Lionel Perez, the mayor of one of Canada's most multi-cultural neighbourhoods, has spoken out against the Parti Québécois government following reports earlier this week about plans to impose a widespread ban on religious symbols in the public sector.
In a letter published in Le Devoir, the mayor of Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough called this part of the government's proposed secular charter "rigid and selective."
"What should concern us is the vision and how the government wants to implement this secularism. These positions show a willingness to define secularism in a way that is rigid and selective," wrote Perez.
Perez, who wears a kippa—a Jewish skullcap—while serving as mayor, says nobody should be forced to make a choice between being an elected official and wearing a religious symbol on the job.
"The goal of an inclusive secularism is aiming to build a genuinely plural public space, to build a society that avoids marginalizing or traps our citizens in a single mold, depriving them of the right to their moral or religious choice," wrote Perez.
Perez says he does not oppose the creation of a secular charter, but says that it should be representative of Montreal and Quebec's modern diversity.
"I believe that values of tolerance, respect for others and moral autonomy are equally as fundamental as Quebec secularism," wrote Perez.
Perez says he thinks the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor Commission report on accommodating minorities is a good base for a secular charter.
"The studies and analysis have been done. Let's put that into application. They talk about an open secularism, an inclusive secularism," Perez told CBC News.
Perez says that although for some this is an "emotional debate," he feels it is important to keep an open dialogue with the provincial government.
"Obviously this is a contentious issue in Quebec and we need to take a step back and use words of moderation," Perez told the CBC. "It's easy to castigate the PQ in an unfriendly way and that doesn't contribute to the debate."
Perez says he met with the PQ minister responsible for the secular charter, Bernard Drainville, earlier this week and says there is a willingness to talk about the issues.
Today in Quebec City, Drainville said he will introduce legislation to create a so-called "values charter" sometime during the fall session of the Quebec national assembly.
"By doing so we will respond to the wish of Quebecers. I think Quebecers do want to have clear rules with regards to religious accommodation requests," said Drainville. "I think they're also expecting us to affirm a certain number of values that are very important like the equality between men and women."