and bring it to life. Fierce opposition has arisen, but that opposition is misguided and the Government shouldn’t forget that it also has a great deal of support in its effort to ensure that the civil service is secular.

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