It was inevitable that the York University accommodation case would be compared to the “Charter of Québec Values” controversy. The PQ practically fell over themselves gloating, and saying, “See? See? We were right! This is the kind of controversy our Charter is trying to prevent!”
Luckily, most Canadian pundits are too savvy to fall for that bullshit comparison. In the “3 to Watch” segment of CBC‘s The National on , host Wendy Mesley abandons her journalistic integrity to press the panel to reconsider their unanimous opposition to the Québec Charter – obviously motivated by a desire to do something controversial for ratings. The panel, however, is having none of that. When she asks Adam Goldenberg, Kirby Simon Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School, if he is going to rethink his position, his reply is blunt:
And I also don’t want to give the PQ credit by talking about the two things – the Charter, and the incident at York – in the same sentence.
Fuck yeah, Goldenberg. Props.
He goes on:
They’re very different. At York there is an example of excessive accommodation – of an exemption being made to a rule against discrimination for the sake of one student; an exemption that shouldn’t have been granted.
[The] Québec [Charter] isn’t about religious accommodation. The Québec Charter is about homogenization. It’s about sending the message that if you want to keep your job, you’d better show up at work looking like – basically – a lapsed Catholic.
I don’t think comparing this to Québec helps anyone but the PQ, and it shouldn’t.
I tip my hat to you, sir.
The other two panellists were less than stellar. Both stood firm in their opposition to the Québec Chater despite Mesley’s prodding, but both are obviously out of their league otherwise. Public affairs strategist David Simmonds – who is usually so excellent and insightful – correctly observes that the Québec Charter is
legislating against someone’s identity… but then goes into a meandering monologue about how there’s a difference between that and rules against discrimination, that never quite makes any sense. It’s also completely unrelated to the reality of these situations, where people do – regularly – insist that discriminating against gays or women is part of their identity.
Even worse is Marni Soupcoff, blog editor at Huffington Post Canada. Her response is that it’s all really no big deal and we’re just blowing it out of proportion. After all, the student and the professor came to an agreement, so, hey, reasonable people will always just sort things out. It’s similar to the point that political writer Andrew Coyne makes in the editorial I linked to above, where he says we don’t need the Québec Charter or any kind of accommodation standards, because we can all just use our judgement like reasonable people.
I know Soupcoff and Coyne are both smart people, so it hurts my mind that they can say things that stupid with a straight face. I almost want to pat them both gently on the head and say, “there, there – that’s an adorable ‘opinion’ you have there, but go back to bed and let the grown ups talk now.” Yes, Marni, and yes, Andrew, if only we were all just reasonable people and used good judgement, we wouldn’t need laws or guidelines about accommodating (or not accommodating) religious practices and preferences.
Of course, if only we were all just reasonable people and used good judgement, we wouldn’t need any laws, or even a judicial system, you fucking morons. We could all just get together and discuss what reasonable rules and restrictions would be, and everyone would naturally comply with them because they’re reasonable. But outside of SoupcoffCoyneLand, in the real world, there are many people who are not reasonable, and who make unreasonable demands – like that they won’t want to have to work with women as equals or see that gay people exist. And many of them are not as sanguine as the anonymous York student, and will insist that their unreasonable demands be kowtowed to. We don’t have anti-discrimination laws and guidelines for reasonable people, we have them for the unreasonable ones.
Of these four pundits, only Goldenberg seems to get it. All through Simmonds’s and Soupcoff’s meandering and vapid responses, he was pressing the point that this is a real problem… and we ain’t seen nothing yet. He’s right. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re still too culturally cowardly to face most of these ridiculous requests for accommodation head-on, and too uninformed about what real secularism and real reasonable accommodation are to recognize the Québec Charter is about neither. We’re still too afraid to critically consider religion and question what role it should have in society. Eventually we’re going to have to, but we’re clearly not ready yet.
But let’s at least come to an understanding that making a comparison between cases like the York one and the PQ‘s Charter is ignorant and insulting. No, Mr. Coyne, they’re not “the same thing”. One is a serious, concerning discussion that has to be had about balancing the rights of individuals. The other is just about using legislative bully power to force everyone to look the way Pauline Marois wants them to.