Couillard continues to face criticism over Bill 62
Premier Philippe Couillard questioned the opposition parties' consensus in Quebec on religious accommodation, noting that some Parti Quebecois (PQ) youth want to go further than the position of their leader, Jean-François Lise, on the wearing of religious symbols.
Couillard took part in two symposiums on Saturday in Gatineau and Longueuil as part of a 13-stop tour of the province.
The goal of the tour is to discuss the history of the party as it celebrates its 150th anniversary. Couillard also wants to discuss development in the regions and to look at priorities for the next platform.
But the gathering in Longueuil was overshadowed by talk of religious accommodation and Couillard’s position on Bill 62. The Couillard government’s proposed legislation would ban face-coverings worn by public service employees or those receiving public services which would include the niqab.
Earlier this week Charles Taylor, co-chair of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation changed his view. He wrote an open letter urging the government to resist any legislation that could create further divisions. In light of the Quebec City mosque attack, he rejected the Bouchard-Taylor report’s original conclusion that the government should ban figures of authority such as Crown prosecutors, judges and police officers from wearing religious clothing or symbols at work.
Couillard said he was pleased with Taylor’s new recommendation and rejected calls from opposition parties to limit religious headgear worn by public service employees.
“It adds to our opinion and our conviction that we should not institute discrimination for access to work in Quebec on issues related to dress code,“ he said on Tuesday.
Sociologist Gérard Bouchard, reacted this week to his former colleague’s new position on religious accommodation, standing by his original recommendation.
“I have the highest respect for Mr. Bouchard,” Couillard said. “I will not enter into a feud with him. He has his opinion he’s a very respected man. But we are also very attached to our freedoms, our values, and we don’t barter that.”
Critics of Bill 62 have said it contradicts Couillard’s position against discrimination based on clothing, saying the proposed legislation could be seen as stigmatizing Muslim women.
Couillard explained that the legislation is not about religion.
“Public services should be given with an open face,” he said. “Why? Not because of religion but because of issues related to communication, safety, and identification. It’s the characteristic of any society that when we talk to each other I see your face, you see mine. This is something that is very distinct from religion.”
Couillard noted the bill hasn’t been adopted yet and that he’s open to discussing it.
“Seeing your face, you seeing mine, is part of a normal and healthy communication, which is quite distinct from religion,” he explained. “The rest of what people want to wear around their neck, on their heads, frankly I don’t care. If they come to work and do a good job, are involved in Quebec, this is what we want.”
With files from The Canadian Press