After months of avoiding the issue, the CAQ government has chosen to decide what constitutes a "religious symbol" in Bill 21, its law to prevent many civil servants, including those in positions of authority, from wearing religious symbols.

And that may include rings worn by people who have been married in a church.

Until now the minister responsible, Simon Jolin-Barrette, has always refused to define what was going to qualify as a religious symbol, saying only that it would be "obvious."

The Bill is still being scrutinized, line by line, in committee, and the government is going to have to extend its session if it wants to pass the legislation before the summer.

However on Tuesday evening, Jolin-Barrette tabled an amendment specifying exactly what the government will consider as a banned item for employees.

The amendment defines religious symbols as: clothing, a symbol, jewelry, an ornament, an accessory or head covering that is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief or can reasonably be considered as referring to a religious affiliation.

"I proposed a definition because I'm open to the suggestions of the opposition parties and also the people that came to the parliamentary commission over the last weeks. I heard them and I made that suggestion to be able to adopt the bill," said Jolin-Barrette.

When questioned by reporters on Wednesday, Premier Francois Legault was unable to say if a wedding ring would be considered a religious symbol, and how someone would distinguish between a ring symbolizing a civil ceremony and one blessed by a religious figure.

“We are trying to be more precise about what are religious signs. Of course there will always be debates about what is and what is not,” he said.

What makes a symbol religious?

Quebec solidaire MNA Sol Zanetti said he produced images of various symbols, including various crosses, abstract images of fish, and items resembling a spider web, then quizzed government MNAs to determine if any of those would qualify.

"If you try to do an objective definition of the religious signs, you will create injustice. You will ban some signs that are not religious, you will not ban signs that are religious and you will create inequality in the application of justice," said Zanetti.

Several years ago the Parti Quebecois government outlined a list of objects it wished to ban, defining them as ostentatious displays, saying that small, easily concealed crosses could be acceptable but that turbans or hijabs should be banned. That proposal was never made law.

A Charter of Values-style pictogram would be helpful, said PQ interim leader Pascal Berube.

“Yes! What Bernard Drainville did was clear. Some people laughed a little, but it was clear,” he said.

An outline of what is and isn’t allowed should have been critical to the CAQ bill, said Berube.

“A definition should be there since the get-go, since the beginning, so it's strange that the minister told us that, 'This is something new I'm bringing to you.'” he said.

The Liberals accusing the CAQ of rushing, while the government is accusing the liberals of obstruction.

“You hear the rumours as well as I do that the government wants to invoke closure on that particular bill, which would be certainly something very bad, I think, for Quebec,” said interim Liberal leader Pierre Arcand.

The CAQ is pushing to pass the legislation before the current session of the house ends in the next few days – or potentially delay the start of summer break to get it done.

“We don't exclude anything. I think it's urgent. We have the support of the vast majority of Quebecers,” said Legault.


With notes from Maya Johnson