An Easy Case

Why funding Catholic schools on terms not available to others is an obvious infringement of religious freedom

In Good Spirit School Division No. 204 v Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic Separate School Division No. 212, 2017 SKQB 109, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench held that funding Catholic schools, and no others, for educating students who do not belong to their religion is contrary to the guarantee of the freedom of religion in paragraph 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and not justified under the Charter‘s section 1. In commenting on that decision, I wrote that this “is correct, and quite obviously so. There is no meaningful account of religious neutrality on which singling out one group for a favourable treatment denied others is permissible.” To my enduring surprise, some of my friends disagree with this, so I will try to explain my views further.

Writing for Policy Options, Joanna Baron and Geoff Sigalet argue that in Saskatchewan the province’s duty of religious neutrality has to be understood in the context of “Saskatchewan’s Confederation compromise [which] entailed a built-in elevation of the status of Catholics” and required provincial funding of Catholic schools. In that context, allowing non-Catholic students to access these schools “does not violate a principle of religious neutrality — it is the definition of neutrality.” They add that “the Charter itself does not explicitly require state neutrality vis-à-vis religion” ― in contrast to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, under which the funding of vouchers allowing students to attend religious schools has nevertheless been permitted. They claim, finally, that it is ironic that the Charter, which is supposed “to give individuals rights vis-à-vis the state”, ends up foreclosing the educational choices of non-Catholic students. Finally, they worry about the way in which students would be classified as Catholic or not to determine who is, and who is not, entitled to access Catholic schools.

In an Advocates for the Rule of Law post, Asher Honickman makes some similar points. Religious neutrality is only a judicial construction, and in any event not absolute. Determining who is Catholic enough to attend a Catholic school is problematic. Mr. Honickman adds that it would be discrimination to require “non-Catholics … to attend secular schools, while Catholics would have a taxpayer funded choice to attend either Catholic or secular schools.” While

the government could provide equal funding to all religious schools, but this would prove far too costly. The Charter is by and large a ‘negative rights’ document and the government should not have to break the bank to comply with its provisions.

In any event, since they receive public funding to cover their capital expenses, Catholic schools could charge non-Catholics cheaper tuition to any non-Catholic students who wished to attend, and the additional benefit of receiving funding to cover their individual education is too trivial to count as an infringement of neutrality.

I do not find any of this at all persuasive. Begin with the suggestion, admittedly never fully articulated, that we should not make too much of religious neutrality because it is not expressly referred to in the Charter. Justice Dickson, as he then was, rejected it in the very first religious liberty case R v Big M Drug Mart Ltd, [1985] 1 SCR 295. Dismissing an argument that the Lord’s Day Act was not contrary to the Charter‘s guarantee of freedom of religion because it did not include a proscription of religious establishment, he noted that “recourse to categories from the American jurisprudence” ― free exercise of religion and non-establishment ― “is not particulary helpful in defining the meaning of freedom of conscience and religion under the Charter” because these categories flow from “the wording of the First Amendment”. (339) They do indeed, and the wording is not accidental, as Michael McConnell explained in this excellent lecture.

The Charter only contains a single guarantee of religious liberty, and the question is whether its meaning in 1982 (on an originalist approach) or now ( on a living constitution one) includes state neutrality. The answer to this question is an emphatic yes, whatever one’s reference point. As Justice Taschereau wrote in Chaput v Romain, [1955] SCR 834, “[i]n our country, there is no state religion. … All religious creeds are set on an equal footing.” (840; translation mine.) As a statement of positive law, this was perhaps a tad optimistic while the Lord’s Day Act was still in force; but as a statement of what religious liberty, properly understood, meant by the 1950s (and indeed earlier) and still means, this passage remains unsurpassed in its forceful simplicity.

State neutrality is then, along with a rejection of religious coercion, one of the fundamental principles of paragraph 2(a) of the Charter. The Charter itself contains one  exception to this principle: section 29, which protects “rights or privileges guaranteed by or under the Constitution of Canada in respect of denominational, separate or dissentient schools.” (The fact that the Charter’s framers thought it necessary to make this exception explicit suggests that they too understood neutrality to be the general principle.) Except insofar as they are “guaranteed by or under the Constitution of Canada”, the privileges of “separate” schools are subject to the general principle.

The constitution’s “built-in elevation of the status of Catholics”, in other words, is set at a precisely calibrated level. It permits the “discrimination” involved in allowing Catholics ― or, more precisely Catholics or Protestants, depending on who happens to be the minority ― a choice between public and “separate” schools, and immunizes it from Charter scrutiny. By necessary implication, it permits and even requires the state to distinguish between Catholics and others, however distasteful we might find the drawing of such distinctions. (That said, as Justice Layh found in Good Spirit, “proof of one’s Catholic identity is baptism in the Catholic tradition, commonly evidenced by a baptismal certificate” [17] ― not an especially intrusive inquiry, all things considered.) The constitution does not, however, permit conferring on Catholics them the further advantage ― whether it is a great or a small one ― of admitting and proselytizing to non-Catholic students at the public expense. It is not for the courts to upset this calibration that is quite clearly set by the constitution itself, whether or not doing so would be convenient or save money. Having found that the admission of non-Catholic students was not “guaranteed by or under the Constitution of Canada”, the Good Spirit court was quite correct to apply the principle of neutrality to it.

As I have been saying from the beginning, if the province of Saskatchewan does not like the outcome that non-Catholic students and their parents lose the (limited) measure of school choice that was available to them, the obvious solution is to provide more school choice on a non-discriminatory basis. This, in fact, is what the State of Ohio did in Zelman v Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), the First Amendment case on which Ms. Baron and Mr. Sigalet rely. As Chief Justice Rehnquist described the scheme at issue in his majority opinion, “[a]ny private school, whether religious or nonreligious, may participate in the program and accept program students so long as the school” meets certain administrative requirements, educational standards, and does not discriminate. (645) The issue was whether the eligibility of religious schools for participation violated the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court held that it did not, and the result would be the same under the neutrality principle of the Charter. But the Zelman-Harris court did not uphold, and would not have upheld, a similar scheme the participation in which was restricted to religious schools only, still to Catholic schools alone. If Saskatchewan want to include Catholic schools in a broader school choice programme, that would have been constitutionally permissible. It is not permissible to limit school choice to such schools alone.

