CAQ readying legislation to ban religious symbols for public employees
The CAQ is talking about religious symbols as it prepares for a new session at the National Assembly.
The party’s caucus is debating strategy behind closed doors in Gatineau, including the government's signature plan to ban the wearing of religious symbols for some provincial employees.
Premier Francois Legault said it's important to send a message that people in authority, such as police officers, judges, Crown prosecutors, and teachers must not wear religious symbols when on the job.
“We will ban religious signs for four groups of people. That won't change,” said Legault.
It's a controversial move that's been debated in Quebec for more than a decade, and even the people who wrote a report suggesting the idea are no longer in favour of a ban on religious symbols.
Many Coalition Avenir Quebec MNAs said they are wondering how the Quebec population would react to the idea that people would be fired because they wear hijabs, crosses, or other symbols of their faith – and so a grandfather clause is also being discussed to protect current employees.
"You have arguments for, and arguments against. Must we have a different position for new employees than for old employees? Must we fire people that have been hired without this requirement?" said Legault.
"It's not black or white. There are good arguments for both positions. That's why I want to listen to our 75 MNAs to see where the population is on this position."
The majority of MNAs seemed uncomfortable discussing the issue, and most deferred to Simon Jolin-Barrette, the MNA who is responsible for drafting and tabling the anti-religion legislation.
Iberville MNA Claire Samson, though, said a grandfather clause would not be welcome in her riding on the South Shore.
“The people in my riding tell me when I meet them and when I ask the question. They'd rather have no exception… They feel that we've taken religion out of the schools 50 years ago, and it's not its place,” she said.
Legault said the proposed legislation would apply to public schools, but not private ones and that he believes his government is striking a balance.
“I understand that some people are racist and they would like to ban all religious signs in Quebec. That's not the case. We choose a compromise that is a lot easier than what we see for example in France,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Jolin-Barrette confirmed the government does not know how many employees currently wear religious symbols, but that it has asked school boards, provincial police, and the justice department to provide information.
The Liberals are meeting Thursday in Quebec City for a two-day caucus, and the debate over religious symbols is high on the agenda.
The CAQ government is looking for consensus on the issue, but with a 75-seat majority, won’t require one to pass the bill.
The Quebec legislature resumes sitting Feb. 5.