Civil servants are glad that, at long last, someone in government is listening to their demands for clear guidelines about making religious accommodations.

The union of public and parapublic workers (SFPQ) said for the past six years it has been asking the government to provide ironclad rules about how they should deal with members of the public who want bureaucrats to make religious accommodations.

Lucie Martineau said one particular example is when individuals ask to be served by a man or a woman for religious reasons.

Executives from the union, which represents 42,000 civil servants, said they support the Charter of Quebec Values.

"When you are working for the state and if the state is secular, well then let's confirm the employees are secular like the state," said Martineau.

She said she sees no difference between political opinion and religion.

"It is like employees of the state must be neutral with their political opinions. It is the same thing," Martineau said.

Martineau also pointed out that her union would not defend any member who is fired for wearing a veil or any obvious religious symbol, but at the same time does not expect that anyone will lose their job for religious reasons.

That news apparently caught some union members off guard. At least two dozen union members have since written their union executives demanding to know why they SFPQ are siding with management against the rights of employees.


Government ministers in lockstep

Government ministers walking into a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning toed the line on the Charter, with many saying that people with strong religious beliefs should realize that faith does not belong at work.

"I remind you that all immigrants sign, once they get their selection certificates, a declaration of shared values so I don't think they should be surprised," said Immigration Minister Diane DeCourcy.

She and other Parti Quebecois ministers said they encouraged and welcomed the debate with opinions from across the political spectrum.

The Bloc Quebecois, after initially speaking against the proposal, has now come out in favour of open debate.

The party issued a statement that is up to Quebecers and Quebecers alone to define their values.

However even the Bloc is split, with MP Maria Mourani saying in a televised interview that she does not support the PQ proposal, and thinks it will be bad both for Quebec, and for the independence movement.

 The Liberals, however, sent a clear message to the Parti Quebecois: the charter is discriminatory.

“I will never accept that we should institutionalize discrimination in hiring people on the basis of what they wear,” he said.

Couillard said the proposed charter goes against the spirit of PQ founder Rene Levesque, whom he described as a democrat.

A deliberate provocation

Meanwhile opponents to the proposed Charter were lining up to denounce what is perceived as legislated discrimination.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said since news of the Charter leaked it had been receiving calls from people worried about what it would contain. With Tuesday's announcement that kippas would be forbidden to all civil servants, many people became very upset.

Luciano Del Negro said the Parti Quebecois has deliberately chosen to provoke the population.

'They're very aware that this is a divisive charter, not one that will solve anything. Indeed it's a solution in search of a problem or a solution that aims to create one," said Del Negro.

The VP of the agency said that altering Quebec's laws in this manner "is a wanton aggression on fundamental rights."

The Quebec Association of Daycares is concerned about the proposed Charter and its apparent attack on the equality of women.

Members were still studying the proposals before coming up with an official statement, but many said that what they have seen the provincial government present is fundamentally flawed.

A preliminary survey showed that members from the 700 daycares agree that it doesn’t affect job performance.

“Whether an educator wears a religious symbol does not have any impact on the quality of services the children are receiving,” said Gina Gasparini of the Quebec Association of Daycares.

They point out that, at least in Montreal, there are many daycare workers who wear veils who will suddenly not be allowed to work. They expressed concern that this flies in the face of the reason the Parti Quebecois created the CPE program in the first place: to provide women with the chance to work and to create equality between the sexes.

Marwa Assi, who moved to Montreal from Lebanon, studied at Vanier College and now works at at a daycare in Ahuntsic.

She said she’s unsettled by the PQ proposal.

“We lost everything and we come here to build a new future in Canada and now they are treating not as we are treating them. We are trying to do our best here,” she said. “And I am really shocked about this.”

They also wondered how the Values Charter would integrate with existing programs about how to address religious accommodation.

Meantime, the Jewish General Hospital issued its position Wednesday.

“The Jewish General is going to support its employees in their freedom of choice to wear what kind of clothing or religious or cultural garb that they wear and we believe the emphasis has to be placed on professional competency,” said Glen Nashen of the Jewish General Hospital.

Neurologist Dr. Ronald Schondorf, the son of holocaust survivor, said he thinks the charter is an insidious way to impart the message that some people are not wanted.

“The polite gut reaction is that I will have no part of this, and as a responsible Quebecer, it is my duty to both oppose it and let others know the dangers that are inherent in such a proposal,” he said. “It’s creeping gradualism that makes unacceptable things quasi-acceptable, because they could always be worse, is a primary technique of autocratic governments.”