It’s going over so beautifully in Quebec, we should try something similar here. It’s time to talk about a B.C. Charter of Values.
The Parti Québécois has distinguished itself by proposing a law to limit public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols.
It’s being construed in different ways. Some see it as a courageous attempt to shield impressionable taxpayers from seeing crucifixes or having to deal with someone wearing a hijab or niqab. Others see it as a cunning baby step toward curbing the rights of ethnic minorities who don’t view separatism with the same passion that the PQ does.
One of the overlooked reasons it is so controversial is that it covers so many people.
Quebec has public servants the way B.C. has trees. They include a broad swath of society, so hundreds of thousands of people will have to check themselves for obvious displays of religious symbols before they leave for work each morning. Hundreds more will be hired to administer the law.
B.C. has fewer, but they work in an environment that is seething with sectarian strife. So an official requirement of neutrality would be for their own good. One false move in this province when it comes to spiritual issues, like oil pipelines, and you’re on the carpet before you can say “five conditions.”
No area is safe. If you’re wearing a salmon logo, you better make sure it’s not a farmed salmon. People notice this kind of thing.
The media are fixating on the Quebec requirement that people’s faces be visible.
But it’s rare here to see a public employee wearing a veil. The only time B.C. civil servants cover their faces is on election day.
Religious headgear of any sort is a touchy subject. Take Canuck ballcaps, for instance. Try asking someone to remove theirs and you get a quick lesson in how deeply their convictions run. But thousands of people in B.C. come from lands with different cultures and beliefs.
There are even Toronto Maple Leaf fans trying to make lives for themselves here.
Imagine how they feel — standing in a welfare line, say — when they get to the caseworker and find her wearing a Sedin jersey. They deserve to be treated with respect.
Public servants should also be considerate of both sides in the age-old B.C. argument over Gore-Tex vs. Cowichan sweaters. Each side has valid points to make. It’s not for government to decide or promote one over the other. Too many people’s feelings have been hurt already. Public employees should refrain from wearing either while on duty.
One of the most contentious parts of the Quebec bill is the exceptions. The restrictions won’t apply to elected politicians. This is wrong. If politicians are going to start writing secular dress codes, they should live by them, too.
The best part of a charter is how it flushes the federal MPs into taking sides. A B.C. Charter of Values would secularize the public service on all the metaphysical issues that grip B.C. — Lululemon pants, old-growth forests, grow-ops, tattoos on the middle-aged, farmed salmon.
MPs would flock to take sides and B.C. would edge Quebec out of the spotlight to take its rightful place as the centre of attention. Couldn’t happen soon enough.
Les Leyne writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.