Parti Québécois poised to introduce ban on religious symbols in public institutions

Andy Radia

Here we go again.

According to reports from Le Journal de Montreal and QMI Agency, the Pauline Marois PQ government is now prepared to introduce their new values charter which could limit the religious freedoms of many Quebec minority groups.

QMI Agency has learned the Parti Quebecois government plans to amend the Quebec charter of rights and freedoms and ban most religious signs and symbols from public institutions such as daycare centres, public schools, hospitals, clinics, and other government buildings.

Visible crosses, yarmulkes, hijabs, niqabs, burkas and turbans would all be banned.

According to sources close to the government, all health workers, public school teachers and public daycare workers would have to leave their religious symbols at home when they go to work.

As you might imagine, the story has sparked some heated debate.

Charles Taylor, who served as co-chair of Quebec’s accommodation commission in 2007 told the TVA Network that the proposed changes were "Putin-esque" in reference to to Russia's anti-gay laws.

"Hydro-Québec isn’t Hydro-Catholic, Hydro-Muslim, Hydro-Atheist," he said according to the Globe and Mail. "But employees are individuals. They are free."

The Montreal Gazette's Don Macpherson calls the values charter "sinister, ridiculous and pathetic."

"If the PQ wants to reduce the Quebec charter to an object of ridicule, this is a good way to do it," he wrote in his column on Tuesday.

"It is based on the premise that the values held by an overwhelming majority of Quebecers are so weak and unappealing that they must be imposed by law on the tiny minorities among them that wear religious headgear."

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Minority rights have been a longstanding issue of contention for Quebecers.

The province went through another 'reasonable accommodation' debate a few years ago and enacted legislation which essentially restricted Muslim women from wearing a Niqab when working in the public sector or doing business with government officials.

In 2011, the province's National Assembly unanimously voted to bar the Sikh kirpan from the legislative buildings.

And more recently there have had debates about children wearing turbans and hijabs on sports fields.

So why is this always such a hotly debated issue in Quebec and not in other provinces?

In a recent email exchange with Yahoo! Canada News, Montreal-based political scientist Bruce Hicks explained that it has to do with an ongoing struggle for Quebecers to define nationalism.

"After the first unsuccessful referendum on independence in 1980 it became apparent to many of the elites that defining a Québécois identity along a racial or ethnic line would make the prospect of independence unappealing to other races and ethnicities that live in Quebec and vote. Civic nationalism would create a more inclusive ‘we’, with more people who might vote 'oui' to an independent Quebec," Hicks wrote.

"The rejection of ethnic nationalism in favour of civic nationalism is a recent phenomenon not just in Quebec, so there is a generational divide. Younger people are more likely to accept being part of a civic nation while older people who have always tied their identity to their cultural heritage and ancestral roots (n Quebec’s case going back to New France, the so-called «pure laine») will be slow to accept ethnic diversity within their ‘nation.’"

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It's expected that the minority PQ government will introduce the new rules in the fall but will face some challenges in passing them through the legislature.

The Globe notes that the opposition Liberals have said that they will oppose any legislation that divides Quebecers.

It's going to be an interesting autumn la belle province.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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