1. the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions:
“he believes that secularism means no discrimination against anybody in the name of religion”
In the hard shadow of Bill 21, Quebec Premier Francois Legault was accused of hypocrisy on Easter Monday for tweeting a line from a Journal de Montréal column crediting Catholicism for “(engendering) in us a culture of solidarity that distinguishes us on a continental scale.”
What was he thinking when he quoted from a Mathieu Bock-Cote column titled “Praise of our old Catholic background?”
The premier’s post drew criticism from those on both sides of the secularism debate, given Quebec’s controversial Bill 21, which bans most government employees from wearing religious symbols at work.
Those who take issue with Bill 21 have pointed out that the law disproportionately affects Muslim women, raising concerns about whether the ban is meant to target specific religions.
“See, they would’ve had some plausible deniability on the religious headwear ban if he didn’t tweet this out,” one Twitter user wrote in response to Legault’s tweet.
By 12:30 p.m., according to the Montreal Gazette, Legault’s tweet had more than 335,000 views, 550 responses and 300 retweets, including 250 quote-tweets. The attention prompted him to respond to his original post with: “We must distinguish between secularism and our heritage.”
In addition to citizens, several politicians had weighed in on his post. Marwah Rizqy, Liberal MNA for Saint-Laurent and spokesperson for education, responded by saying, “we all write tweets we regret.”
“You have a duty of reserve and neutrality as premier of all Quebecers in our secular state,” Rizqy wrote.
Quebec comedian Sugar Sammy also commented.
“Secularism is important except once on Twitter,” he wrote.
The passage of Bill 21, as expected, did not go smoothly. The bill was initially criticized by the opposition parties, such as the Quebec Liberal Party and Quebec Solidaire.
The legislation was finally passed in 2019 under closure — by limiting debate. The bill received 73 votes in favour from members of the Coalition Avenir Quebec and the Parti Québécois, while 35 members from the Quebec Liberal Party and Québec Solidaire voted against it.
The two former commissioners who authored the Bouchard-Taylor report did not support this legislation. Gerard Bouchard asserted, among other things, that the bill was “radical” and unjustified. A number of academics also denounced the new law.
Moreover, humanitarian organizations like Amnesty International publicly opposed Bill 21.
Bill 21 was even criticized during the 2021 federal election campaign (during the party leaders’ English-language debate).
Shachi Kurl, the president of the Angus Reid Institute and moderator of the debate, caused quite an uproar by asking Yves-Francois Blanchet, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, why his party supported “discriminatory” legislation, such as Bill 21, regarding the laicity of the state.
The public, however, appeared to broadly support this new law. A survey conducted by the Government of Quebec several days before the introduction of Bill 21 showed that a majority of the population was in favour of prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols by civil service employees in positions of authority.
The strongest criticism, however, was that Bill-21 was racist.
Bill 21 showed that three years after Quebec’s secularism law was adopted, religious minorities in the province were still feeling increasingly alienated and hopeless.
“Religious minority communities are encountering — at levels that are disturbing — a reflection of disdain, hate, mistrust and aggression,” Miriam Taylor, lead researcher and the director of publications and partnerships at the Association for Canadian Studies told CBC in an interview.
“We even saw threats and physical violence,” Taylor said.