It is not the Charter, then, that limits school choice in Saskatchewan in the wake of the Good Spirit decision, but the political choices made by the province’s legislature. Will it be too expensive to offer meaningful, non-discriminatory choice to students? We don’t know; the province has not, so far as I can tell, even considered the possibility, rushing to override the decision by invoking the Charter‘s “notwithstanding clause”. But whatever the amounts at issue, it will not do to say that it is better to offer a discriminatory benefit to some if we cannot offer the same benefit to all. The Supreme Court rejected this proposition in Schachter v Canada, [1992] 2 SCR 679, and rightly so. No one would accept that a province offer a tax cut to Catholics alone on the basis that it’s better to give one to some people than to none. The same reasons that would make that utterly unacceptable condemn the policy of subsidizing Catholic schools (beyond what is constitutionally required) and no others.

While some aspects of the Good Spirit case were difficult, the Charter issue that it presented was not. Once it is established that the education of non-Catholic students is not a constitutionally entrenched aspect of “separate” Catholic schools, it follows straightforwardly that it can only be subsidized on equal terms with those available to other schools, religious or otherwise. To conclude so is not to impose a new interpretation on constitutional text, but to apply principles that were recognized in Canada well before the Charter‘s entrenchment. Those who would depart from these principles in the name, ultimately, of financial expediency and administrative convenience should re-consider.

“Intolerant and Illiberal”

The BC Court of Appeal is right to insist on tolerance for an intolerant institution

In a decision issued yesterday, Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia, 2016 BCCA 423, the British Columbia Court of Appeal held that the Law Society acted unreasonably when its benchers, following its members, voted “not to approve” the University’s proposed law school, preventing its graduates from practicing in the province and causing it to lose the government’s permission to grant recognized degrees. The unanimous decision “by the court” is not always straightforward to follow in its administrative law analysis, which is surely at least in part the consequence of the convoluted approach that the Supreme Court has taken to analyzing Charter issues when they arise in administrative decision-making. But on the constitutional issue of balancing the allegedly competing considerations of religious liberty and equality rights, the Court gets it quite right when it concludes that “[t]his case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.” [193] Let me explain.

Trinity Western requires its student to sign a “Covenant” which, among other things, seeks to prevent them from having sex outside marriage, and defines marriage as strictly heterosexual. Whether or not this is intended to discriminate against LGBTQ students, it obviously does discriminate. Although there apparently are some such students at Trinity Western, the Covenant is obviously a greater burden on most of them (except those who do not view celibacy as a burden) than on most heterosexual students (though it’s worth noting that the Covenant does restrict the liberty of such students too, and in a way that would surely be unconstitutional if this restriction were imposed by the state). A great many people, within and outside the legal profession, and within and outside the LGBTQ community, are offended by the Covenant’s existence, and have campaigned for Trinity Western’s proposed law school not to be recognized, preventing its graduates from entering the profession. For some, this seems to be a means of putting pressure on Trinity Western to repent its discriminatory sins. But Trinity Western has made it quite clear that, as befits religious fanatics, they will do no such thing. There will be a Trinity Western Law School with the Covenant, or there will not be one at all. There is no tertium quid.

Trinity Western argues that denial of accreditation to its law school by the BC Law Society infringes its religious liberty. The Law Society claims that it has balanced religious liberty and the equality rights of the LGBTQ people, which are infringed both by being put to the choice of either refraining from going to Trinity Western or going there and living in the closet for the duration of their studies. Moreover, the Law Society says that it should not put itself in the position of effectively endorsing the Covenant by accrediting the law school despite the Covenant’s existence. As the Court’s judgment shows, the Law Society did no such thing. Although its benchers were aware of these various concerns, they punted on the decision whether to accredit Trinity Western or not, and let the Society’s members effectively make that decision through a referendum, authorizing it through a resolution that made no mention of the religious liberty side of the ledger.

How should these concerns be balanced, then? More to the point, are these concerns even real? Trinity Western’s clearly are. Its ability to exist as a religious institution is denied when the government (or its delegate the Law Society) denies it an accreditation, that would otherwise be available to it, on the basis of its religious beliefs. Sure, Trinity Western doesn’t have to have a law school. But if the only reason the state will not let it have one is its religious belief, then the state is in default of its duty of religious neutrality, which applies as much to prevent the state from singling out a set of beliefs for a particular burden as to prevent it singling out a set of beliefs for special support (the proposition upheld by the Supreme Court in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City), 2015 SCC 16, [2015] 2 SCR 3).

The Law Society’s constitutional concerns, by contrast, are simply made up. The moral concerns are real enough ― Trinity Western’s Covenant is profoundly illiberal (though nobody seems actually concerned about that) and homophobic in effect if not in intent. But that is not enough. As the committee of the Federation of Law Societies that considered Trinity Western’s proposed law school pointed out,

approval of the [Trinity Western] law school would not result in any fewer choices for LGBT students than they have currently. Indeed, an overall increase in law school places in Canada seems certain to expand the choices for all students. [Quoted at 174]

The Court stated that “[t]hese findings are entitled to deference”, which may or may not be right. But quite apart from any deference, this statement is self-evidently correct. Even assuming (plausibly even if not entirely accurately) that no LGBTQ student would want to attend Trinity Western, the number of law schools open to such students does not change whether or not Trinity Western’s is allowed to operate. And the idea that Trinity Western might be “persuaded” to drop its homophobia is, as already noted, patently wrong. As the Court concludes, “it is incontrovertible that refusing to recognize [Trinity Western] will not enhance accessibility” [175] of legal education for LGBTQ people.

The Court is also right to reject “the submission that the approval of [Trinity Western’s] law school would amount to endorsing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals”. [183] As it observes, all manner of people and organizations seek and obtain regulatory approval for all sorts of projects and undertakings. It cannot be the case that such approvals are always synonymous with endorsement of these people’s and organizations’ beliefs. If it were otherwise, and the state had to refrain from communicating such endorsements, “no religious faculty of any kind could be approved”. [184] Arguably, no political activity should be either, since the state ought (morally and arguably constitutionally) be politically as well as religiously neutral.

