Quebec anglophones and francophones are divided on whether the Parti Québécois's proposed secular charter will help or hurt social cohesion, a CBC-Ekos poll suggests.

Only one in five anglophones surveyed - 18 per cent - said they believe the secular charter will achieve its purpose of creating social cohesion, compared to 43 per cent of francophones and 40 per cent of allophones.

'[The charter] divides the population, it divides families and friends and even couples'- Christelle Paré

The secular 'values' charter, also known as Bill 60, would see public sector employees such as teachers and doctors banned from wearing overtly religious symbols. 

Bill 60 has sparked debate and prompted discussion across the province, where according to the CBC-Ekos poll, 66 per cent of respondents said they are at least somewhat familiar with the charter. 

Divisions over the controversial legislation aren’t limited to language groups; in some cases, friends and families are finding themselves at odds.

 Alain Mainguy and Christelle Paré

Husband and wife Alain Mainguy and Christelle Paré, who are on opposite sides of the secular charter debate, say Bill 60 is all but taboo in their Rosemont home. (CBC)

Husband and wife Alain Mainguy and Christelle Paré say Bill 60 is all but taboo in their Rosemont home.

“I think it’s the first time that ... we just can’t find any common ground,“ Paré says.

The couple says discussions on the charter have become so heated they’ve started to avoid talking about it altogether.

“If we are watching TV, like the daily news, and at one point they talk about the charter, Alain will say something and I will answer to that and right there I will [stop the discussion] because I know that we’re not going to agree,” Paré says.

Mainguy, who identifies as an anglophone, says he sees himself as a moderate when it comes to secularism.

Even though he doesn’t agree with all aspects of Bill 60, Mainguy says he thinks it’s better than nothing.

“It’s not that I’m pro-charter … I think that there are certain things that are maybe a little bit too hardcore. But for me, not having a charter at all is probably worse than having one that is maybe a little bit too restrictive.”

As a pro-charter anglophone, Mainguy represents a minority according to a CBC-Ekos poll.

Of those polled, francophones are significantly more likely to feel it is important to have a secular society in Quebec than anglophones (70% versus 42%, respectively). Allophones (61%) are more closely aligned with francophones. ​His wife, Paré, who identififes as francophone, disagrees.

“Bring me something that would bring people together. The charter is doing exactly the opposite: it divides the population, it divides families and friends and even couples,” Paré says.

Bill 60 divides women's rights groups

The secular charter has polarized Quebec's women's rights groups as well, creating a fissure in the feminist movement.

According to feminist critic and principal of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University, Genevieve Rail, the secular charter goes against basic feminist ideals.

“I think one of the fundamental principles of feminism is women's right to control their body and women's freedom to decide." 

She's joined by the Quebec women’s federation, which opposes the charter and accuses it of attempting to promote a form of “Catholic secularism.”

Meanwhile, the Quebec Council on the Status of Women is sitting on the fence. The council says it's in favour of the major principles of Bill 60, except for the ban on religious symbols. The council proposes a less extensive ban, limited to primary and secondary school staff, courtroom personnel and job sectors referred to in the Bouchard-Taylor report.

Then there's prominent author, radio and TV personality Janette Bertrand, who created the vocal pro-charter group  “Les Janettes," last fall.

“I think it's the best way to be able to live together peacefully," says Leila Bensalem, who is a Muslim woman in favour of the charter.

Bensalem says problems between communities are often created by religion and the secular charter would help eliminate them.

About the survey

A total of 2,020 Quebec residents were interviewed by phone between Feb. 10 and 18, 2014, as part of this CBC-commissioned Ekos study. The margin of error for a sample of 2,020 is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Those surveyed included 782 anglophones (with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points 95 per cent of the time), 1,009 francophones (with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points 95 per cent of the time) and 223 allophones (with a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 percentage points 95 per cent of the time).

Anglophones are respondents who identified their mother tongue as English; francophones are people who identified their mother tongue as French; and allophones identified their mother tongue as "other."

Percentages for total respondents have been weighted to reflect linguistic population make-up of Quebec.