Bill 21: Quebec bans religious symbols for government employees
The CAQ government once again resorted to closure to push through legislation restricting the rights of Quebecers.
The legislation passed with a vote of 73 for, 35 against, with the Parti Quebecois supporting the CAQ, while the Liberals and Quebec Solidaire opposed it.
Bill 21 bans government employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, including judges, police officers, and teachers. It also prevents anyone with a covered face from receiving government services.
Immigration and Diversity Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette made last-minute amendments to the legislation that will punish those who refuse to comply. Those amendments were never debated and had never previously been mentioned by the government.
The legislation invokes the notwithstanding clause, which shields it from certain court challenges for five years, however multiple court challenges are already planned.
Facing opposition from both within the province and across Canada, Premier Francois Legault said he's standing firm to protect the province.
"The vast majority of Quebecers want religious signs to be forbidden for certain groups of employees and that's what I'm doing," Legault said.
"People from the rest of Canada may be in disagreement with that, but I think that I'm working for Quebecers."
The minister in charge of the bill, Jolin-Barrette, argued that Bill 21 is a moderate, "progressive" bill which will finally put a decades-old debate over religious symbols to rest.
"Because you have the right, with the bill, to have secular public services," Jolin-Barrette explained.
Liberal MNA Helene David, opposition critic for secularism, told reporters a Liberal government would not renew the legislation.
"We will see in five years what we will do," she said. "There are strong chances we will want to repeal (the law)."
The legislation has come under fire from both Quebec Solidaire and the Liberals, who say that the bill will only serve to alienate minority groups in the province – especially Muslim women.
"Many, many minorities will feel that they are not Quebecers anymore; that they are not part of the society because we don't give them the permission to teach because they wear a veil," David said.
With files from Maya Johnson