Ultimately, as the Court rightly notes, the issue here is hurt feelings ― people’s outrage at the idea of a homophobic institution being allowed to freely operate not too far from the seat of power in society. The Court’s response to this is spot on:

While there is no doubt that the Covenant’s refusal to accept LGBTQ expressions of sexuality is deeply offensive and hurtful to the LGBTQ community, and we do not in any way wish to minimize that effect, there is no Charter or other legal right to be free from views that offend and contradict an individual’s strongly held beliefs … Disagreement and discomfort with the views of others is unavoidable in a free and democratic society. [188]

I would add just a couple of observations. The first is that the whole Trinity Western imbroglio, which is of course not over as the case is likely to be headed for the Supreme Court, is one illustration of the perniciousness of the regulation of legal services in Canada (and elsewhere). The existence of law societies, which are at once state-sanctioned cartels and permanently-captured regulators, is a problem. The law societies that denied Trinity Western its accreditation, especially those that did it on the basis of referenda, put their members’ political agenda ahead of the public interest in having reasonably-educated (as all concede Trinity Western’s graduates will be) lawyers competing to provide legal services. That the agenda of LGBT equality is on the whole a very good one does not in any way stop this being a case of capture. If legal services were deregulated, and the law societies denied their privilege of erecting barriers to entry into the market, this would not have happened.

The second observation I wanted to make here concerns contrast between the reactions to the Trinity Western Covenant’s discriminatory effects and some other, similar, issues. One of these, which I have already referred to, is that same Covenant’s illiberalism. “No sex outside marriage” is an illiberal, near-totalitarian position. (It was one which actual totalitarians, in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, were quite keen on. They were also quite keen on homophobia, of course.) It would be so even if “marriage” were defined irrespective of gender or sexual orientation. Yet nobody, it seems, has been particularly concerned by Trinity Western’s illiberalism. Only its discrimination got people worked up.

Nor is anyone apparently concerned by other Canadian universities’ questionable approach to individual rights. I am not aware of a comprehensive Canadian resource similar to the Speech Codes Database of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, but consider just one example from British Columbia. UBC’s Student Code of Conduct provides that “[a]ny conduct on the part of a student that has, or might reasonably be seen to have, an adverse affect on the integrity or the proper functioning of the University … is subject to discipline under this Code”. What this means is not defined; although there follows a list of examples of what this prohibition might encompass, the Code is careful to state that they are no more than illustrations. Given the absurd vagueness of this rule, one can only conclude that due process rights are not held in very high regard at UBC; nor is freedom of speech, it would seem, considering the UBC Statement on Respectful Environment for Students, Faculty and Staff purports to proscribe such things as “gossip”. Again, these things do not seem to trouble anyone.

My point, to be clear, is not that these things are necessarily worse than, or even as bad as, the discrimination in the Trinity Western Covenant. It is only that the indignation that the Covenant has aroused seems at least somewhat selective. The law societies that have pounced on it to deny Trinity Western its accreditation are not all that concerned with individual rights. They are, mostly, concerned with one specific right, which just happens to be at the leading edge of contemporary progressivism ― for the time being, anyway (and perhaps not for much longer, as trans rights take over that position). However important that right ― and it is important ― signle-minded obsession with it does not show the law societies in a very good light as regulators in the public interest.

Be that as it may, it is a relief that five judges of the BC Court of Appeal saw this case for what it was ― an attempt by a majority, however well-meaning, to impose its views on a minority, however bigoted, to indulge its own moral preferences, however correct, rather than to defend anyone’s rights from legally cognizable injury, however slight. One can only hope that at least as many of their colleagues on the Supreme Court will see it that way too. Just as municipal functionaries in Québec should not be able to use their regulatory powers to silence a turbulent imam, Canadian law societies should not be able to use theirs to clamp down on turbulent pastors. The contrary result would be, as the Court notes, intolerant and illiberal.

Marriage Drama

A row about civil and religious marriage in Québec is quite unnecessary

In early February, Québec’s Superior Court delivered what should have been a fairly routine judgment dismissing a weak constitutional challenge to provisions of the province’s Civil Code that have usually ― although not always ― been regarded as requiring a person celebrating a marriage to notify the registrar of civil status. Instead, Justice Alary’s decision, Droit de la famille — 16244 has, not unlike some trivial incidents in a couple’s life, sparked a furious row. The row is, as usual, meaningless ― though it can make us reflect on the institution of marriage.

The case before Justice Alary involved a man who objected to the financial consequences of a divorce, and argued that he had been unconstitutionally compelled to enter into a civil as well as a religious marriage. Unbelievers, he said, have the option of simply cohabiting if they do not wish their relationship to have the legal and economic consequences the law attaches to a marriage. People of the “Judeo-Christian faith” (his terminology) lack that option, as their religion requires them to get married in order to live together. So the legal consequences of a marriage are, in his view, an infringement of the believers’ freedom of religion and of their equality rights. They should have the option of getting married religiously without incurring the legal consequences of a civil marriage.

Justice Alary easily dismissed this argument. She held that while the plaintiff’s belief that he had to be (religiously) married to cohabit with his (formerly) beloved was sincere, he had not shown that the state had interfered with this belief.  “The impugned provisions,” she observed, “certainly [did] not prevent [him] from holding beliefs having a nexus with religion. Nor did they prevent him from ‘engaging in a practice’ having to do with religion, that is to say, from getting married.” [45; translation mine] Indeed, the reason for the plaintiff’s objections is not so much his faith as his economic assessment of the family law regime. As a result, there is no infringement of freedom of religion. Subsequently, Justice Alary also finds that there is no infringement of equality rights.

This strikes me as quite obviously correct. When the law forces a person to do something that his or her religion prohibits, or prohibits him or her from doing something religion requires, that person’s religious freedom is infringed. But nothing of the sort is happening here. As Justice Alary notes, neither the plaintiff or anyone else is prevented from entering into a religious marriage. Nor is anyone required to do so. What’s happening here is that the law attaches some (unpleasant) consequences to the plaintiff’s choice to do something ― namely, to get married. This choice is religiously determined, to be sure, but I don’t think that law can take notice of that, any more than it could take notice of the fact others might get married simply because their prospective spouse pressures them to do so and they feel that they have no meaningful choice. The law simply does not look into people’s reasons for getting married. The plaintiff’s argument is identical to a religious person’s claim to a tax rebate on the ground that he or she is required, by his or her faith, to spend money on charity or tithes while non-believers need not do so. The believer chooses to comply with religious obligations, and has to live with the civil consequences of that decision.

Perhaps unfortunately, Justice Alary was not content with this conclusion. She went further and, in an obiter, opined that a religious officer who celebrates a religious marriage need not perform a simultaneous civil ceremony and notify the registrar of civil status. A religious marriage can be purely religious ― without civil consequences. It is this obiter that provoked ― about a month after the decision was published! ― furious reactions in large sections of Québec’s legal community, which saw it as exposing women and children to detrimental consequences. Some are even calling for the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its provincial equivalent to be invoked to defend “Québec’s family law” and the “collective values of Québec’s society” (translation mine).

