Bill 21 will create 'alienation and division': Charles Taylor

The two renowned academics whose work served as the intellectual justification for the government's secularism bill came out fiercely against the proposed legislation as hearings began Tuesday.

Philosopher Charles Taylor and historian Gerard Bouchard wrote a 2008 report recommending public sector employees wielding coercive authority, such as judges, police officers and prison guards, be prevented from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Premier Francois Legault's government has cited the report as inspiration for Bill 21, which went further by adding teachers to the list of workers in positions of authority.

In his address to the legislature committee studying the bill, Taylor said the bill would "end the careers'' of certain people and make it more difficult for them to integrate into Quebec society.

"In a country of immigrants, integration starts at work,'' he told the committee. "So we are preventing the integration of these people. It will create feelings of alienation and division, and on another level, it will encourage prejudices.''

Disavows Bouchard-Taylor report

Following the murder of six Muslim men in a Quebec City mosque in 2017, Taylor disavowed his earlier position on restricting religious symbols. He now says the debate has led to the stigmatization of religious minorities.

"What I wasn't conscious of at the time,'' he said, referring to the writing of the 2008 report, "was the hate and opposition movements that existed in our society, and not just Quebec, but in the West. I was very naive, I accept it. He said he changed his mind when he saw the hateful sentiments stimulated by political campaigns focused on the issue of religious symbols.

Taylor said there is a lot of anti-Islam "propaganda'' spreading in society, much of it coming from the United States. And instead of fighting that propaganda, Bill 21 "encourages a sense of anti-Islam that is stupid and dangerous,'' he said.

Bouchard, meanwhile, maintains his 2008 position that public employees such as police officers and prison guards should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols. But he says including teachers goes too far. The Canadian Press obtained a copy of his written brief ahead of his appearance before the committee Wednesday.

In it, Bouchard says the bill is problematic, because it doesn't clearly state who will enforce the rules or what the sanctions will be. Bouchard also criticizes the government's decision to invoke the Constitution's notwithstanding clause to shield the bill from court challenges.

"The government is putting Quebec on a dangerous path,'' he says.

The historian states the government would avoid many of the problems he outlines if it "limits itself to applying the recommendations'' offered in the 2008 report he wrote with Taylor.

Hijab-wearing women 'extremists': group

Earlier on Tuesday, the committee heard from Ferid Chikhi, representing an association of secular North Africans. He called women who wear the hijab "extremists.''

"They wear it either because they are activists,'' he said, "or because of ignorance, or because, unfortunately, they were born into political Islam.''

The hearings opened with a series of women celebrating the government's legislation as an advance for feminism and suggesting it should go further.

Diane Guilbault, president of the feminist group Pour les droits des femmes du Quebec, said Quebec should enshrine into law a separation of church and state in order to protect the rights of women.

Guilbault and her organization represent a strain of feminism in Quebec closely aligned with the province's nationalist and language-based political movements. They stand in contrast to other activists who criticize Bill 21 for targeting minorities such as Muslim women who wear the hijab.