ASSÉ Against the Charter of Values

Student Federation Votes to Oppose Bill 60 at Weekend Congress

ASSÉ, the most radical of Quebec’s three major student federations, has taken a stance against the proposed Charter of Quebec Values. Photo Corey Pool

Months after Montreal’s four universities publicly voiced their opposition to the Charter of Quebec Values, the most militant of Quebec’s student federations—the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante—has now decided its official position on the proposed legislation.

The 30 student associations present at ASSÉ’s congress last weekend voted to oppose the Parti Québécois government’s charter, also known as Bill 60.

The charter “is attempting to use feminism for electoral purposes,” according to ASSÉ co-spokesperson Justin Arcand.

“This bill directly attacks the right to work of thousands of women in Quebec, and considering that pay equity has still not been achieved, this only reinforces their precarity,” Arcand said.

The charter—which has not yet been passed in Quebec’s National Assembly—seeks to ban public sector employees from wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols such as turbans, hijabs, niqabs, kippas and large crosses or crucifixes.

“The charter is very obviously [aimed at] visible minorities for whom it’s part of their culture, part of their religious expression to have visible religious signs,” ASSÉ co-spokesperson Benjamin Gingras told The Link. “It’s actually part of a sexist assault against women, especially migrant women.

“The PQ is, of course, following an austerity regime in Quebec,” he continued. “Women are the most susceptible to these austerity measures. […] The charter basically is kind of a smokescreen hiding all of it, distracting from important issues regarding healthcare, regarding education, regarding the entire social infrastructure here in Quebec.

“That, in and of itself, is sexist; it’s a step backwards with regards to the equality of men and women.”

ASSÉ couldn’t take a position on the charter sooner because its member associations first had to debate and vote on their own positions within their general assemblies, Gingras said.

Of all the faculty and departmental student associations at Concordia, only the School of Community and Public Affairs Student Association is currently a member of ASSÉ.

The Concordia Student Union is a member of the other major federation representing university students in the province, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec. The FEUQ has not taken a firm stance on the charter.

Instead of coming out explicitly against the charter, the FEUQ adopted a statement at its last congress on Jan. 25 and 26 that expresses concern over the “deterioration of the social climate” and the issues surrounding the charter’s implementation in the workplace, “principally in the university context.”

The statement also stated that the FEUQ deplores the specific situations of intimidation or discrimination that people have experienced in the context of the debate on Bill 60.

CSU VP External Caroline Bourbonnière said the CSU tried to put forward a motion that would give the FEUQ a mandate to take a stand against the charter.

“The majority of the members were against taking a position for various reasons,” Bourbonnière told The Link.

She said some student associations see the bill as political posturing and “want to rise above it,” but the main reason why they chose not to take a tougher stance was “because many of their students are divided on the issue.”

Former FEUQ president Martine Desjardins has publicly expressed her support for a secular charter, and is currently considering an offer from the PQ to run as a candidate under their banner in the next election.