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The CAQ’s bill on religious symbols has triggered criticisms from many defenders of minority rights.
Clifford Lincoln famously resigned from the Quebec government many years ago over another bill that threatened minority rights.
The issue back then was Bill 178 – enacted by the Bourassa government using the notwithstanding clause to maintain Quebec’s French-only sign law after it had been declared unconstitutional.
“There is no such thing as inside rights and outside rights,” Lincoln said in his now-famous ‘rights’ speech – followed by his resignation from the Bourassa cabinet.
Three decades later, Lincoln says he is even more dismayed with Bill 21, and the CAQ’s intention to use the notwithstanding clause.
Lincoln says in 1988, the Bourassa government could fairly make the case that it invoked the notwithstanding clause to avoid a social crisis over the very heated issue of language.
But he believes that with Bill 21 – that is not the case.
“In this case there’s no social emergency or crisis at large,” he said. “I think it’s a bitter irony that this new government chose as priority number one – of all the issues to address – to pick one where there is no problem. It’s a solution in search of a problem. It’s purely a political move.”
He fears using the notwithstanding clause could lead to bigger problems.
”It would be a tragedy, a shame to use that clause so haphazardly,” Lincoln explained. “So that you almost send a signal that it means nothing to use that clause. And so other governments will be tempted to do the same under the least pretext. I think that in itself sends a terrible message.”
Another terrible message, in Lincoln’s view, is that the CAQ began its mandate focusing so heavily on new arrivals.
The party first announced its intention to throw out the files of 18,000 would-be immigrants, and then tabled a law that would restrict some from getting jobs in the public service.
“Instead of sending a signal of an open society that welcomes…that wants to be all-embracing. You send a signal of a very restrictive ethnocentric society that doesn’t want to see others,” Lincoln explained.
“It sends a very, very unfortunate signal to people of don’t come to Quebec,” he added.
To Lincoln it all comes back to the same issue that made him resign his seat three decades ago.
“Once you start to address fundamental rights of people, it’s like treading around in shifting sands. Where do you start where do you stop?”
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