Government picks up debate on religious symbols
The provincial government has resumed debating religious accommodation and public secularism as Bill 62 has once again made its return to the National Assembly.
The Liberal government set the bill aside in January following a mass murder at a mosque in Quebec City, an event which Premier Philippe Couillard has called a terrorist attack.
Now Bill 62, originally tabled in 2015, is once again being studied by politicians.
The proposed legislation would prevent public service employees from wearing face-coverings such as the niqab.
The restrictions would also be in place for those receiving public services in government offices or getting medical treatment.
Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée is leading a clause-by-clause analysis of the bill in the legislature's red room.
“It's never easy to start a discussion on these issues. There's always something. I think it's important that we continue the work that has been started on Bill 62,” she said.
She said her goal, and her government's goal, is to create social peace, and so the law should apply to all cities and towns in Quebec, as well as public transit.
“I think we can come up with a joint perspective. I understand that some parties may want to go further, may want to be more rigid,” she said.
Secular vs. neutrality
Vallée said the preamble to the proposed law should include language affirming the "religious neutrality" of the State, but that language is not strong enough for opposition parties.
The Parti Quebecois and CAQ are calling for the bill to specifically used the term "secularism" throughout.
“There's a difference because ‘neutrality’ will open the door to a lot of accommodations, a lot of requests, religious requests,” said CAQ secularism critic Nathalie Roy.
Agnes Maltais, the PQ's critic for secularism and culture, said Quebec's Charter of human rights and freedoms, which guarantees freedom of religion, should be altered to emphasize official government secularism.
The PQ is also proposing a ban on the chador, and strict limits to the places where a niqab could be worn in public.
She said the bill as it stands offers too much wiggle room.
"That's the reality, that's the gros bon sens in Quebecois. We cannot accept that all accommodations be acceptable. We cannot legalize that. That's not what Quebecers want," said Maltais.
Maltais is also recommending all people in authority, including judges and police officers be barred from wearing religious symbols.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec thinks teachers should also be forbidden from wearing religious symbols.
“Judges, Crown prosecutors, police. It's important for us and we're adding teachers, (working) with the youngsters,” said Roy.
This idea of a ban on authority figures wearing symbols was proposed in the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on religious accommodation, but is no longer supported by one of the report's authors. It was also rejected by the youth wing of the Parti Quebecois.
The Liberal government said it won’t accept that amendment.
There are still two more days set aside for detailed study of the bill.