2nd Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 149, Issue 4
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker
Proposed Quebec Charter of Values
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, before I ask my question, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Senator Oliver for yet another award yesterday evening. We are very proud of his work.
Senator Munson: Another one.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. As you know, I sent you my question in advance. On September 27, 2013, the federal minister responsible for Quebec, Denis Lebel, said that nothing in the Quebec Charter of Values upsets him.
However, the same minister said the following on September 11, 2013:
We are very concerned by any proposal that would limit the rights of Canadians to practice their faith. If the charter is accepted and passes in the National Assembly, we will ask the Justice Department to study it, and if it violates any constitutional rights of Canadians, we will defend those rights.
I would like the Leader of the Government in the Senate to clarify the government’s position on the Quebec Charter of Values.
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Thank you, senator. As you pointed out, Minister Denis Lebel was also quoted on Radio-Canada on September 10, 2013. He said:
If a charter is adopted and passed in the National Assembly, we will ask the Minister of Justice to have a look at it. If it violates the constitutional protections to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights.
The current sovereignist government in Quebec would like nothing more than to go to battle with the federal government over this issue, but our priority is the economy, jobs and growth. We believe that Quebecers have these same priorities, but at the federal level, our job is to ensure that everyone who lives in this country, regardless of their background, race, ethnicity or religion, feels at home in this country and is proud to be Canadian.
We are obviously concerned about proposals to limit anyone’s right to practice their religion free from discrimination. That is why, as my colleague, Minister Lebel, said, we will ask the Minister of Justice to examine the bill once it is available to the public. If we determine that it violates the constitutional protections to which all Canadians are entitled, we will vigorously defend those rights.
Senator Jaffer: I have a supplementary question. Could you confirm that the government will go to court if the charter is adopted in Quebec?
Senator Carignan: I just said that we will ask the Minister of Justice to examine the final bill when it is made public, and if it violates the constitutional protections to which Canadians are entitled, we will vigorously defend those rights. We will do what is necessary in this type of situation.
Senator Jaffer: When responding to me, the leader said the people of Quebec, as all Canadians, are concerned about economic rights and rights of work and other rights, but as an ethnic minority I can say that those rights do not mean anything if your rights are the subject of discrimination.
I ask the leader again: Will he protect the rights of visible minorities when they are being taken away in Quebec?
Senator Carignan: If you are still referring to the Charter of Values, we will have to see the legislation and whether it contains any elements that have a negative impact on individuals. I do not want anyone to be targeted. As I said earlier, we want everyone to feel at home in this country regardless of their background, race, ethnicity or religion. That seems like a fairly inclusive answer to me.
Senator Jaffer: If I may, I want to tell the leader something that happened to me yesterday. Yesterday, in my statement, I spoke about a young 8 year-old Sikh boy who said he felt Quebec was his home and he was going to stay there. I have lived in this country for 40 years. For the first time ever, I received four emails to tell me to go back to my homeland.
That is what the Charter is doing: It is dividing the whole country. I’m urging the federal government to show leadership because we do not want division in our country.
Senator Carignan: We find this type of comment extremely worrisome. That is why I said that we are very concerned about the proposals that would limit human rights and that we are going to monitor this issue very carefully.