I find these reactions perplexing. Religious marriages without civil consequences are not exactly a shocking, unheard-of thing. As Yves Boisvert pointed out in a (somewhat flippant, but fundamentally correct) column in La Presse, there are all manner of religious groups in Québec. Some of them may perform marriage ceremonies that do not comport with the Québec Civil Code’s requirements for authorizing religious officers to perform civil marriages, and these ceremonies will, then, result in religious marriages without civil consequences. Before same-sex marriage was recognized by law, some religious groups blessed same-sex unions. (Indeed, one such group was a plaintiff in the case of Halpern v. Canada (Attorney general), in which the Court of Appeal for Ontario struck down the opposite-sex definition of marriage.) Such marriages also could not have any civil consequences. As Anne-Marie Savard asks in a thoughtful post over at À qui de droit, “why must we regard this possibility as nothing more than a way for men to avoid their civil obligations,” (Translation mine) rather than a way for couples to organize their own affairs as they wish? As for calls for the notwithstanding clause to be invoked, they simply ignore the fact that Justice Alary found no infringement of freedom of religion. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the issue is simply being used, the facts be damned, by a cadre of nationalist jurists who seek for other reasons to break the existing taboos on the resort to the notwithstanding clause.

All that said, we can take the occasion for reflecting on the relationship between state, religion, and marriage. To me at least, it illustrates the folly of entangling the state in intimate relationships between men, women, and God (not all three being necessarily involved, of course). Why exactly do we need to attach civil consequences to marriage ― the sacrement, the ceremony that is? If it is the case that intimate relationships or cohabitation invariably produce unique dependency and require legal protections for their vulnerable members, then these protections should attach to cohabitation ― as indeed they already do in every province other than Québec. If this it is not the case that people involved in such relationships are incapable of meaningful choice, as Québec believes, then they should be free to contract into, or perhaps out of, an optional legal regime based on cohabitation. (For what it’s worth, I prefer the Québec position, but that doesn’t really matter now.) Either way, there is no need, and no reason, to attach civil consequences to a ceremony, whatever its name, and whether performed by a civil servant or a religious officer. If people believe that God attaches importance to a ceremony, that’s their right of course. But civil marriage simply has no raison d’être.

Attempts to point out to parties to a family row that they are fighting over trifles and should stand down seldom end well. I don’t suppose that my own belated intervention in this debate is going to change anything. Still, I thought that it was important take a calm look into what is going on.

NOTE: My apologies for the lack of posting in the last few weeks. I do have something to show for it though. More on that in a few days, hopefully.

Inutile ou inconstitutionnel?

En plus de s’attaquer à la liberté d’expression et à la primauté du droit avec leur projet de loi 59, le gouvernement du Québec et la ministre de la justice, Stéphanie Vallée, s’attaquent peut-être aussi à la liberté de religion avec le projet de loi 62. Peut-être, car ce texte législatif contient une exception qui pourrait en réduire l’effet réel à néant. Cependant, on peut supposer que son application, surtout dans l’environnement politique et social actuel, va bel et bien mener à des violations de la liberté de religion, droit pourtant protégé par l’art. 2(a) de la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés et l’art. 3 de la Charte des droit et libertés de la personne, alias la Charte québécoise.

Le projet de loi 62 contient bien des dispositions inoffensives, notamment les articles 4 à 6, qui énoncent et qualifient le devoir  de neutralité religieuse imposé aux fonctionnaires et autres employés de l’État. Ce devoir n’est pas nouveau, ce qui fait en sorte que l’adoption de ces dispositions est inutile mais, pour cette même raison, elle ne fera pas de mal. Il en va de même avec la plupart des critères édictés aux articles 10 à 12 pour, supposément, encadrer l’octroi d’accommodements religieux. À une exception près, sur laquelle je reviendrai, ces critères ne sont pas nouveaux ― et, pour cette même raison, il ne faut pas se faire d’illusion sur leur capacité à servir de « balises » aux accommodement. Les décisions, en cette matière, ne peuvent se faire qu’au cas par cas, et exigent la bonne foi de toutes les parties impliquées. Or, on ne génère pas la bonne foi à coups de législation.

Là où le bât blesse, cependant, c’est à l’article 9 du projet de loi. Les deux premiers alinéas en sont les suivants:

Un membre du personnel d’un organisme doit exercer ses fonctions à visage découvert, sauf s’il est tenu de le couvrir, notamment en raison de ses conditions de travail ou des exigences propres à ses fonctions ou à l’exécution de certaines tâches.

De même, une personne à qui est fourni un service par un membre du personnel d’un organisme doit avoir le visage découvert lors de la prestation du service.

Cette obligation vise, on s’en doute bien, les femmes musulmanes qui portent la burqa ou le niqab. On semble leur interdire de travailler pour l’État, et même d’en recevoir les services ― d’aller à l’école ou à l’université, de se faire soigner à l’hôpital ou même, je pense, de porter plainte à un poste de police. En d’autres mots, on semble les mettre hors la loi. Sauf que le troisième alinéa de l’article 9 crée une exception:

Un accommodement qui implique un aménagement à l’une ou l’autre de ces règles est possible mais doit être refusé si, compte tenu du contexte, des motifs portant sur la sécurité, l’identification ou le niveau de communication requis le justifient.

À première vue aussi, l’effet de cette exception pourrait être de carrément annuler les obligations apparemment imposées aux alinéas précédents. Aux moins deux des trois prohibitions catégoriques qui la qualifient ne sont pas nouvelles: les femmes qui portent la burqa ou le niqab acceptent déjà découvrir leur visage pour s’identifier, notamment pour des raisons de sécurité.

