Quebec to ban public employees from wearing headscarves and other religious symbols at work
On Thursday 28th March, the Quebec government in Canada proposed a bill barring public school teachers, judges, police officers and other public employees from wearing religious symbols including Muslim headscarves while working, a move that could aggravate simmering cultural tensions in the province.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec’s (CAQ) bill is not the first time Quebec has pushed forward legislation to re-enforce state religious neutrality. The centre-right government was elected last autumn in part on pledges to restrict immigration and impose a secular charter. Opinion polls suggest support for a secular dress code among Quebecers. The CAQ government hopes to pass the legislation by summer.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to journalists in Halifax, criticised the bill, saying that whilst Canada and Quebec were secular societies it was unthinkable to him “that in a free society, we would legitimize discrimination of citizens based on their religion.”
"Unthinkable": Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh condemn Quebec's secularism bill, which, among other measures, would ban many public workers from wearing religious garb or symbols#cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/hx9giAYwFz
— CBC Politics (@CBCPolitics) March 28, 2019
This particular bill, will prevent civil servants from wearing religious symbols such as head coverings like hijabs, turbans and kippahs. Civil servants who currently wear religious symbols would be exempt from the bill, but it would be imposed on incoming civil servants.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault told reporters the bill “represents our values and it’s important.” Several groups are preparing to fight the proposed legislation.
Interestingly, before the bill was even tabled, the government said it will propose a motion calling for the withdrawal of the crucifix from the provincial legislature. The crucifix has hung above the Speaker’s chair in the national assembly since 1936, and the government said last October it would not remove it because it is an important part of Quebec’s heritage. Critics have said its presence undermines the government’s position that religious symbols worn by employees are inconsistent with a secular state.
Les Perreaux, a Globe and Mail reporter in Montreal tweeted some alarming revelations from the news conference that took place about the proposed legislation. When asked whether a woman in a veil would have to uncover herself to get on a bus in Montreal, Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette answered yes. A person paying regular fare which doesn’t require ID won’t have to. A person with a reduced fare which requires photo ID could be asked by the bus driver to remove it. This would imply that it would not only cover civil servants but students, children and senior citizens who would just like to use public transport.
The minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette actually answers, unlike his predecessors: A person paying regular fare which doesn't require ID, won't have to.
A person with a reduced fare which requires photo ID could be asked by the bus driver to remove it.
— Les Perreaux (@perreaux) March 28, 2019
Here is how Twitter responded to the news
Quebec thought it a great idea to propose rather than Anti White Supremacy law – an islamophobic law less than 14 days of #NewZealand massacre 50 muslims fueled by Islamophobia & Anti Islam hate
After Quebec had white supremacist terrorist killing worshippers in mosque in 2017 https://t.co/DQxBws3zcd
— Hasib N (@hasibmn) March 29, 2019
Instead of banning religious symbols, we should teach kids how powerful we are as a nation because of our acceptance and inclusion.
Law makers should focus on what bring people together, not tear them apart.
Why? Because what's on your head is on "YOUR HEAD" not theirs! #Quebec
— Tareq Hadhad (@TareqHadhad) March 28, 2019
— Barâa | براءة (@livewellspoken) March 28, 2019
#Bill21 on religious symbols in Quebec uses the #Notwithstandingclause at s. 30, stripping Quebecers of rights to free speech, peaceful assembly, religious freedom, all legal rights —including prinples of fundamental justice—and equality rights in relation to the Bill
— Pearl Eliadis (@pearleliadis) March 28, 2019