Quebec’s new Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Kathleen Weil says the Liberal government will not rush into new legislation on secularism.
Weil, who spoke Friday morning on CBC Radio’s Daybreak, said her first task will be to assess what damage has been caused by the divisive debate over the Parti Québécois government’s proposed secular charter.
The first step, she said, will be consultations with experts at government agencies and relevant bodies like Quebec’s Human Rights Commission and the Quebec Bar Association.
“I have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but I would like to take a look at this whole file with experts within the Ministry of Justice and within civil society generally to see what are the incidents, what are the feelings,” she told Daybreak host Mike Finnerty.
Weil said legislation on secularism ultimately will emphasize the existing state of law in Quebec, which already upholds the neutrality of the state and state institutions.
“It’s important to confirm what’s already there,” she said. “The neutrality of the state has never been compromised, and certainly not by the wearing of religious symbols.”
While respecting people’s right to choose, Weil said the legislation also has to protect the rights of women and children against the threat of religious fundamentalism.
“You really do want to make sure that [women] have freedom of choice,” she said. “I don’t think we should close our eyes to [fundamentalism].”
Weil said Liberal policy on religious symbols that cover the face will return to those of Bill 94, which she introduced as justice minister in the government of Jean Charest in 2010.
“The position we always took was that to receive, to provide and to give services, we need to see your face,” Weil said. “But the reasons given is based on security, identification and communication.”
Weil said the government cannot ignore the fact many Quebecers favoured a secular charter.
“There are many people who very earnestly and honestly and in good faith believe in a secularism charter,” she said.
Weil said the the Liberal government will take a less divisive approach to the topic than its PQ predecessors.
“The distinction has to be with tone at the top, how the government handles these kinds of delicate files and the kind of message that the government puts out,” she said