La grande incertitude concerne cependant la façon dont l’article 9 sera appliqué en réalité. Par exemple, va-t-on refuser systématiquement l’ « accommodement » que serait le port de la burqa ou du niqab sous prétexte qu’il empêche d’atteindre « le niveau de communication requis » (art. 9, al. 3), ou qu’il ne « respecte [pas] le droit à l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes » (art. 10, al. 1, sous-al. 2) ou encore qu’il « compromet […] le principe de la neutralité religieuse de l’État » (art. 10, al. 1, sous-al. 3)?  En théorie, de tels refus systématiques iraient à l’encontre de l’alinéa 3 de l’article 9, qui dit bien qu’un accommodement « est possible ». En pratique, dans l’état actuel des esprits québécois, je ne suis pas optimiste. Et il y a aussi un problème plus général: en qualifiant la non-interdiction du port de la burqa ou du niqab comme un accommodement, oblige-t-on les femmes qui vont recevoir un service de l’État ― disons, en se présentant à l’urgence d’un hôpital ― de formuler une demande formelle? J’ose espérer que non, mais même si ce n’est pas le cas, le message que le projet de loi envoie aux personnes à qui cette femmes s’adresse est qu’ils lui font une faveur ― et qu’ils pourraient la lui refuser.

Si on refuse ces » accommodements », les contestations en vertu de l’une ou l’autre Charte seront inévitables. Et, selon moi, elles auront de très bonne chances de succès. Je crois qu’il serait aussi possible de contester la compétence de la législature du Québec à adopter le projet de loi 62, en soutenant que, de par son caractère véritable, il s’agit d’une loi portant sur la religion, un sujet qui relève du Parlement fédéral selon l’arrêt Saumur v. City of Quebec, [1953] 2 SCR 299. J’ai expliqué cet argument plus en détail ici et ici, s’agissant de la Charte de la honte proposée par le gouvernement péquiste. Dans ce billet, je me concentre sur l’analyse en fonction des Chartes.

Il est évident qu’interdire à une personne de recevoir un service à cause d’un vêtement religieux qu’elle porte est une atteinte à sa liberté de religion (et/ou une forme de discrimination fondée sur la religion). L’État serait tenu de justifier cette atteinte, en démontrant qu’elle sert un objectif urgent et réel, qu’elle est rationnellement liée à cet objectif, qu’elle est (à peu près) la moins sévère possible pour réaliser cet objectif et, enfin, que ses bienfaits dépassent ses effets négatifs.

Or, une telle démonstration ne me semble pas possible. L’objectif du projet de loi 62, selon l’article 1 de celui-ci, est de z favoriser le respect » de « la neutralité religieuse de l’État ». Or, la Cour suprême a bien spécifié dans son récent arrêt Mouvement laïque québécois c. Saguenay (Ville), 2015 CSC 16,

qu’un espace public neutre ne signifie pas l’homogénéisation des acteurs privés qui s’y trouvent. La neutralité est celle des institutions et de l’État, non celle des individus. [74]

Il n’y a donc pas de lien rationnel entre l’objectif de neutralité et l’interdiction, pour les individus qui reçoivent les services de l’État, ou même ceux qui travaillent pour celui-ci, de vêtements religieux. Le caractère irrationnel de cette interdiction devient encore plus clair lorsqu’on considère qu’elle ne s’étend qu’à quelques vêtements religieux, mais épargne la plupart des symboles religieux qui révèlent pourtant, de façon tout aussi évidente, l’appartenance religieuse des personnes qui les portent ou les affichent.

Avant de conclure, je reviens sur un autre élément du projet de loi 62 qui me paraît troublant: l’exigence, posée au premier alinéa de l’article 10, que tout accommodement religieux « respecte le droit à l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes ». Je ne suis évidemment pas contre cette égalité. Cependant, les tribunaux ont toujours rejeté les hiérarchies de droits comme celle que cette disposition crée. Qui plus est, l’application concrète de ce critère risque de mal tourner. Par exemple, comme je le suggère ci-dessus, il risque d’être invoqué pour rejeter systématiquement la présence de certains symboles religieux jugés sexistes sans égard au sens que leur donnent les personnes qui les affichent. Il serait préférable, selon moi, de rappeler l’importance de l’égalité des sexes dans la considération des accommodements, mais sans en faire un critère qui prévaut automatiquement sur les autres.

Ainsi, dans la mesure où elle aura un impact réel l’obligation d’avoir le visage découvert, qui est la pièce maîtresse du projet de loi 62, porte atteinte à la liberté de religion des femmes qui porte la burqa ou le niqab. Cette atteinte n’a aucun lien rationnel avec l’objectif affiché de ce projet de loi. Il n’est pas impossible, par ailleurs, qu’en pratique, cette obligation ne soit pas imposée. Cependant, pour les raisons que j’explique ci-dessus, je ne crois pas que tel serait le cas. Cette disposition est donc inutile au mieux, et inconstitutionnelle au pire. Elle va certes moins loin que la Charte de la honte péquiste, mais tout comme celle-ci, elle est le fait d’un gouvernement qui fait de la petite politique sur le dos d’une minorité religieuse vulnérable.

Splitting a Baby

There came a Catholic school and a minister of education unto the Supreme Court, and stood before it. And the school said, “Oh my Lords and my Ladies, I am a private Catholic school, and am delivered of a programme for teaching a class on Ethics and Religious Culture through the prism of my Catholic faith. And when I besought the minister for leave to do so, he would not let me, though my programme be equivalent to the one he requires.” And the minister said, “Nay, but thy programme is no wise equivalent to the required one, for that programme is secular and objective, and thine religious.” Thus they spoke before the Court. Then the Court said (having deliberated a year, and with three of the seven judges present disagreeing), “Fetch me a sword.” And they brought a sword (a metaphorical one) before the Court. And the Court said, in Loyola High School v. Quebec (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 12: “Divide the programme in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.”

More specifically, the majority (consisting of Justice Abella, who wrote the judgment, and Justices Lebel, Cromwell, and Karakatsanis) holds that while Loyola cannot be forced to teach its students about Catholicism from the rigorously secular and neutral perspective favoured by the minister, it can be required to teach the “ethics” element of the class from such a perspective. (Loyola itself does not object to adopting this posture for teaching students about other religions.) The majority orders the Minister to reconsider the denial of an exemption necessary for Loyola to teach the class according to its own programme rather than the one imposed by the Minister in light of its reasons.

This case was widely expected to produce a clear statement about the nature and extent of the religious rights of organizations under the Charter, since Loyola is a (non-profit) corporation. However, Justice Abella’s reasons seem to punt on that question, invoking instead “the religious freedom of the members of the Loyola community who seek to offer and wish to receive a Catholic education.” [32] Loyola was entitled to seek judicial review of the Minister’s decision, and in doing so to argue that the Minister failed to respect the rights of others.

