Senate unanimously rejects provisions of the Charter of Values

McGill’s Senate unanimously and enthusiastically voted to condemn portions of the Quebec government’s Bill 60, the proposed legislation to enact the much-discussed Charter of Values after Principal Suzanne Fortier had kicked off an open discussion on the subject at the regular November meeting on Wednesday.
Photo: John Kelsey
Photo: John Kelsey

By Doug Sweet

McGill’s Senate unanimously and enthusiastically voted to condemn portions of the Quebec government’s Bill 60, the proposed legislation to enact the much-discussed Charter of Values after Principal Suzanne Fortier had kicked off an open discussion on the subject at the regular November meeting on Wednesday.

None spoke in defence of the Charter, which has drawn wide criticism from a variety of groups, including McGill’s affiliated hospitals, for its proposed ban on the wearing of conspicuous religious dress or accoutrements, such as Muslim hijabs, Jewish kippahs and Sikh turbans, by public servants.

Fortier noted that she had issued a statement critical of aspects of the Charter back in September and the subsequent proposed legislation not only still contains provisions prohibiting religious symbols but defines a limited time for public institutions to adapt the bill’s provisions and does not permit, as had been earlier expected, a provision for institutions to opt out.

The Principal noted that public hearings on the bill begin in January. “I believe that McGill and the McGill community should use the opportunity to make our views known,” she said. “If we’re going to make a presentation, it is important that we have the views of Senate.”

The bill, noted Line Thibault, the University’s general counsel, who presented a legal overview of the legislation, seems in general to be aligned with the values of the University, in terms of its aim of declaring the state to be religiously neutral, but there are areas where it doesn’t line up with the University’s values.

Those have mainly to do with the prohibition of the wearing of religious symbols.

The discussion that followed was often punctuated by applause as one senator after another condemned the proposed legislation.

“It is of utmost importance for McGill as an institution to not only resist the proposals put forward in Bill 60 but to speak against them,” said student Senator and former SSMU vice-president Haley Dinel, a student in the Faculty of Religious Studies. “The issue is not of political persuasion but about protecting the rights of our community.”

Dinel, who described the proposed legislation as Islamophobic, said it shouldn’t matter what her professors, in any subject, wear.

She used the hypothetical example of a female Muslim professor teaching microbiology while wearing a head scarf, or hijab. “Why does a symbol of her faith preclude her from sharing her knowledge? How does it inhibit my learning?

I therefore encourage my university to not only speak against this Bill, but put every effort forward to ensure that it does not pass.”

Dean of the Faculty of Religious Studies Ellen Aitken, wearing a Christian cross that would doubtless be defined as ostentatious by whatever body would enforce the law, began by saying she supports the parts of Bill 60 that refer to the secularism of the state, but that “the provisions of Bill 60 with regard to religion are chilling and deeply disturbing. They are also, as many have already recognized, a serious encroachment upon the academic and personal freedoms of McGill faculty, staff, and students.”

Religious identity and its expression are integral to a person, Aitken said.

“For religious traditions where observance includes wearing visible symbols the requirement for their removal is deeply offensive and amounts to a requirement to erase one’s religious identity – and indeed a requirement to do the impossible.

She also pointed out that the proposed bill has probably already inhibited some potential international professors and students from coming to Quebec, because it seeks to impose a narrow secularism on society rather than a more attractive “rich secularism” that values religious and cultural pluralism.

Fortier proposed a motion that would have the Senate support the secular nature of Bill 60 but strongly object to the section governing the wearing of religious symbols, “which runs contrary to the University’s mission and values.”

But a number of senators wanted stronger language and there ensued a discussion on how to toughen the motion.

Finally Dean of Law Daniel Jutras proposed that the motion simply direct its condemnation to references to the prohibition of religious symbols without making reference to specific sections of the bill. He also proposed that Senate take the unusual step of also passing an identical motion in French:

“Be it resolved that while the McGill Senate supports the secular spirit of Bill 60, it strongly objects to the restrictions on the right to wear religious symbols, as described in the draft legislation, which run contrary to the University’s mission and values.”

When the question was called, it was hard to tell how the senators could have held their voting cards any higher.


SENATE SIDEBAR: Moreau to Senate: KPIs are constantly evolving

By Neale McDevitt

Pierre Moreau, Executive Director (Planning and Institutional Analysis) and Senior Advisor (Policy Development), gave a presentation to Senate on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Moreau presented McGill’s KPI “scorecard,” which listed the University’s 22 KPIs, as approved by the Board of Governors last spring. “These KPIs measure five key areas of McGill’s performance,” said Moreau, “students; academic excellence; research and international relations; administration and finance; and philanthropy and governance.”

Fourteen of the University’s KPIs have been imposed upon Quebec universities by the provincial government, the rest are McGill-specific, adopted internally after a lengthy procedure. “The process started in 2009, when the Board of Governors asked the Principal to define indicators that would capture McGill’s performance at a very high level,” said Moreau. “That request triggered a plethora of reflections, meetings, discussions with large amounts of people [from across the University] including the executive team, … Deans, Chairs and Directors… Faculty Councils, etc.”

In addition, the KPI process was linked to a similar exercise occurring with colleagues at CREPUQ (the council of rectors and principals of Quebec universities) and ultimately informed the Entente de partenariat with the Government of Quebec. “The work to come up with these 22 KPIs was not done in isolation,” said Moreau. “It was a constant challenge to keep the number of indicators under 30. At one point we were at 89.”

Moreau pointed out there were some discrepancies between McGill’s data and those of the government, noting that the University doesn’t have free access to all government information. As well, the government doesn’t always see things eye-to-eye with the University.

“We can look at the graduation rate as an example,” said Moreau. “If a student at McGill goes to Concordia and finishes there, Quebec will count it as a graduate from McGill. But we need to look at straight-up graduates from McGill.”

Following his presentation, Moreau was asked if, like a number of constituencies around the world, McGill was considering moving from performance indicators, to outcome indicators, Moreau said the current list of 22 KPIs is a flexible document.

“Initially the issue for us was to come to an agreement for a set of performance indicators because the [government] was imposing 14 of them, and we decided to stay at that level,” said Moreau. “But we had a list of [outcome indicators]. Remember, this is the first version and it can certainly be transformed. This is a work in progress.”

Other topics on the Senate agenda included a lengthy discussion of the University’s new parameters for class scheduling that determines when and where faculty members will teach, and the steps McGill is currently taking to address a variety of equity issues on campus. To access the documents that were presented at the Nov. 20 Senate session, go here.