Montrealers irritated by PQ's religious-symbol policy
MONTREAL - A Parti Quebecois scheme to crack down on religious symbols continued to create shockwaves in Montreal Thursday as PQ leader Pauline Marois appeared to improvise certain policy details when pressed to explain what would be acceptable for public servants.
Marois said she would invoke the constitutional notwithstanding clause to override any legal argument that the plan violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but she also said that certain symbols worn in certain manners would be tolerated.
The PQ plan would forbid employees in public institutions from wearing overt religious symbols. The policy would apply to kippahs, hijabs and turbans but not to necklaces, like the crucifix.
When pressed by a radio reporter in a press scrum Thursday, Marois said that a Star of David necklace would be considered acceptable.
“A small cross, a small hand, a small Star of David, that's okay? Why not?” asked Marois.
Unlike other provincial governments, which have reluctantly employed the notwithstanding clause, the PQ has promised to show no such hesitation and has already said that if it wins the Sept. 4 election it will pick fights with the federal government and use each example to argue its case for independence.
"Our boss is not the Supreme Court of Canada -- our boss is the will of the people of Quebec," said Jean-Francois Lisee, a Parti Quebecois candidate and longtime party adviser, in an interview.
"We do not want to legislate while taking into account Canadian judges. We will legislate considering the interests of Quebecers."
Some Montrealers expressed profound dismay with the policy Thursday.
“My first reaction is, it just makes me not want to be here in a place where that is even an issue,” said teacher Furheen Ahmed, who would no longer be permitted to teach while wearing her customary hijab religious headscarf.
“I don't feel like my wearing a religious symbol hinders my ability to teach, or my students’ ability to learn, and I just doesn't make sense,” she said.
West end city councillor Lionel Perez, who sports a yarmulke, also objected to the policy.
“If someone wants to wear a garb for ethnic reasons it would be permissible but for religious reasons it would be prohibited? How should be the arbiter of that? It’s a dangerous game and a slippery slope we should avoid,” said Lionel Perez.
Premier Jean Charest also denounced the policy Thursday.
“If there's one political party that believes in that inclusiveness, we're in and we've said that from day one,” said Charest.
-With a file from The Canadian Press