Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A pleasant surprise

The Quebec government's proposed amendment to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Bill 63, has finally been introduced. Considering that its political purpose was to subordinate religious liberty to gender equality, and that the people supporting it appeared to think that it meant no gender-differentiated religious practice could be protected by religious liberty, I'm more than a bit surprised by its text. It says:

Bill 63


1. The preamble of the Charter of human rights and freedoms (R.S.Q., chapter C-12) is amended by replacing the third paragraph by the following paragraph:

"Whereas respect for the dignity of human beings, equality of women and men, and recognition of their rights and freedoms constitute the foundation of justice, liberty and peace;".

2. The Charter is amended by inserting the following section after section 49.1:

"49.2. The rights and freedoms set forth in this Charter are guaranteed equally to women and men."

3. This Act comes into force on (insert the date of assent to this Act).

Section 49 lies in the section of the charter covering rules of interpretation and construction.

Bill 63 doesn't single out religious liberty, and it doesn't subordinate any other claimed right to gender equality. It states as an interpretive principle something that was surely always true of the Charter, the provisions of which guarantee rights to "every human being" or "every person." It does not say that the rights must be exercised in accordance with gender equality, which is what the initial discussions were all about. There's nothing to object to in it-- which surely means that it won't do what its supporters set out to do.

I wonder what cases anyone thinks this language would change the outcome of. Perhaps the Liberal government, having grabbed hold of this one idea in order to keep up with the anti-accommodationists of the PQ and the ADQ but actually knowing better, has deliberately introduced a minimalist amendment designed not to change anything. But I can't believe they'll get away with it, while Mario Dumont is leader of the opposition.