Because the case arose by way of judicial review of an administrative decision, Justice Abella takes the approach developed in Doré v. Barreau du Québec, 2012 SCC 12, [2012] 1 S.C.R. 395, according to which the administrative decision must reflect a reasonable balancing of “the Charter protections — values and rights — at stake in their decisions with the relevant statutory mandate” [Loyola, 35]. But reasonableness, here, “requires proportionality” [38] and, indeed, is the exact counterpart of the (last two stages of) the “Oakes test” applied to determine the constitutionality of statutes.

Applying this framework, Justice Abella begins by pointing out that the statutory scheme under which the Minister operates makes provision for exemptions which must be granted to programmes “equivalent” to those designed by the government. This possibility would be meaningless, she observes, if “equivalent” were understood as “identical.” Besides, “[t]he exemption exists in a regulatory scheme that anticipates and sanctions the existence of private denominational schools,” [54] and, therefore,

a reasonable interpretation of the process for granting exemptions from the mandatory curriculum would leave at least some room for the religious character of those schools. [54]

In effectively requiring Loyola to teach the entire class, including the parts dealing with the Catholic religion itself, from a secular and neutral perspective, the Minister failed to make allowance for its denominational character. That decision

amounts to requiring a Catholic institution to speak about Catholicism in terms defined by the state rather than by its own understanding of Catholicism. [63]

Justice Abella finds that it would be possible to let the school teach its pupils about Catholicism in accordance with its own understanding of its faith without compromising the ministerial objectives for the Ethics and Religious Culture class. The Minister’s decision is, to that extent, unreasonable, because it not restrict religious rights as little as possible.

By contrast, Justice Abella finds that so long as Loyola is allowed to teach the Catholic religion and ethics from the Catholic perspective, it can be required to teach the remainder of the “ethics” part of the course “objectively.” While this may be “a delicate exercise” in the context of a denominational school, and “Loyola must be allowed some flexibility as it navigates these difficult moments,” [73] the requirement that it do so is not an infringement of anyone’s religious freedom, and does not compromise the school’s religious identity. Indeed, the requirement of objectivity is very important, lest

other religions … be seen not as differently legitimate belief systems, but as worthy of respect only to the extent that they aligned with the tenets of Catholicism. [75]

It is all about “how the discussion is framed” ― Catholicism’s “own ethical framework” must be a “significant participant rather than [a] hegemonic tutor.” [76]

The concurrence (a judgment by the Chief Justice and Justice Moldaver, with the agreement of Justice Rothstein) disagrees on with the majority about this, arguing that the teaching of ethics is inextricably linked to that of religions and, in particular, that the teaching of ethics generally cannot be neatly separated from the teaching of the Catholic perspective on ethics, as the majority’s conclusion would require. An attempt do so “poses serious practical difficulties and represents a significant infringement on how Loyola transmits an understanding of the Catholic faith.” [156]

On its way to this conclusion, the concurrence also takes a very different approach from the majority. For one thing, it squarely addresses the issue of institutional religious freedom, suggesting that corporations are entitled to assert this right “if (1) it is constituted primarily for religious purposes, and (2) its operation accords with these religious purposes.” [100] And for another, the concurrence does not even pretend to apply Doré and its deferential standard of review, saying that

[t]he Charter requirement that limits on rights be reasonable and demonstrably justified may be expressed in different ways in different contexts, but the basic constitutional requirement remains the same. [113]

On this last point, I agree with the concurrence. The pretense of deference under Doré is useless if there really is no difference between “reasonableness” and “proportionality” as the majority suggests. Actually, I think that, contrary to what the majority suggests, there ought to be a difference. While it is true that the Supreme Court has often relaxed the Oakes test, allowing the government to infringe rights not by the “least restrictive means” possible but by one of a spectrum of “reasonable alternatives,” it has also repeatedly suggested that such a relaxation is not appropriate in all circumstances. And in cases where there is a real difference between “reasonableness” and proportionality” ― deferring to a government’s interpretation of Charter rights intended to constrain it is outright pernicious.

What I like less about the concurrence reasons is the way in which it limits the scope of organizations’ rights to religious freedom and, specifically, the requirement it proposes that only those organizations “constituted primarily for religious purposes” be entitled to assert this right. The concurrence does not explain why other organizations, including for-profit ones, should not be allowed to do so, at least if they can show that “their operation accords with” religious principles. The question was not before the Court in this case, and there was no need to answer it at all.

Whether the majority was right to evade the issue of the religious rights of even primarily religious organizations, I am not sure. Admittedly it is difficult to imagine situations where such an organization would not be able to assert the claims of at least some of the members of its “community,” as Loyola was in this case, so perhaps it is, indeed, unnecessary to answer that theoretically vexing question. But there is something to be said for theoretical clarity, at least on matters well and truly before the Court.

As for the outcome, I also agree with the concurrence. I find the majority’s belief that Loyola can plausibly separate the religious teaching of Catholic ethics and the “neutral” teaching of other ethics difficult to countenance. I am also perplexed by the majority’s professed concern at the “risk” that Loyola’s students won’t see other religions as “differently legitimate.” Of course they won’t. Religions are not politically correct. They don’t talk about people being “differently spiritually abled.” They talk of prophets, believers, and heretics. If you cannot accept that, you cannot accept religious freedom at all. Still, it could have been worse.

Perhaps it will yet be. The majority, and indeed the concurrence, repeatedly emphasize the fact that Québec’s legislation specifically provides for exemptions for classes “equivalent” to those required by the government, and that the government’s stated objectives for the Ethics and Religious Culture course can be achieved by classes taught, in whole or in part, from a religious perspective. But what if the provision for exemption is removed, or the objectives re-written ― a bit like Parliament criminalized (half of) prostitution after the Court seemed to make its legality a key factor in its analysis in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, [2013] 3 S.C.R. 1101, where it struck down the prostitution-related provisions of the Criminal Code. As it happens, the King James Bible describes the women who came to seek the judgment of Solomon as “harlots.” I do not mean to suggest anything of the sort about either Loyola or the Minister of education, but this case might have an eerie air of Bedford about it.

All in all, then a rather unsatisfactory decision, and not a very well argued one. The majority’s reasons, in particular, are full of equivocation. Not only is the outcome a dubious compromise, but almost every step of the analysis is a fudge. Do organizations have religious liberty rights of their own? We’ll tell you later. The applicable test is “reasonableness,” but it’s no different from “proportionality.” Exemptions must be granted, but perhaps only if the law allows for exemptions in the first place. Schools must be allowed flexibility in structuring their classes, but here’s how to do it. The problem with splitting so many babies in half is that one risks looking more like Herod than Solomon.

