Two days after details of the Parti Quebecois's proposed Charter of Quebec Values appeared in a Montreal newspaper the government has finally begun to talk about the matter, but has not confirmed whether the report was accurate or not.

Thursday morning in Quebec City, Premier Pauline Marois just smiled and said "wait until it's tabled," when pressed by reporters.

Bernard Drainville, the Minister pushing the law to officially define acceptable demonstrations of religion in Quebec, said the matter can be debated without getting emotional.

"It's what we promised," said Drainville, however he said that no details about the law will be available until it is tabled in the National Assembly in mid-September.

"Quebecers do want to have clear rules with regards to religious accommodations requests and I think they're also expecting us to affirm a certain number of values that are very important like the equality between men and women," Drainville said.

Jean-Francois Lisée, the minister for anglophones and Montreal, predicted that in time everyone would eventually agree with the PQ's view.

"Well it's the same level of concern that we heard when Bill 101 was tabled and after a while people said well looking back it was a good, the right thing to do. 'A great Canadian law' said Jean Chretien," Lisée said.

Unlike during the years of Bill 101, the current Parti Quebecois government has a minority in the assembly and needs support from either the opposition Liberals or CAQ, neither of which has appeared close to supporting such legislation.

On Thursday the Liberal leader qualified the PQ initiative as a smokescreen designed to distract voters away from more pressing matters.

“We have to discuss those issues but obviously they are trying to divert attention away from fundamental priorities of Quebecers which are the economy, jobs and the quality of our public services,” said Liberal leader Philippe Couillard.

Secular movement supports banning all symbols

The proposed law has its supporters, including Lucie Jobin of the Quebec Secular Movement.

"We're the ones who asked Minister [Bernard] Drainville to modify Quebec's Charter of Rights so it spells out secularism in the province," said Jobin.

The retired school teacher said the Movement wants clear guidelines regarding the separation of church and state "otherwise it sends the message that the state favors one religion over another."

She also supports the removal from the crucifix from the National Assembly, however according to the report earlier this week, the religious statue in the National Assembly would remain in place under a 'cultural exemption.'


Spring poll showed support for banning symbols

According to the QMI article on Monday, the PQ government would like to ban burqas, turbans, hijabs, yarmulkes, and crosses in any public office, including courts, police stations, hospitals, or government offices. Staff members in public schools, including large daycares, CEGEPs and universities would fall under the same rules, while those in private schools and family-run daycares would be exempt.

A commissioned by the provincial government and conducted in March showed up to 76 percent of francophones believe religious accommodations should be enshrined in law. Just half of non-francophones felt the same way.

That poll also said a slim majority of Quebecers -- 54 percent -- were in favour of a complete ban on wearing religious symbols in public.

Many members of Quebec's ethnic communities say any law to enshrine what is and is not permitted would legalize discrimination and create divisions among Quebecers, especially since the law would prevent anyone wearing a religious icon from working in public institutions like schools or hospitals.


Would create divisions

Lionel Perez, the borough mayor for NDG-CDN, wears a kippa, a Jewish skullcap. He said the PQ is walking a dangerous line.

"We have to recognize the historical and patrimonial values of our society, but we also have to look at the new reality and demographics of Montreal and Quebec. We can't lose sight of that," said Perez.

"The question is to what extent do we be neutral. Absolute neutrality is impossible," he said.

"I had a meeting with Mr. Drainville and I have to say he was open to having discussions."

"Quebec is an open, tolerant society. It's a wonderful place to live," said Perez. "We don't have to take a hard line approach. There is room for flexibility."

Several people who wear hijabs said they would not remove their head scarves no matter what any law eventually says, because that would violate their freedom of religion -- a well-established tenet of the existing Charter of Rights in both Quebec and Canada.

"Then you don't have religious freedom, you're forcing something upon someone," said one person.

Banning religious garbs in daycares could also be problematic.

The association of private daycares says women from Islamic communities make up a large and valuable percentage of staffers.

"Religion has no place in daycare. But we are in a diversified society in Quebec and they're part of a diversified society," said Mona Lisa Farinacci-Borrega.

Francois Legault of the Coalition Avenir Quebec said the proposed details go beyond the neutrality of the state -- and make impositions on citizens.

"We'll defend the neutrality of the state, but we'll be a lot more responsible than the Parti Quebecois," said Legault.