Montreal

Quebec government aims to define religious symbols in amendment to secularism bill

The Coalition Avenir Québec government has tabled an amendment to its proposed law restricting religious symbols by further defining what a religious symbol is. 

Move is seen as a concession to ensure bill will pass on Friday

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette is the architect behind Quebec's secularism bill. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The Quebec government is offering a first concession to critics of its proposed law restricting religious symbols worn by some civil servants.

Tuesday afternoon, Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette tabled the amendment which would define what a religious symbol is.

The amendment seeks to define a religious symbol as "any article of clothing, accessory, headgear or jewelry that is worn as a show of faith or religious conviction" and "is reasonably considered as referring to a religious affiliation."

The bill has been criticized for banning symbols without defining them, making enforcement complicated.

Despite tabling of the amendment, Jolin-Barrette said he doesn't think it's necessary to define what a religious symbol is.

However, groups such as unions and school board representatives called for one.

In May, three UN legal experts joined them by sending a letter to the Canadian mission in Geneva which said that the bill threatens freedoms protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The letter said that the bill doesn't define what a religious symbol is, adding that it would be "extremely inappropriate" for a government to decide whether a symbol is religious or not.

"I'm listening," Jolin-Barrette said Tuesday evening. 

"I take a step in their direction — I hope they will take a step in my direction," he said.

The government wants the bill passed by Friday, when the legislature is scheduled to break for the summer.

However, Premier François Legault said that it might be possible to recall MNAs for an extraordinary summer session in order to get the religious symbols bill passed.

With files from Radio-Canada's Hugo Lavallée

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