UPDATE: Over at Administrative Law Matters, Paul Daly weighs in, mostly on Loyola‘s treatment of the relationship between constitutional and administrative law. Speaking of Justice Abella’s “application of the reasonableness standard, it is difficult to discern how it is more deferential than, or analytically distinct from, proportionality.” It is indeed. Shauna Van Praagh also makes some important observations in the Globe, although I’m skeptical about her proposal to “make the Loyola judgment part of the ERC curriculum in all its variations.” The judgment, for the reasons I set out above, does not strike me as a pedagogical model.

Des fois, Boisvert a tort

J’avais beaucoup de respect, de l’admiration même, pour Yves Boisvert. Il est sans doute l’un des observateurs les plus perspicaces et les plus justes du système judiciaire et des enjeux reliés au droit dans les médias traditionnels. Il a fait preuve de sagesse et de respect pour la différence lors du débat sur la Charte de la honte péquiste. Pourtant, ces derniers mois, ces qualités semblent lui faire de plus en plus souvent défaut. J’ai déjà discuté ici de son attaque injustifiée contre les Cours fédérales, dans laquelle il insinuait que certains Québécois ne le sont pas « suffisamment », et de sa critique, tout aussi injustifiée, de l’ « Américanisation » du système judiciaire canadien qui résulterait de la nomination de quelques juges présumés « conservateurs ». Cette tendance à l’intolérance de la différence se confirme, hélas, dans la récente chronique de M. Boisvert dans La Presse+ au sujet du niqab.

M. Boisvert y défend la position du premier ministre Harper qui passe dernièrement son temps à pourfendre les femmes qui portent le niqab à leur prestation du serment de citoyenneté. M. Boisvert est d’avis qu’

 [u]n pays n’est pas « islamophobe » parce qu’il dit à ses nouveaux arrivants : le jour très solennel où vous deviendrez citoyens du Canada, vous montrerez votre visage.

Les raisons pour lesquelles M. Boisvert défend cette violation de la liberté religieuse ― et il est bien conscient qu’il s’agit d’une violation, lui qui « ne voi[t] pas comment on pourrait » interdire le port du niqab en public, comme certains pays européens l’ont fait ― ne sont pas exactement limpides. D’une part, pour lui, comme pour le premier ministre, le niqab serait problématique en soi. En cachant le visage d’une femme, dit M. Boisvert, le niqab « abolit son identité publique. Il est issu du fond des âges et promu par la frange combattante de l’islam radical ». Il serait apparenté à ces « pratiques barbares » que le gouvernement n’a de cesse de dénoncer. D’autre part, M. Boisvert semble avoir des préoccupations quant à la sécurité ou à l’identification:

pour témoigner à la cour ou dans une cérémonie de prestation de serment, pour être fonctionnaire, pour demander des services de l’État, on a le droit d’appliquer le « test de l’aéroport ». Montrez-vous, s’il vous plaît.

Or, cette préoccupation est mal-fondée. M. Boisvert reconnaît lui-même que « [l]’identité de la nouvelle citoyenne est évidemment vérifiée avant la prestation de serment », qu’elle porte le niqab ou pas. Il faut donc croire que c’est bien le premier argument, celui voulant que le niqab soit intrinsèquement problématique, qui explique la position de M. Boisvert. Pourtant, si le niqab est réellement une « pratique barbare », il m’est difficile de comprendre pourquoi on l’interdirait dans certaines situations et non dans d’autres. On n’interdit pas le mariage forcé seulement le jour où les parents deviennent citoyens canadiens, n’est-ce pas?

Cependant, au-delà de leur contradiction, ces deux arguments contre le niqab ne découlent tout simplement pas des de leurs prémisses. Le niqab est le fruit d’une « culture antifemmes »? Oui, sans doute. Sauf que comme l’a noté l’excellente Tabatha Southey dans le Globe and Mail,

[i]f women didn’t wear clothes that were “rooted in a culture that is anti-women,” we’d be naked. You can argue that the veil isn’t a choice, that Muslim women wear the niqab only because of cultural pressure and family. These are the only reasons I wear clothes in August.

Le niqab est-il promu par les islamistes radicaux? Oui, sans doute. Et alors? Les islamistes veulent aussi que les hommes portent la barbe. Devons nous raser tous les hipsters du Plateau, pour les dépiter? L’important, me semble-t-il, n’est pas de savoir qui le promeut, mais qui le porte. Et la réponse et cette question n’est pas celle à laquelle MM. Harper et Boisvert voudraient nous faire croire. Par exemple, Zunera Ishaq, la femme à l’origine de la controverse actuelle, qui s’est récemment expliquée dans le Tornto Star, est une diplômée universitaire, impliquée dans communauté et porte le niqab malgré les souhaits de sa famille, et non à cause d’eux. C’est la mépriser que de prétendre la forcer à être libre ― être libre selon la compréhension que s’en font des hommes qui, en fait, cherchent à restreindre sa capacité de faire ses propres choix.

Remarquez, on n’est pas obligé d’être d’accord avec ces choix. Je crois, moi, que même s’il reflète un choix personnel, le niqab n’en est pas moins un symbole funeste. Je n’aime pas le voir. Mme. Ishaq dit que son niqab oblige les gens à aller au-delà des apparences pour interagir avec elle. Peut-être bien, mais c’est un effort supplémentaire que, dans la vie de tous les jours, on n’est pas tenu de faire.

Cela dit, il y a beaucoup de symboles funestes, et plus encore de symboles de mauvais goût, qu’on accepte dans notre société. Personne, à ma connaissance, ne songe à interdire les chandails à l’effigie de Che Guevara ou de Lénine, que ce soit lors de la prestation du serment de citoyenneté ou dans d’autres contextes. Ce sont pourtant, là aussi, des symboles d’une idéologie oppressive, meurtrière et destructrice. Comme avec le niqab, on peut très bien porter un regard désapprobateur sur les personnes qui affichent ces symboles. Or, désapprouver est une chose; interdire en est une autre.

