The following excerpts are from a brief by the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) submitted to the National Assembly Commission studying Bill 60, the Charter of Values.
MONTREAL, Jan. 30, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) hereby offers its observations on Bill 60, the Charter affirming the values of State Secularism and religious neutrality and Equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests. While QESBA thanks the Commission des institutions for the opportunity to do so, these deliberations are nonetheless undertaken with a heavy heart. Our Association and the nine English school boards it represents are profoundly frustrated that the Bill before us frames otherwise legitimate and important issues of inclusion, identity, individual and collective rights in a negative perspective that we view as unnecessarily reactionary and divisive. That unfortunate perspective is one that ultimately dismisses the generosity, determination and boldness that we Quebecers have consistently demonstrated on such key questions without need of recourse to such sweeping legislation as is before us today. Our member boards are a case in point, having opened the doors of their schools and centres over the years, and unconditionally, to students of different ethnic, racial, linguistic and religious backgrounds.
Each Board has its unique demography, orientations and history. All of them share a "made-in-English-Quebec" sensibility to delivering public education services, with equal regard for all creeds, religions or cultures.
The nine member school boards of QESBA serve some 100,000 students in 340 elementary and high schools, adult and vocational centres across Quebec. That sensibility is vitally pertinent to the discussion of Bill 60, which, by the Premier's own words, deems to define how we Quebecers will live together in the future.
QESBA would point to at least four elements to describe that made-in-English-Quebec sensibility:
|(i)||An educational approach based on "teaching the student, not the subject", that is to say, in the spirit of Quebec's curriculum reform, to focus on the acquisition of competencies as well as knowledge, to encourage critical judgment, citizenship, enquiry and teamwork;|
|(ii)||Parent and community involvement|
|(iii)||A commitment to preparing our students for a future in Quebec; and|
|(iv)||A recognition of our particular status as English-speaking institutions: Quebec's English-speaking community, in all its diversity, continues to contribute to the rich tapestry of Quebec life. English public school boards, representing the sole level of elected government answerable to that community, assume as part of their mission, the job of teaching about and strengthening that fundamental contribution.|
Let us be clear: when QESBA suggests that Bill 60 is prompted by a perspective that is "reactionary and divisive", our Association is not dismissing the real and pressing challenges of reconciling conflicting values or the inevitable dissonance between cultures and values that occurs in any democratic society. Differences and resulting conflicts occur, and they must be addressed. That said, QESBA is of the view that these daily realities must prompt us to find practical, compassionate and flexible approaches rather than codified, uniform and arbitrary legal answers.
In our schools, the parent who rejects feedback on his son's Math difficulties because it comes from a female teacher will be dealt with summarily. Such a reaction is unacceptable, and no further legislation is required to make it so. Similarly, a student who requests exemption for religious reasons from a compulsory Music class will quickly discover - with no necessary guidance from Bill 60 - that such a request will be denied. The Basic School Regulation, the Education Act, the actual and un-amended Quebec Charter of Human Rights along with current jurisprudence already afford our public schools the necessary parameters and guidelines they need to address these situations.
|5.||In the exercise of their functions, personnel members of public bodies must not wear objects such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overtly indicate a religious affiliation.|
"When will a large cross worn by a teacher be a symbol of affection for Madonna, the rock star and thus, presumably, legal (…even if of dubious taste)? When will the same cross be ruled a representation of religious affiliation and thus, presumably illegal…or not, depending on a still-to-be-determined set of criteria regarding acceptable size, color, texture and visibility limits?"
This article has elicited the most public attention of any in Bill 60. Our opposition to its application to publicly-funded schools in Quebec (echoed, incidentally, by three former Parti Québécois Premiers, the Commission des droits de la personnel and many others) is only amplified by our serious questions about how it might possibly be enforced. How will the compendium of unacceptable headgear, pendants and ornaments be compiled, reviewed and updated? When will a large cross worn by a teacher be a symbol of affection for Madonna, the rock star and thus, presumably, legal (…even if of dubious taste)? When will the same cross be ruled a representation of religious affiliation and thus, presumably illegal…or not, depending on a still-to-be-determined set of criteria regarding acceptable size, color, texture and visibility limits? What government and institutional budget and staff allocations will be made to administer the complicated application of this section of the law? What government guidelines can public institutions expect to receive on its enforcement?
QESBA wishes to advise this commission that it has been unable to identify within our school network over the last five years a single employee grievance filed, let alone unresolved, relating to a request for absence from work or specific accommodation based on religious grounds. Our nine school boards, in concert with their affiliated unions representing their employees, have made "voluntary adjustments" in numerous such cases that have successfully addressed such matters without undue disruption, hardship or controversy caused to either the individual or the school population. The concept of voluntary adjustment, sadly, receives nary a mention in this bill. It is the legally recognized notion of constructive discussion and resolution of questions regarding the reconciliation of religious and state matters. This bill, incorrectly in our view, invokes the more complicated and legalistic concept of "reasonable accommodation" to describe virtually any matter involving religion and the state. Sometimes, common sense, good will and empathy will do the job.
"QESBA would submit that the English public schools of Quebec, like most public establishments in Quebec, are finding their own fair, inclusive and forward-looking answers to living and learning together in a spirit that is respectful of our shared and evolving heritage and the collective values that define the distinct and wonderful Quebec in which we live."
Bill 60 also proposes to amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Most legislators, jurists and opinion leaders would suggest that this Charter has provided and could continue to provide Quebec with a solid, resilient and appropriate framework for harmony and coexistence. A human rights charter is the most fundamental pillar of any society; its amendment should not be undertaken lightly. QESBA has no intention to debate the primacy of the French language in Quebec; the Charter of the French Language and the collective vigilance and efforts of Quebecers and the institutions that serve them -- including ours -- have eloquently attested to that reality. QESBA does intend to challenge the Bill 60 proposal to include the primacy of French as an over-riding consideration in the eventual adjudication over any and all issues of human rights protection in Quebec (Art. 41 above of Bill 60). Might this new hierarchy of rights cast doubt on certain practices in our English schools, certain voluntary adjustments made in program delivery, even English school deeds of establishment? Could it have the legal effect of creating some rights that are more equal than others - an eventuality that important international law experts, Quebec's own author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the late John Humphrey surely among them, would decry with great passion?
QESBA would submit that the English public schools of Quebec, like most public establishments in Quebec, are finding their own fair, inclusive and forward-looking answers to living and learning together in a spirit that is respectful of our shared and evolving heritage and the collective values that define the distinct and wonderful Quebec we live. Consequently, it is our view that Bill 60 should be withdrawn.
QESBA is the voice of English public education in Québec, representing some 100,000 students.
SOURCE: Quebec English School Boards Association
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