Citizen activism is the best way to defeat Bill 60

By Robert Green | Published Saturday Feb 22, 2014 by The Montreal Gazette

There is a conversation about the Parti Québécois government’s proposed charter of Quebec values that I keep having. I’ve had this conversation with both anglophones and francophones, sovereignists and federalists, and politicos and people who hardly follow politics at all.

The conversation is about how this is a political issue unlike any other in recent memory.

People are deeply disturbed by Bill 60.

There is something particularly vile about a government that would so forcefully act to further exclude and alienate groups that are already marginalized in Quebec society. The English Montreal School Board’s parliamentary brief that describes Bill 60 as giving “a government endorsement to bullying” captures well the sentiments of many who oppose the charter.

1381478_605737996132239_2074558526_nWhile most opponents of the charter are extremely clear about the various reasons why they oppose this legislation, they are far less so about how we as citizens should react. There are a range of reactions being proposed, some of which do not seem to me to be very well thought out.

At the extreme end is the threat to leave Quebec.

I can certainly understand why someone might have this impulse. Rejecting things we don’t agree with is a natural instinct. But the reality is that the more opponents of xenophobic politics leave Quebec, the easier it will be for xenophobes to have their way; marginalized groups will become even more vulnerable.

Another common reaction is to trust that the charter will be defeated through the courts.

While it does seem that the vast majority of constitutional experts believe the charter will not withstand a court challenge, nothing is ever sure. We also have to acknowledge that the legal route presents certain risks. If the charter is not struck down in its entirety, such a ruling could provide it another level of political legitimacy. The spectre of a confrontation with the federal Supreme Court, with all of the political implications that entails, also looms. There is therefore a real possibility that even if the PQ loses in the courts it will gain politically, thus entrenching its turn toward the politics of xenophobia.

The option which is not being discussed enough is the citizens of Quebec themselves taking action.

We need to realize that we, as citizens, are not helpless in this situation, and ultimately have the power to render this charter unenforceable should it ever be passed.

The PQ is well aware of these dynamics. This why PQ cabinet minister Bernard Drainville, the minister in charge of the charter, can appear so cocky when brushing off concerns about the charter’s legal feasibility, but then seem a bit more worried when he adamantly insists that the charter’s implementation will go smoothly and that people will just come to accept it. He knows that widespread civil disobedience has the potential to sink both the charter and his party.

This is why the courageous stand taken by institutions such as the EMSB and the Jewish General Hospital to defy the charter is so important. It sends a clear message that the implementation of this law will not go smoothly.

WHS-Against-CharterWe all have the ability to send this message. For example, the teachers at the school where I work held a regular Friday morning picket outside our school throughout last fall, and are about to release a YouTube video offering Premier Pauline Marois a lesson in Quebec values. The possibilities for creative action are endless.

The point is that though we may be feeling disgust and outrage at the proposed law, we cannot let this paralyze us. Nor should we feel paralyzed by the possibility of a PQ victory in what now seems to be a certain spring election. The PQ wining this election — even with a majority — does nothing to change the fact that ultimately we, the citizens of Quebec, have the power to render the implementation of this law difficult if not impossible for the government.

We should all be asking ourselves what we can do to oppose Bill 60 because concerted citizen activism may hold the best possibility for defeating not just the charter, but also the politics of xenophobia in Quebec.

Our last government in Quebec was taken down by the student movement’s Maple Spring. Perhaps we need an Ostentatious Spring to deal with this one.

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