Québec: the Guy-Rocher Secularism Award

June 17, 2021

The Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ) receives the Guy-Rocher Secularism Award!

 The Minister responsible for Secularism and Parliamentary Reform, Mr. Simon Jolin-Barrette, paid tribute to the Mouvement laïque québécois by awarding it the very first Guy-Rocher Secularism Prize on May 16 at the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec in Montreal.

 Here is the speech of the President of the MLQ, Mr. Daniel Baril, presented at the ceremony.

Monsieur le ministre Simon Jolin-Barrette

 Ladies and gentlemen of the jury

 Dear guests

I would like to thank Minister Jolin-Barrette, first and foremost, for having created this secularism award. We believe that this initiative shows the government’s determination not to keep secularism under wraps, not to give in and to defend it against the vicious attacks it is currently facing. We are delighted.

Thank you to Mr. Guy Rocher, with whom I had the honour and pleasure of drafting the Declaration for a Secular and Pluralist Quebec, on which the collective Les intellectuels pour la laïcité was founded.

Thank you to Mrs. Marie-Anne Alepin, President of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, and to Mrs. Micheline Labelle for having sponsored and recommended the candidacy of the Mouvement laïque québécois. Finally, I would like to thank the jury, which certainly cannot be accused of not reflecting diversity, for having selected the Mouvement laïque’s candidacy for this very first prize for secularism.

The Mouvement laïque québécois was created 40 years ago specifically to demand legal recognition of the secular nature of the State in Quebec. It is the only civil society association created specifically for this purpose. We see the awarding of the Guy-Rocher prize as fair recognition of the work accomplished over the years by all those who have succeeded one another at the head of the Secular Movement to make this democratic, republican and anti-racist objective a reality, now concretised with Bill 21.

It would take too long to name all these people, but I would like to highlight the remarkable work of some of its representatives, without whom the MLQ would not be what it has been up to now. First of all, Mr. Henri Laberge, a friend and fellow traveller of Guy Rocher, with whom he worked on the drafting of the Charter of the French Language, and whose thinking has been of inestimable theoretical and philosophical value to the MLQ, where he was first an advisor and then president between 1993 and 2005.

I would also like to highlight the tireless contribution of Mr. Luc Alarie, who has been a faithful legal advisor to the MLQ since its founding, and who obtained a resounding victory in the Supreme Court of Canada by having the religious neutrality of the State recognized more than ever (2015). He continues to fight this battle in the present defence of the Loi sur la laïcité de l’État (Bill 21), some of whose foundations – including “real and apparent neutrality” – are supported by the unanimous Supreme Court decision MLQ v. Saguenay.

Also worthy of note is the determination of Ms. Lucie Jobin, the current vice-president of the MLQ, who has been at the helm of the presidency for the past 10 years. I would like to pay tribute to these people. The honour of this secularism award reflects on all those who have put their shoulder to the wheel and who have made the principles of secularism shine far beyond the circle of the Mouvement laïque québécois.

During these 40 years, we have been involved in all the causes where the question of secularism was an issue, producing more than thirty briefs related to as many bills, parliamentary commissions or other public commissions. First and foremost, our interventions concerning the deconfessionalization of the school system, of course, but not only this issue. We intervened in particular in the fight for the right to abortion alongside Dr. Henri Morgentaler, for the right to same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court of Canada, on the place of Quebec within the confederation, on the eruv case in Outremont, and of course on Bills 60, 62, 59, 96 and 21, always to demand the secularity of the State.

Bill 21, for which we are currently fighting, is not the complete and ultimate expression of the secularism of the State. Nevertheless, it is an essential piece that goes so far as to create new law by granting the right to secular public institutions. It is based on clear and limpid principles that we have always put forward and will continue to put forward:

-the separation of the State and religions

-the religious neutrality of the State

-the equality of all citizens

-freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

The most fundamental of these principles is that of freedom of conscience, the others being corollaries of this one.

The recognition of freedom of conscience leads to the recognition and protection of freedom of religion, which requires a strict separation of the State and religions and the subordination of religious rules to civil laws. This separation ensures the equality of religions in the eyes of the law, which prohibits any rule favouring one or other of the convictions in matters of religion.

The strict separation of the State and religions also requires a “real and apparent neutrality” of public institutions, as recalled by the Supreme Court of Canada and as prescribed by Law 21.

Secularism is, in fact, a way of managing diversity that ensures equal rights for all. Properly understood, secularism is thus one of the elements in the fight against racism, whatever its opponents may say.

The inequalities deplored by opponents of this republican secularism are not the result of secularism; these inequalities are those of religions among themselves and of the unequal rules they create among their own adherents. The secular state does not have to adapt to these conceptions of human relations but to create conditions that favour the emancipation and dignity of each and every person.

Secularism relies on universal humanist values that unify the human race rather than on particularisms that divide citizens from each other and that are conducive to exclusion and social ghettos. These values, such as ethnic equality, gender equality, freedom of conscience, and the appeal to reason, are values that stem from the Enlightenment and are not unique to the West, as some would have us believe. They are values that can be found among all peoples, values that underpin dignity, and secularism expresses them all.

I know that you know all this. May the rest of Canada understand it and make it its own.

Mr. Minister, thank you very much for this recognition and this great honour bestowed on the Mouvement laïque québécois.

Daniel Baril, President

 Mouvement laïque québécois

 June 16, 2021

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 The press release from the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec: The Government of Quebec presents the first Guy-Rocher Secularism Award (http://link.whc.ca/…/a4bb555df644fce44509d91bda89ae25b6…)

*** Translated by Michel Virard with the considerable help of www.DeepL.com/Translator  ***

Note from the translator: Daniel Baril is also a Director of the Humanist Association of Québec

Michel Virard