By now, the proposed Quebec Charter of Values has been the talk of the country for over a month and needs little to no introduction. Community organizations have been buzzing as well, including interesting internal discussions at COCo. We wanted to share with you our interrogations around the decision process to take a stance on current political issues, and why we see questions we should be raising as community organizations on this specific topic.
Taking a Stance
A lot of community organizations are mobilizing in reaction to the proposal. Has your organization been discussing the Charter of Values? Are your discussions informal or work-related? Has it considered taking a stance? We’re interested in discussing the process that leads to community organizations taking a stance on such an issue, and what that process, or a self-examination of that process, could mean for your organizational health.
You won’t find a lack of reasons to take a stance on this issue, either in topics your org works on (religious rights, gender equality, worker rights, access to public services), the values and mission of your organization, the values and interests of the communities you work with, or even by solidarity for groups more directly targeted.
Once this organizational interest was identified however, how do you make the decision whether or not to take a stance? Who makes the decision (staff, board, director, members, etc.), what does the process involve (consulting, voting, consensus, etc.), what do you take into account (existing policies, organization’s mission, charitable status, etc.). Did you already have a process laid out (an advocacy policy for instance)?
If you’ve been having these talks, what can you say about the quality and efficiency of those exchanges and discussion? Are there ways the process went particularly well, or where communications broke down? Important discussions can sometimes polarize groups, and it’s important to remind ourselves they don’t always have to be debates. We should always ask if we have a space within our own community organization to have these discussions in a healthy manner, in a process conducive to producing outcomes that we can feel comfortable standing behind. And if not, do you want there to be one, and what can you do to create it?
Whatever direction your discussions go on this topic, it’s always a good idea to make sure your process is ensuring healthy organizing practices such as allowing people to express concerns and ensuring the respect of participants with diverging opinions. It’s always possible to have a talk with COCo about healthy organizing for your group.
Paying Close Attention to the Charter of Values
It’s already been made clear that the Charter of Values will have a much larger scope than access to public services and the workplace of public servants, such as in its application to subsidized daycares, which are not government run but still government funded.
As a major employer in Quebec, the way the government treats its employees sets precedents for other employers. The Charter of Values proposal explicitly aims at actively giving guidelines to employers on how to deal with religious accommodation requests. Those not in a union or in an autonomous workplace see their work conditions as very much subject to the arbitrary decisions of their employer, and the latter’s interpretations of what is acceptable in our society. It might be a good idea to weigh in to make sure that interpretation is creating the workplaces we want to see.
Equal access to employment across religions is a major social justice issue, and the impact of this proposal by the Quebec government could impact many workplaces beyond the public sector. We also feel a particular concern for many groups community organizations work with being sent a message turning them away from using important government services and from joining the public service.
As community organizations, we may need to raise a particular concern. Aspects of the proposal aim to apply to anyone providing or receiving a state service. As community organizations, we should be insisting to know what this means. Will receiving a public grant and core funding count as receiving a state service, or will the carrying out of publicly funding projects count as providing one?
Finally, a lot of questions about the approach can be asked. Are we confident that concentrating on workspace attire (rather than say religions symbols adorning public property) is the proper approach to ensure the respect of liberty of religion and conscience and the neutrality of the state? Shouldn’t we be concerned that certain religions are being targeted more specifically, because their practice tends to promote more conspicuous religious symbols. And the same goes for genders being unequally targeted. No one speaks of the religious importance of facial hair. There have been many requests for other forms of government action on the topic of gender and religious equality which the government has not been addressing. These other questions would have to be looked into if we wanted to move towards a holistic Anti-Oppression approach.
Getting back to COCo
If you found kinks in your process talking about these issues within your organization, are wondering about adopting an advocacy policy, wonder if you should incorporate Anti-Oppression approaches in the way you do your work, feel free to get back to us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CentredesOrganismesCommunautaires or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org