[WATCH] New equality law will create commission that can ‘bite’ at discrimination - Rosianne Cutajar

Xtra on TVM | Opposition spokesperson Claudette Buttigieg says the pursuit for equality must not stifle diversity in debate with Equality Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar

Equality Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar
Equality Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar

Equality legislation being debated in parliament will create a new commission that “will not just bark but can also bite”, Rosianne Cutajar said.

The Equality Parliamentary Secretary said the new commission will fill the gap related to enforcement.

The members of this commission shall be elected by a two-thirds parliamentary majority and its structure will empower victims of discrimination since they will not even haveto hire the services of a lawyer to open a case.

“Victims can simply appear in front of the commission’s board and state their own case… in contrast to the traditional court system where the onus is on the accuser to prove the other party’s guilt, the new Equality Commission will also see the onus of proof shift to the accused, who will now have to justify his actions and prove his innocence,” Cutajar said.

She was speaking in a debate with Opposition equality spokesperson Claudette Buttigieg on TVM’s Xtra.

Opposition equality spokesperson Claudette Buttigieg
Opposition equality spokesperson Claudette Buttigieg

Cutajar said the new equality law would bring together existing legislation, create a level playing field and cover various aspects of discrimination, including that based on gender, race, religious belief, sexual orientation and disability.

The law will protect against discrimination in all spheres of life, she added.

Asked by presenter Saviour Balzan as to the status of religious symbols like crucifixes and the situation involving religious schools, Cutajar said religious symbols will not be banned.

“The ethos of church schools is protected. We understand that in church schools there should be the crucifix,” she said, adding that the crucifix had a cultural value that cannot be questioned. 

The Parliamentary Secretary also pointed out that there are further exceptions where faith schools are involved, such as in the case of teachers of religion, and even heads of schools. 

“I understand that if you are applying to teach religion in a church school, you have to be a Christian, but I can’t understand why a Maths teacher should be discriminated against on the basis of his faith,” she said.

However, Buttigieg noted that the removal of religious symbols had initially been included with the Bill, before it was amended. 

The Nationalist MP observed that the Bill was still in at committee stage, and had to be amended further to rectify certain aspects that were met with harsh criticism.

Buttigieg said the Opposition believed people had to be at the centre of politics and so was in favour of strong laws on equality.

However, she observed that the government could have chosen to amend existing laws instead of implementing new ones and what had been missing until now was proper enforcement.

Buttigieg also cautioned that in the pursuit of equality, diversity also had to be respected.

“The thing which worries most people is that the difference between equality and uniformity is not always clear. We need to respect each other and the fact that we are different – that is a fundamental principle. In equality, there is diversity,” she said. 

Morning-after pill

Referring to a recent investigation carried out by MaltaToday, which revealed how only an average of 64% of pharmacies opening on Sunday stocked the morning-after pill, Cutajar said this was unacceptable.

“I believe that every pharmacy in Malta should sell the morning-after pill. I respect pharmacists but just like they have no conscientious objection to sell contraceptives like condoms, they should have no conscientious objection to sell the morning-after pill. Pharmacists are there to provide a service, not to impose their morals on others,” she said.