François Legault defends decision to quash debate over immigration, religious symbols bills

Quebec's premier says there's a risk of upsetting "social cohesion" if the debate over religious symbols is allowed to linger. His government is invoking closure to pass controversial secularism and immigration laws.

Despite widespread criticism, Quebec premier says it's time to 'turn the page'

Quebec Premier François Legault had pledged to pass both the immigration and secularism bills by the end of the parliamentary session. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Quebec Premier François Legault says there's a risk of upsetting "social cohesion" in the province if the debate over religious symbols is allowed to linger any longer.

Legault will invoke closure to pass his government's controversial secularism and immigration bills, putting an end to debate at the province's National Assembly over the two controversial pieces of legislation.

The premier said Friday he has a mandate to act on both issues, which were key planks in the Coalition Avenir Québec's electoral platform last fall.

"There's a clear opinion from Quebecers that we received on Oct. 1, eight months ago," said Legault, whose party, elected with 38 per cent of the popular vote, holds a majority of seats in the legislature.

Legault said the debate over religious accommodation has been playing out for more than a decade in Quebec, and it's time to "turn the page."

"I think it's good for what we call the vivre ensemble," he said.

The province's winter legislative session was to end Friday, but Legault pushed back the summer break and extended the session through the weekend to vote on the bills.

Legault accused the opposition of intentionally delaying debate rather than coming up with "constructive" ideas for how the bills could be improved.

"When I tabled the bill a couple of months ago, I was very clear that my intention was to adopt the bill before the end of the session and right now the only thing we see is obstruction," he said.

'It's not right,' opposition says

The CAQ government's secularism legislation, Bill 21, would prevent public employees in positions of authority, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols.

    Minority groups have raised concerns it will encourage discrimination and limit employment opportunities for thousands of Quebecers, especially Muslim women who wear the hijab.

    The bill invokes the notwithstanding clause, in attempt to block the law from being challenged on grounds it violates the Quebec and Canadian charters of rights.

    Pierre Arcand, interim leader for the official opposition Liberals, said it's "not right" to push through the legislation without a full debate. He predicted its flaws will be laid bare in the coming months. 

    Arcand pointed out that Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, as well as some unions and school boards, have raised concerns about the law and how it would be enforced. It's also expected to face legal challenges.

    "The debate is not over," Arcand said. "There are many people who are not satisfied."

    The bill was put before a Quebec parliamentary commission for study only 10 days ago, on June 4.

    Manon Massé, left, and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokespersons of Québec Solidaire, at the end-of-session news conference on Friday, June 14. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

    Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson of Québec Solidaire, the second opposition party, said that didn't allow lawmakers enough time to fully explore the ramifications of the proposed legislation. 

    "No serious or credible person who knows how this assembly works could think that in a few days this bill would be adopted using the regular procedures," he said.

    The Parti Québécois, which favours a strong secularism law, also argued for more debate on the bill, in the hopes of making it more forceful.

    Interim Leader Pascal Bérubé‎ ​​​​​​said he still wants the ban on religious symbols to extend beyond teachers and include daycare workers.

    The proposed immigration law, Bill 9, sets out the framework for a Quebec values test would-be immigrants will need to pass in order to become a permanent resident.

    If the bill becomes law, the government will throw out a backlog of 18,000 applications for skilled immigrant worker status in Quebec, forcing them to re-apply through a new merit-based system.

    Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said Friday the law is necessary to better integrate newcomers and address the province's labour shortage.


    Benjamin Shingler is an investigative reporter with CBC in Montreal. He specializes in health and social issues, and previously worked at The Canadian Press and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Email him at


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