Calling it the only way to ensure equality of the sexes, the Parti Quebecois has presented its plan to limit the wearing of religious symbols by public servants in Quebec.
Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville said the PQ's five-point plan would virtually wipe out all public expression of religion among those paid by the government.
"The crisis of religious accommodation which has circled Quebec for the past five years has created strife among Quebecers," said Drainville.
"The Bouchard-Taylor Commission did nothing to solve this."
Drainville said he hopes his proposal would create unity in the province by clearly spelling out the rules for religious accommodations.
"What unites is a desire for rules... for harmony, for cohesion. What guides is a profound attachment to Quebec values," Drainville said.
He did admit there have been numerous public disagreements in the media since the proposal was first leaked, but pointed out that the majority of Quebecers support the move.
"It is up to Quebecers to contact their MPs to say whether or not they agree with this," he said.
'Obvious' symbols banned
The Charter of Quebec Values will ban state employees, including police officers, doctors, and teachers, from wearing headscarves, yarmulkes, or obvious crosses and other religious symbols.
There will, however, be a lengthy list of exceptions, starting with the crucifix in the National Assembly which would be acceptable on cultural grounds, as would the cross on Mount Royal. Politicians in the National Assembly would also be allowed to wear religious symbols.
The bill is not yet ready to be tabled in the National Assembly, but Drainville said it will cover five key points:
- It will alter Quebec's Charter of Rights to strictly define religious accommodation.
- All public servants will have to present the secular face of the state during working hours.
- It will ban all obvious religious paraphernalia among public employees.
- Citizens will have to uncover their face to provide or receive service from public employees.
- It will create a bureaucracy to work out problems and disagreements.
When evaluating whether a religious accommodation is fair, the PQ is proposing a four point test for employers.
- Does making the request discriminate or give someone an unequal right?
- Does the request respect the equality of the sexes?
- Will the request cost too much for the employer?
- Will the request affect someone's safety?
As an example, Drainville said a company could refuse to grant a day off on religious grounds because it would cost too much to replace a key employee.
Anglos, Allos more accepting than Francophones
Ever since details about the proposed charter were leaked, Quebecers have been of two minds on the issue.
An early Leger poll showed a majority of Quebecers thought strict rules about religion were necessary, but that almost half thought any legislation would create more problems than it would solve.
Now a poll by SOM shows a sizable number of Quebecers are very comfortable with immigrants and immigration, especially those with university educations, and those who live in and around Montreal.
Regardless, 66 per cent of of Quebecers supported the proposals banning religious symbols by government employees.
Mother-tongue francophones in Quebec were the least accepting of immigrants, with 64 per cent saying it is good for Quebec to have multiple ethnic and cultural groups. 79 per cent of anglophones and 81 per cent of allophones agreed with that statement.
By the same token, Quebecers who supported the proposed charter were universal in having less favourable views of immigrants.
According to the SOM poll:
- 68% agreed that immigrants try hard to find work
- 67% said it is good for Quebec to have multiple ethnic and cultural groups
- 66% said nurses, bureaucrats, teachers etc. should not be allowed to wear religious symbols
- 53% feel comfortable in a neighbourhood with a high number of immigrants
- 33% thought it is good for immigrants to preserve their culture
- 33% thought immigrants knew enough about Quebec culture
- 76% disagreed with a statement about feeling unsafe on a bus with many people who were not of Quebecois origin
- 57% disagreed with the statement "Immigrant weakens Quebec unity"
- 57% said they were not worried when immigrants held discussions in a foreign language
- 58% said there are not enough immigrants in Quebec
- 60% disagreed with the statement "Immigrant neighbourhoods are less safe"
The SOM poll surveyed 1,937 Quebec internet users from August 30 to Sept 5, 2013 selected from SOM's Gold Panel respondents.
The margin of error is 2.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.