Last week, you published two related opinions: the Quebec Community Groups Network’s criticism of Bill 103, which made a case for recognition of the Quebec’s English-speaking minority community and the collective impact of adding an interpretive clause to Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms; and Michael Bergman’s analysis of the impact of the same bill on our individual rights and freedoms. Both articles reinforce each other, and the situation they describe is cause for concern.
There is a tension between the equally important interests of the collective, and protecting and ensuring individual rights and freedoms. In our society’s tradition, resolution of this tension tends to err on the side of the individual. The preamble to the provincial Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms makes clear that, “rights and freedoms of the human person are inseparable from the rights and freedoms of others and from the common well-being.”
Bergman correctly assesses that the changes that Bill 103 proposes to Quebec’s human-rights law are more than significant. They change the foundation of the individual’s relationship with the state. The effects will be most keenly felt by members of Quebec’s English-speaking minority population because members of minority groups are the most likely to need protection under human-rights regimes.
In its brief to the public hearings on Bill 103, Quebec’s Commission des droits de la personne urged the government to separate out those aspects of the bill proposing changes to the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, so that these amendments could be afforded the attention and debate that they deserve. This must happen if the citizens of Quebec hope to continue to possesses intrinsic rights and freedoms designed to ensure their individual protection and development.
Sylvia Martin-Laforge is Director General of the Quebec Community Groups Network