Thousands of people, many wearing religious headgear, marched through downtown Montreal on Saturday to denounce Quebec's proposed charter of values, which would bar public employees from wearing overt religious symbols in schools, hospitals and elsewhere in their line of work.
The protest gathered in Place Émilie-Gamelin and then headed west for more than two kilometres through downtown to Place du Canada.
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Hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and larger-than-average crucifixes all fall under the proposed ban, which was unveiled by the Parti Québécois government of Premier Pauline Marois earlier this week and which sparked a heated debate in Quebec and across Canada.
Noman Safdar, a 24 -year-old Muslim from Montreal, held up a sign that read: "Multi-faith gathering for peace."
"This is a time for all religions to come together for what they believe in, " said Safdar, an engineer. "You can't go and impose things on people like this."
Another protester, Salma Ahmed, a 17-year-old high school student who wears a headscarf, said the proposed law is a violation of religious freedoms.
She said she's concerned it will affect her career choices and those of her classmates.
"We're all really worried at school, " said Ahmed, who came to the rally with friends who also wear headscarves.
Demonstrators were wearing a range of religious apparel, from turbans to veils to skull caps and prayer shawls.
Protest organizers said they wanted to denounce discrimination against various of Quebec's cultural and religious communities, as well as Islamophobia. They also vowed to challenge any eventual charter of values in court.
Adil Charkaoui, a spokesman for the Quebec Collective Against Islamophobia, said Saturday's demonstration is only one of several planned actions against the proposed charter.
Discriminatory, opponents say
While opinion polls suggest there is majority support for the charter among Quebecers, mainly in the province's outlying regions, opponents have called it discriminatory.
till, members of some religious groups have questioned the timing of today's demonstration.
David Ouellette of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said prior to the protest that it was unlikely any Jewish group would attend.
"This demonstration was clearly planned without taking into account the participation of our community since it's Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar," he said.
Ouellette said his organization will avoid street demonstrations and try to talk directly to the government about its concerns over the charter.