Politics
Religious groups unanimously pan Quebec religious-symbol ban

Minister Bernard Drainville presents the Charter of Quebec values

Credits: TVA screengrab

QMI AGENCY

MONTREAL - Deep divisions emerged Tuesday as Quebec introduced a bill that would bar "conspicuous" religious symbols among civil servants.

The Parti Quebecois said its bill would entrench "religious neutrality" in the provincial charter of rights.

Islamic headscarves, crucifixes, Sikh turbans and Jewish skullcaps would be banned if they are "plainly visible."

"Smaller" religious symbols would be permitted.

No one would be allowed to offer government services with their faces covered, a reference to the Islamic burka and niqab.

Quebec would also end its practice of allowing employees to take paid leave for religious reasons.

"It's a very good day for Quebec," Bernard Drainville, the minister in charge of the file, told a news conference.

MORE: Federal Tories ready to fight Quebec"It's time to rally around clear rules and shared values "‹"‹that will put an end to the tensions and misunderstandings."

Polls indicate a majority of French Quebecers support restrictions on religious symbols while English and minority groups are largely against the measures.

The proposed law would apply to all government departments as well as daycares, schools, hospitals and police forces.

Community colleges and universities would also be covered by the ban but would be eligible for a "right of withdrawal" that's renewable every five years.

Historic Christian symbols such as crucifixes displayed in the Quebec legislature would not be touched.

While French Quebecers expressed near-unanimous support for the bill on call-in shows Tuesday, religious groups were outraged.

Balpreet Singh of the Ottawa-based World Sikh Organization of Canada said Sikh men are being asked to choose between their religion or their jobs.

"What the PQ is focussed on doing is targeting minorities," he said. "The Sikh community in Quebec is very nervous about this."

Singh said the bill is unconstitutional but he admitted Quebec could invoke the notwithstanding clause to overturn any court challenge.

Harvey Levine, Quebec director for B'Nai Brith Canada, called on French Quebecers to reject the ban.

"We feel confident that the Quebecois population will recognize that this charter of so-called values is really not necessary."

The third party in the Quebec legislature, the CAQ, has said it supports a limited ban on religious symbols among certain public servants.

But political analyst Jean Lapierre said Tuesday that he's certain the bill will not pass before the next general election.

Such a move would give Premier Pauline Marois a chance to sell her secularism charter to French voters who are crucial to any majority government in the province.

 

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