Philosopher Charles Taylor ’46, one of the best-known graduates of Selwyn House School, spoke on Sept 28 at a Montreal rally in protest against the Quebec government’s proposed Bill 21, which forbids public employees in Quebec from wearing religious symbols.
Speaking on a drizzly afternoon in Parc Extension, Charles told the crowd that, “The whole principle of this kind of demonstration is to show our solidarity for all Quebecers, no matter what their background, and it’s with that kind of solidarity that we’re going to win this fight.”
At the Sept 28 rally, Charles was joined on stage by Quebec teachers who oppose Bill 21.
In 2007, Charles made headlines in Quebec as co-chair of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission to study the accomodation of cultural minorities into Quebec society. The Bouchard–Taylor report recommended that judges, Crown prosecutors, prison guards and police officers refrain from wearing any religious attire or symbols, and recommended that the crucifix in the National Assembly be removed to another part of the building.
In 2017, Charles stated that he no longer supported that opinion, and said it was misinterpreted by many politicians. The Bouchard–Taylor report deliberately did not include teachers, civil servants and health-care professionals among those who should be forbidden to wear religious symbols.
Born in 1931 in Montreal, Charles attended Selwyn House from 1941 to 1946. He graduated from McGill, and won the Rhodes Scholarship that took him to Oxford, where he earned a second BA and a PhD in philosophy. He returned to McGill to teach, but has also held professorships at other universities in the U.S., Britain and Germany.
Outside the academic community, Charles is remembered in Montreal for having run unsuccessfully in four federal elections on the NDP ticket. In 1965 he finished second to a political upstart named Pierre Trudeau. The two men were friends who often debated political issues, particularly Quebec’s role as a distinct society.
Through books such as Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, Charles has come to be regarded as one of the most influential philosophers working today. Known for his ability to synthesize disparate ideas, Charles has long argued that “the barriers between science and spirituality are not only ungrounded, but are also crippling.”
Brought up in an intellectually stimulating, bilingual household, Charles and his sister, Selwyn House parent and former McGill Chancellor the late Gretta Chambers, grew up discussing such issues from both sides of the cultural divide.
“Almost everything I have done has been shaped by where I come from,” Charles said in 2009.
Charles is a recipient of the Templeton Prize, the Prix Lon-Grin, a grand officer in the Order of Quebec and a companion of the Order of Canada.