The parliament of Quebec will approve in the next weeks the prohibition by law that public officials in position of authority carry religious symbols in the work. The text, presented last 28th by the Future Coalition of Quebec-the conservative party of the French-speaking province's prime minister, François Legault, will be approved thanks to the 75 seats he has of the total 125. "This project is a true gesture of affirmation, which is to register for the first time the principle of secularism of the State in the laws of Quebec," he said. However, the initiative has generated a lot of criticism, including that of the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, which describes the measure as "discriminatory" in a country and a region where multiculturalism is a pillar. Thousands of people demonstrated this Sunday in Montreal, the second most populous city in the country, to ask that the initiative be withdrawn, with placards that read "Quebec says no to discrimination" and "We are not in France" .
With the new law, judges, police, prison guards, prosecutors, directors and teachers of primary and secondary public schools, among other officials, may not wear veils, kipás, turbans, crucifixes and other religious symbols in their work hours. However, this provision will not apply to employees who already showed such symbols before they came into force. In October 2017, the outgoing Government, of the liberal Philippe Couillard, had approved a law that obliged to provide and receive public services with an open face, but it was suspended a few days later as a result of several appeals filed in the courts.
To avoid a similar situation, Legault has stressed that his party won the elections with ample margin. The prohibition of symbols was one of his main promises, a idea that failed in 2014 when it was proposed by the secessionist Quebecois Party, in a campaign in which he highlighted his anti-immigration discourse. He has also made reference to the surveys. The last, in charge of the firm Léger and published on March 29, showed that 74% of those consulted approve the prohibition of religious symbols for judges and police, while 69% agree to teachers and school directors. 55% thought that the initiative should not make exceptions for seniority.
The bill presented in the Parliament contemplates using the derogatory clause, a constitutional mechanism that allows it to be protected during five years of judicial appeals that evoke both the Charter of rights and freedoms of Canada and Quebec. The Quebecois Party is considering supporting the project, although it also wants private schools to comply with the regulations.
On March 28, the day on which the bill was brought to Parliament, Legault's party filed a motion to request that the crucifix hanging on one of the walls of the Chamber be removed. All deputies voted in favor. This symbol was debated for years, as the respective governments said that it was part of the province's historical heritage, but some organizations considered that it reflected an idea of laicity that was very accommodating to Catholicism. In this way, the Quebec Future Coalition motion was seen as an action to reduce opposition voices to its bill. For months, Legault had assured that the crucifix would not leave the Parliament.
"Discrimination for religion"
Reactions from the federal sphere have not been long in coming, led by Justin Trudeau: "It is unthinkable for me to legitimize discrimination against any person because of their religion in a free society." The prime minister added that Canada is a secular country that "deeply respects individual freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and religion." Andrew Scheer, a conservative leader, said he would never present such an initiative if he becomes prime minister. For his part, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, said: "I respect the competences of Quebec, but I do not agree with this project, I believe that the work of political leaders is to unite people, and this project is going to divide them. " Singh is of Sikh confession, so he wears a turban and kirpán (the traditional dagger). According to him, the bill reminded him of several moments of his youth in which he did not feel accepted in Canadian society.
The Federation of Women of Quebec has also criticized the initiative. "We are completely against it, it is a project that excludes, that discriminates and that is racist, what secularity does the government speak about, institutions must be secular, not human beings, we must protect and not attack the rights of individuals" , said Marlihan López, vice president of the institution. Lopez believes that the people most affected by the initiative will be Muslim women. "In themselves they suffer stigmatization when they seek employment, acts of hate in Quebec have been mainly against the Muslim population, mostly against women, since they are the most visible," he adds.
The Commission of Anglophone Schools of Montreal has already announced that it does not consider complying with the provision. "The fact that a teacher wears religious symbols does not limit his ability to transmit a quality education in a secular state." Our Commission values the inclusion and diversity of its students and professors, as well as respecting its individual and religious freedoms. ", said the agency in a statement, which also asks Legault to back down.