Opinion: Shachi Kurl's precarious and astonishing debate question was twisted and insipid
Published Friday, September 17, 2021 3:42PM EDT Last Updated Friday, September 17, 2021 5:47PM EDT
MONTREAL -- During the English-language federal leaders' debate held on Sept. 9, 2021, Yves-François Blanchet was asked a surprising question by moderator Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid polling firm.
In fact, it was a twisted, insipid question, full of dubious amalgams, inaccuracies and imprecision.
It is shameful that the media consortium that organized this debate did not dissociate itself from this affront to all Quebecers.
In response, the host and the consortium referred to the Superior Court judgment of April 20, 2021, which we will discuss below.
Let's go back to this question: “You deny that Quebec has problems with racism. Yet you defend legislation such as bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones, and allophones. For those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws.”
First, let us note that if it is true that Quebec was recognized as a distinct society by a resolution adopted by the House of Commons of Canada on Dec. 11, 1995, it is indeed as a nation that the Québécois and Québécoises were recognized by this same House on Nov. 27, 2006.
Incidentally, this did not prevent the English Montreal School Board from recently challenging the existence of a Quebec nation.
It quickly changed its mind, stating that it simply wanted to ensure that Quebec's anglophones were included in this concept of "nation".
The English Montreal Commission can rest assured that the Quebec nation is inclusive, plural, modern and open.
More precisely, the Quebec nation includes all those who, regardless of their origin, religion or language, love Quebec and wish to see it progress and grow.
As for Law 21 (it is a law and not a bill per se), it deals with the secularity of the State. In his judgment of April 20, 2021, Justice Marc-André Blanchard declared certain provisions in Law 21 inoperative (i.e. of no force or effect) on the grounds that they violated section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (eligibility to stand for election to the Parliament or a legislature) and section 23 of the Charter (right to minority official language education).
Certainly, some passages in Justice Blanchard's decision lead us to believe that there are even many more provisions of Law 21 that he would have invalidated but for the use of notwithstanding clauses.
Indeed, according to Blanchard, many of the provisions of Law 21 do not comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and do not pass the test of section 1 of the Canadian Charter, i.e. do not pass the test of an infringement of rights and freedoms that is reasonable and justifiable in a free and democratic society.
It should be noted, however, that the Attorney General of Quebec did not feel it necessary to provide evidence or make a showing under section 1 of the Charter, because of the presence of the overriding provisions in Law 21. This strategic decision could be rationally explained.
One would look in vain for the words "racism" and "racist" in Blanchard's judgment.
Indeed, there is an important distinction between a racist law and a discriminatory law.
The former is based on the ideology that certain "races" are superior to others, or reflects an inherently hostile attitude towards a certain class of people.
The second distinguishes between beings on the basis of different criteria or characteristics.
For example, the Election Act discriminates against those under the age of 18 (by not allowing them to vote), but it is not racist.
Kurl's linkage of racism and discrimination in her question to Blanchet is therefore dishonest and insidious.
To say or imply that a law is racist is a serious accusation. It is even more serious when it is an entire nation that is being discussed.
As for Bill 96, it has never been the subject of a court decision to date.
The aforementioned ruling by Blanchard does not apply to this bill. It is therefore rather presumptuous to declare that this bill is discriminatory or even to suggest that it is racist at this stage.
Benoît Pelletier is a lawyer, a former Liberal member of the National Assembly of Quebec, and a professor at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law.