Private sector free to adopt Quebec religious symbols ban?

I was struck by this article in the Globe and Mail: Private sector free to adopt Quebec religious symbols ban too, Marois says

Quebec’s charter of values does not necessarily exclude the private sector from imposing the same restrictions on their employees as the ones demanded from public servants, says Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois.

Is it my imagination, or is that a really big deal? I haven’t looked carefully at how Bill-60 amends the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or what other provisions it contains, but if it insulates private employers from discrimination complaints in this way, that could have a huge impact. Two things come to mind: first, this dramatically expands the extent of the equality violation being contemplated — for example, an observant Sikh could be turned down for employment anywhere in the province, for any job whatsoever, and would have no legal recourse? And second, the rationale for the ban (“state secularism”) is completely missing in the case of the private sector.… Continue reading

The conservative bind

Excellent paragraph from Jack M. Balkin, “The Last Days of Disco: Why the American Political System is Dysfunctional” (SSRN), describing the dilemma that radical Republicans find themselves in:

They disdain the expertise- and elite-driven politics that the progressives championed. But they face the opposite problem. The acceptance of scientific policymaking as the proper mode of government action, and widespread popular expectations that the government is now responsible for social welfare, social insurance, full employment, environmental protection, and economic prosperity, means that libertarian radicals will find it almost impossible to dismantle the modern policy state wholesale. Instead, the best they can hope for is to undermine it and prevent its further expansion, leading to… a “permanent siege” against the policy state.

This strikes me as an excellent summary of the bind that Canadian Conservatives find themselves in right now. And while it does not manifest itself in the form of “dysfunction,” the way it does in the United States, it does explain the peculiar paralysis of the federal government (remarked upon by many disappointed conservative commentators), where they can’t seem to find anything better to do with their time than pick fights with the civil service.… Continue reading

Non-citizens and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Almost thirty years ago, when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was brand new, the Supreme Court of Canada made two decisions that were vitally important for the rights of non-citizens in Canada.  Since that time, it has been all down hill.

What has gone wrong and why?  The beginning was promising.  In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled than anyone physically present in Canada was protected by the Charter.  This ruling was followed in 1989 with a decision that a lack of citizenship was analogous to the grounds of discrimination listed in the Charter and thus was a basis for equality protection.

My study published late in 2013 showed both that very few questions of non-citizens’ rights reach the Supreme Court of Canada, and that those that claims that do are frequently rejected by the Court.  The commitment of the Court to ensure that the Charter meets international human rights standards is not being met in this area.  … Continue reading

Crackdown Politics and Political Dishonesty

In the name of democracy Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Pierre Poilievre wants to put the “rule breakers out of business”. In particular, he wants to stop the scourge of voter fraud. Sounds like a good idea, right? But perhaps it is the Minister who is flouting norms of democracy.

Legitimate democratic processes involve more than fair electoral and parliamentary voting processes. They have a deliberative component. Legitimate legislation is not merely legislation that secures the support of majority of elected representatives in some procedurally fair process of vote counting. Rather democratic legitimacy depends on good faith efforts by political actors to provide credible justifications for the laws and policies they wish to see adopted.

 Of course, there are often heated disagreements as to what counts as good political justification. In democracies there is wide latitude in political debate and discourse about the features of sound political justification. But not everything is up for grabs.Continue reading

Reason vs. passion in politics

Here’s a video of talk I gave in Ottawa last month (in the parliamentary restaurant), on the subject of “reason in politics.” The presentation is basically an ultrashort version of the argument of a new book that I have coming out April 15 (called Enlightenment 2.0), in which I, quixotically, try to make the case for a return to reason in politics.

The talk is just 25 minutes long, it starts at 4:30 and after 35:00 it’s Q&A.

If I may permit myself a moment of “meta” commentary, I just want to acknowledge that the talk itself is what we in philosophy sometimes refer to as a “performative contradiction,” in that I am making the case for an increased role for system 2 thought processes, while using every trick in the book to make the case in a way that will be system 1 intuitive (even stooping so low as to use cute pictures drawn by children).… Continue reading

Independent Oversight for the Canada Border Services Agency

A week ago the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers joined together to call for independent oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The press conference was well attended, and the mainstream press ran a series of pretty good stories about it. But almost no one reported on the CBSA horror stories that those of us involved the conference thought would get the most attention.

I am still wondering about this. I just can’t bring myself to conclude that the mainstream press in Canada is not interested in salacious detail.

Here are some of the things that did not get noted in the dozen or so stories that followed the press conference:

  1. A CBSA officer handcuffed a man who had voluntarily attended a meeting and told him that during his deportation flight if he caused trouble he would be forcibly put into a diaper.
Continue reading

Open letter on proposed reforms to Canadian elections

Here is a copy of the open letter in opposition to Bill C-23, signed by 160 Canadian university professors who study democracy and constitutional law. It was published today in the National Post and Le Devoir.

Open Letter on C-23

Lettre ouverte C-23

The number of people who signed it (160 by my quick count), is another way of saying “practically everybody.”

 … Continue reading

Can we talk about Cheryl Gallant and lightbulbs?

If you don’t know who Cheryl Gallant is, it’s probably because A) you don’t live in the riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, and B) you missed one of the more revealing political stories of the year.

I’d like to dwell on this story for moment, because as far as I’m concerned it came and went a bit too fast. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind, because for me it exemplifies the thing that disturbs me most about a range of extremely sneaky fundraising tactics that the Conservative Party has been using of late. (I think of it, for example, when reading the more recent story of the Conservative party using the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Aga Khan to harvest email addresses, then sending out party fundraising appeals, thereby co-opting official government business for partisan purposes.)

The story that I’m thinking about was broken by Glen McGregor at the Ottawa Citizen (here).… Continue reading

Québec at a crossroads

So Quebeckers will be going to the polls on April 7th.  At issue is whether my fellow citizens will follow the Parti Québécois’ hard right turn on identity issues. The centerpiece of that turn is the so-called “charter of values” which would, among other things, alter the province’s own Charter of Rights and Freedoms so as to allow the government to prohibit anyone drawing a salary from the public coffers from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols.

What’s going on here? To begin to answer that question, one has to realize that many strategists within the governing Parti Québécois have come to the conclusion that unless a winning referendum can be held during the PQ’s present turn in power, the dream of an independent Quebec can pretty much be kissed goodbye forever. Were they to leave power without getting a “yes” on a sovereignty referendum, they would next be coming to power after 7 or 8 more years of Liberal rule.… Continue reading

L’endurance civique : le débat sur la Charte et l’envie de se barrer

Le débat sur la Charte de la laïcité est psychologiquement éprouvant pour ceux qui, comme moi, s’opposent à l’interdiction des signes religieux pour tous les employés des secteurs public et parapublic. Après six mois de débat, les opposants sont toujours minoritaires. Des amis ont vu leur réputation attaquée, et il fait moins bon aujourd’hui d’être un Québécois de confession musulmane qu’avant le début du débat. Le Parti québécois, les Janette et les autres ne l’ont pas eu facile jusqu’ici, loin s’en faut, mais la Charte reçoit l’assentiment de la moitié de la population. Les partisans d’une laïcité apaisée et équilibrée gagnent les débats d’idées, mais perdent pour l’instant la joute politique. Certains diront que mes biais cognitifs embrouillent mon jugement, mais on ne peut nier que les universités et la majorité des chercheurs spécialistes des questions soulevées par la Charte, le Barreau du Québec, la Commission des droits et libertés du Québec, la Fédération des femmes du Québec et d’autres acteurs majeurs se sont tous prononcés contre la Charte.… Continue reading