Proposed 'Quebec Values' could ban all religious symbols in public buildings
The Parti Quebecois government is expected to introduce a bill this fall to regulate religious symbols in public life, and there are hints about some of the specific measures the proposed law will take.
Nobody in the Parti Quebecois government has confirmed the reports, but according to QMI news agency, the Marois government wants to ban individuals from wearing any visible religious symbols in many public locations.
This would be done by modifying Quebec's charter of human rights and freedoms to include what would be called 'Quebec values'.
The QMI article states burqas, turbans, hijabs, yarmulkes, and crosses would not be permitted 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.
Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said such measures, if passed, would immediately come under legal challenges.
"I would expect that if such Draconian laws were passed they would be challenged, and I think the lower courts would have to uphold the rulings of the Supreme Court," said Grey. “Quebec is free to amend its own charter, but it cannot touch the Canadian charter.”
Crucifix in National Assembly would be exempt
According to QMI the crucifix in the National Assembly, a gift from the Catholic Church in 1936, would be considered an icon of cultural heritage and so would remain in the house of laws.
The government is reportedly considering allowing an exemption clause so that institutions, such as hospitals, could apply to allow staff members to wear religious icons. This exemption would need to be renewed every five years.
Spearheaded by the Minister for Democratic Values, Bernard Drainville, the proposed act was originally called the Charter of Secular Values, but the government has since decided to promote the bill as the Charter of Quebec Values.
Commission chair rejects proposals
The debate concerning "religious accommodation" exploded in 2007 and resulted in the Bouchard-Taylor commission to look at the issue.
Speaking in a televised interview on Tuesday, Charles Taylor said the proposals listed in the QMI article went against everything recommended in the commission's final report.
"They are proposing such strict restrictions that it will create problems... People will feel rejected by Quebec," said Taylor.
He said that widespread bans against religious icons would end up creating ghettos in Quebec.
"It tells a category of citizens 'you are excluded, we don't want you here.' It doesn't make any sense."
While conducting their commission, professor Taylor and historian Gerard Bouchard found, early on, that Quebecers were almost paranoid with fear that Muslims were taking over society. Taylor and Bouchard found those fears were not rooted in reality, and said that Quebec should work to integrate all citizens.
"The rules we proposed were very clear: institutions are neutral, individuals are free," said Taylor.
"When people feel at ease, they integrate."
Political opponents will not support bill
Quebec Solidaire spokesperson Francoise David lashed out at the PQ, saying the suggestions outlined under the apparent proposal are contradictory.
"We're excluding women while saying this will include them. This doesn't make sense," said David. “In a Quebec that’s hoping to be inclusive, we have to wonder if the first step really should be to exclude others.”
Even before this week's leak of specific items, Liberal leader Philippe Couillard said his party would oppose the bill if it was going to split Quebecers. On Tuesday, he told the Canadian Press he said that instead of leaking a "trial balloon," that Drainville should be clear with his intentions.
He also said he doubted the changes mentioned in the QMI article would hold up under Quebec's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault chastised the provincial government, saying that Quebecers had no interest in being extremist.