Du reste, la société québécoise est loin de désapprouver tous les symboles de l’oppression. Comme je l’écrivais ici,

[p]ersonne ne s’empresse de renommer les rues Laflèche ou Bourget, disons, partout au Québec, pour ce que les évêques ultramontains ont fait, des décennies durant, à la démocratie. Ni la station de métro nommée en l’honneur de l’auteur de L’Appel de la Race. Oh, et le fameux crucifix installé par Maurice Duplessis, il est toujours à l’Assemblée nationale. Le paysage (symbolique) québécois est parsemé d’éloges d’un passé, pas si lointain, qui n’était pas si différent des fantasmes [des islamistes d’aujourd’hui].

L’indignation collective à laquelle se joint M. Boisvert est donc fort sélective. Elle n’en a rien à foutre de notre passé collectif ultramontain ou des conneries pseudo-révolutionnaires des enfants gâtés de notre bourgeoisie nationale, mais elle se déchaîne à la vue du niqab. Or le trait distinctif de ce symbole n’est pas d’être associé à une idéologie répressive, ce que d’autres symboles sont aussi, mais bien d’être associé à des gens différents de nous.

Un imam turbulent

La ministre de l’Immigration et de la pensée unique Diversité, Kathleen Weil, se sentait un peu comme Henri II ces derniers jours. « N’y aura-t-il personne », se demandait-elle, « pour me débarrasser de cet imam turbulent? » L’imam, Hamza Chaoui, est turbulent, il est vrai. La démocratie, l’égalité, et la liberté religieuse ― bref, « nos valeurs », comme disait la ministre ― il n’en a rien à foutre. Sauf que ses propos, si détestables soient-ils, ne sont pas illégaux, autant qu’on sache. Pas grave, puisque les preux chevaliers Réal Ménard, maire de l’arrondissement Hochelaga-Maisonneuve et Denis Coderre, maire de Montréal vont s’occuper de faire taire M. Chaoui. Pas à coups d’épée, bien sûr, on n’est pas au 12e siècle quand même. L’arrondissement adoptera un règlement pour interdire l’enseignement religieux dans un centre culturel, comme celui que l’imam se proposait d’y ouvrir.

Yves Boisvert souligne, fort justement, qu’à peine quelques semaines après les grandes professions de foi en défense de la liberté d’expression, y compris, bien sûr de la liberté d’expression offensante, « [c]et imam met tout le monde politique devant ses vrais principes ». Des principes qui, s’ils permettent à nos politiciens de défendre notre droit de rire des religions minoritaires, ne les rendent manifestement pas capables de tolérer un discours qui heurte les valeurs majoritaires, dont la liberté d’expression ne fait pas vraiment partie, quoi que les politiciens en disent.

Un autre parallèle historique plus récent s’impose aussi, celui avec l’époque duplessiste. Une époque ou, comme maintenant semble-t-il, on se servait de règlements municipaux pour empêcher la diffusion d’idées religieuses que la majorité trouvait choquantes. Le règlement en cause dans l’arrêt Saumur v. City of Quebec, [1953] 2 S.C.R. 299, qui exigeait que toute publication distribuée dans les rues de la ville soit préalablement approuvée par le chef de police, était peut-être d’apparence plus sordide, mais celui proposé par MM. Ménard et Coderre n’est pas tellement mieux. Il ne s’agit pas de véritable réglementation municipale ― l’interdiction d’enseigner la religion dans un centre communautaire n’a rien avoir avec la circulation, la propreté, le bruit, bref, le genre de chose qu’une municipalité réglemente en temps normal.

Et, sans me lancer dans une analyse détaillée ici, cette interdiction me paraît très suspecte constitutionnellement. Sur le plan du partage des compétences, l’arrêt Saumur, comme l’expliquais ici, suggère qu’une province et, par conséquent, une municipalité, ne peut adopter une loi dont le caractère  véritable consiste à réglementer la religion. Un autre arrêt de la Cour suprême, de la même époque, est également pertinent ― celui invalidant la « loi du cadenas », Switzman v. Elbling, [1957] S.C.R. 285. Le Québec avait défendu cette loi, qui interdisait l’usage d’un immeuble pour propager le communisme, comme visant la prévention du crime, ce qui, comme je l’écrivais déjà ici, rappelle les tentatives actuelles des politiciens québécois de contrer l’ « extrémisme » ou la « radicalisation ». La Cour suprême a statué qu’il ne s’agissait pas de prévention, mais de répression, qui n’était pas du ressort des provinces. Et puis, bien sûr, il y a les Chartes canadienne et québécoise. Selon La Presse, M. Coderre, lui, « [s]e sen[t] très solide » face à une éventuelle contestation juridique. Il ne devrait pas.

Il convient de se rappeler le paroles du juge Rand, dans ses motifs dans Switzman:

Le but de la loi [du cadenas] est […] de prévenir ce qu’on considère comme un empoisonnement des esprits, de protéger l’individu de l’exposition aux idées dangereuses, bref, de le défendre contre les propensions de sa propre pensée. (305; je traduis.)

Or, explique le juge Rand, le choix d’un gouvernement démocratique implique « la capacité des hommes, agissant librement et sous des contraintes qu’ils s’imposent eux-mêmes, de se gouverner » (306). En d’autres mots, en démocratie, on doit faire confiance à ses concitoyens. On doit croire que, s’ils sont exposés à des « idées dangereuses », ils auront assez de discernement et de capacité de se contrôler pour ne pas les mettre en oeuvre. Cette confiance nous fait cruellement défaut.

Il y a pourtant quelque chose de paradoxal dans l’obsession collective avec l’extrémisme religieux. Personne ne s’empresse de renommer les rues Laflèche ou Bourget, disons, partout au Québec, pour ce que les évêques ultramontains ont fait, des décennies durant, à la démocratie. Ni la station de métro nommée en l’honneur de l’auteur de L’Appel de la Race. Oh, et le fameux crucifix installé par Maurice Duplessis, il est toujours à l’Assemblée nationale. Le paysage (symbolique) québécois est parsemé d’éloges d’un passé, pas si lointain, qui n’était pas si différent des fantasmes de M. Chaoui. En fait, nos apôtres de la laïcité disent que c’est précisément au nom de la grande rupture avec ce passé qu’il faut faire taire les imams turbulents, et empêcher leur femme de porter un niqab. Mais le paysage, lui, ne change pas. Ça ne toucherait pourtant les droits de personne que de commencer par nous en occuper.

L’imam Chaoui, quant à lui, n’est pas Thomas Becket. Personne, j’espère, ne le canonisera. En fait, il semble bien que ses propres co-religionnaires ne veulent rien savoir de lui. Mais ce n’est pas une raison pour en faire un martyre de la liberté d’expression.