If Quebec charter passes, employees more likely to fight back than cave: poll

Canadians split on charter


The Parti Quebecois’ uphill battle may be steeper than it realizes. While its charter banning public employees from wearing religious clothing, like turbans, is unlikely to pass through the legislature any time soon, implementation would be a war of its own even if it did, according to a new poll conducted by Forum Research on behalf of Canadian Business.

Among Canadians who would be affected by a restriction on religious clothing and symbols, more say they would fight the ban than accommodate it. While 51% of Canadians say a ban wouldn’t affect them, 14% would refuse to comply and 10% would bring legal action. Only 11% would comply unwillingly and 5% would quit.

Supriya Dwivedi, a regular contributor to Montreal’s CJAD 800 and The Globe and Mail, expects class-action lawsuits and complaints to Quebec’s human rights commission if the charter is enacted. “And given the nature of Quebeckers being very fond of taking their cause to the streets, I would expect marches and protests.”

Dwivedi says Quebec, which already struggles to retain its immigrants, would also face an even greater exodus of workers.

For now, the PQ has a minority legislature and a disapproving federal government to overcome. Ottawa has said it will intervene if necessary, a move backed by a majority of Canadians (57%), according to the new Forum Research survey. Atlantic Canada, long a Liberal stronghold, most strongly favours intervention.

But the poll also found 43% of Canadians approve the controversial charter. Almost as many, 42%, say they are uncomfortable being served by someone in a turban, hijab or yarmulke in a public-sector setting. The number for private-sector settings is similar: 38%. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the charter is most popular in Quebec.

Dwivedi suggests a lot of damage has already been done. “This charter and the ensuing rhetoric have made all visible minorities very aware of how a large segment of the Quebec population perceives them,” she says. “Who would want to stay in a society that is overtly unwelcoming?”

The Poll

1) Approval of Charter: ‘Quebec has proposed a Charter of Values to promote secularism, which would prohibit public servants from wearing religious clothing and symbols. Do you approve or disapprove of this proposal?’

Approve strongly 28%
Approve 15
Disapprove 22
Disapprove strongly 27
Don’t know 7

2) Religious Symbols on Employees: ‘Do you agree or disagree that there are circumstances where an employer could restrict the wearing of religious symbols by employees?’

Agree strongly 34%
Agree 30
Disagree 18
Disagree strongly 13
Don’t know 4

3) Religious Clothing at Work: ‘If your employer were permitted to restrict religious clothing or symbols in the workplace, how would you respond?’

No effect 51%
Quit your job 5
Comply against your will 11
Refuse at the risk of being fired 14
Take legal action 10
Do something else 4
Don’t know 5

4) Religious Clothing in a Private Sector: ‘Do you agree or disagree you feel uncomfortable when served or attended to by a private sector employee wearing a turban, a hijab or a yarmulke or other religious clothing or symbols in a retail setting like a store or restaurant?’

Agree strongly 24%
Agree 14
Disagree 26
Disagree strongly 28
Don’t know 8

5) Religious Clothing in Public Sector: ‘Do you agree or disagree you feel uncomfortable when served or attended to by a government employee wearing a turban, a hijab or a yarmulke or other religious clothing or symbols in a government institution like a school or hospital?’

Agree strongly 28%
Agree 14
Disagree 25
Disagree strongly 27
Don’t know 5

6) Federal Government Intervening Quebec: ‘Do you agree or disagree that the federal government should intervene if the Quebec government enacts the Charter of Quebec Values?’

Agree strongly 37%
Agree 20
Disagree 18
Disagree strongly 14
Don’t know 10