MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin is splitting with the Liberal Party of Quebec over a dispute over the Charter of Values.

She said she may sit as an independent.

The MNA from La Pinière said she severed ties with the party because she wanted a limited ban on religious symbols by police officers and judges, an issue the Liberals do not agree with her on.

Houda-Pepin said Monday she walked out of a five-hour Liberal caucus meeting deeply disappointed with party leader Philippe Couillard.

"I asked him to give me some space within the Liberal Party of Quebec," she said, adding that she felt after Monday's meeting that there is no place for her in the party.

"If somebody told you there is no way for you to have another opinion but the one the leader is taking and this is good for everybody and you have to promote it while you don't feel this is the right thing to do, (what would you do?)" she said. "I feel very sorry because i am a Liberal. I am a strong liberal and strong federalist."

Houda-Pepin, only Muslim woman in the provincial legislature, has sat in the legislature since 1994 and is an expert on religious fundamentalism.

Couillard said her departure was emotional for everyone in the party.

"Unfortunately she was not able, in spite of many attempts on our part, many hands being shown to her," he said, adding that Houda-Pepin's public difference of opinion cost the party.

"I knew I would be hit in the media after I said that, that we would open a space of re-evaluation of the question of coercive agents," he said.

PQ: proof Liberals are out of touch

Bernard Drainville, the MNA shepherding the Charter of Values through the National Assembly, said Houda-Pepin's split from the Liberal party is proof that the opposition is out of touch with Quebecers.

"It shows that the Liberal party and Mr. Couillard cannot be trusted to defend and affirm some fundamental values that we have in Quebec," said Drainville.

"Mme. Houda-Pepin tried to tell them so. She said look, you must evolve, you must come up with a position that is closer to what many Quebecers think."

Hypothetical controversy

Houda-Pepin has been outspoken in her disagreement with the Liberals over the controversial Charter of Values, penning a letter in November to the Canadian Press she was upset with comments made by Marc Tanguay, the secularism critic, that the party would accept a candidate who wore a chador.

The Moroccan-born MNA said she does not support all aspects of the Charter of Values, but points out the chador is regarded as an instrument of oppression, and it was wrong for Tanguay to say the party would support a candidate who wears one. 

Nobody who wears a chador has ever asked to become an MNA in Quebec, and it is highly doubtful that more than a handful of women in Quebec actually wear chadors.

Houda-Pepin said she has long been concerned about the rise of fundamentalism but has stayed silent on the Liberals' position, which opposes any ban on religious symbols as long as the face is uncovered.

In her letter, Houda-Pepin denounced what she described as "cultural relativism" that legitimizes symbols of oppression and radicalism.

The secularism charter proposed by the Parti Quebecois government would ban anyone working in the public service from wearing overt religious symbols such as the hijab while on the job.

Houda-Pepin says her party should agree to limit individual rights "when the public interest so requires," as in the case of equality between men and women.