Crucifix in Montreal council chambers coming down, executive committee says

Major renovations are about to get underway at City Hall, and the crucifix is being taken down for the work but will not be put back up when it's done.

Major renovations are to get underway at City Hall, but crucifix won't be put back up when they're done

The City of Montreal is removing the crucifix that hangs in the council chambers at City Hall. (CBC)

The crucifix in Montreal's council chambers is being taken down off the wall, for good.

The announcement was made during an executive committee meeting Wednesday morning. 

Major renovations are about to get underway at City Hall. The crucifix is being removed for the work, but it will not be hung back up when that work is done, in about three years, the executive committee says. 

The administration says the renovations are an opportunity to remove the crucifix.

The crucifix is an important part of Montreal's heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said.

"The decision is a recognition of the role of secularism in the institution, and for me, there is a stark distinction between individual and institutional secularism," Plante said.

She said the city has no intention of removing the cross on Mount Royal , since the mountain is not a democratic institution.

A crucifix will also be removed from the Peter-McGill Room at City Hall, the executive committee said.

Church responds

Plante said the crucifix will be placed in a special museum space at City Hall that will be accessible to all Montrealers.

"It's important to create a dialogue between the past and the future," she said.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal issued a statement Wednesday afternoon which didn't overtly criticize the move but stressed that the crucifix is symbolic of the city's roots and "a love for all humanity."

"Nothing forbids us, and our respective beliefs, from being present in the public space in an attitude of respect and openness, since we share the same common humanity," said the spokesperson for the archibishop, Erika Jacinto.

Last October, Plante said she did not intend to take down the crucifix from the wall of the council chambers, reigniting the debate over whether the crucifix that still hangs above the Speaker's chair in the National Assembly should be taken down. 

Plante said she has no intention of telling other cities or governments what to do. 

"It's up to each of them to make a decision," she said. 

The CAQ government has been adamant that it will not remove the cross, saying it is a historical symbol, not a religious one, even though it represents the Christian values of the province's two colonial ancestors.

'I accept the decision': Legault

Premier François Legault has said he wants to keep the crucifix in the legislature while moving forward with plans to ban certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols.

But when asked Wednesday about Montreal's decision, Legault seemed less firm on his decision to keep the crucifix. 

"There are good arguments for and some arguments against, and right now we have a debate. We have to find a compromise," Legault said. "I accept the decision of the City of Montreal." 

Legault said the decision falls within Quebec's secularism debate, as is the discussion on whether there will be a grandfather clause allowing teachers who already wear religious symbols  to continue doing so. 

The crucifix was installed in the Salon Bleu — or Blue Room — of the National Assembly in 1936. A government-commissioned report into secularism and identity issues recommended in 2008 that it be removed, but no government has done so. 

Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said the National Assembly will make its own decision when it comes to its crucifix. 

"For us, it's always been a heritage symbol, a historical symbol like the other religious symbols in the Salon Bleu," Jolin-Barrette said. 

Liberal MNA Hélène David took to Twitter, saying the National Assembly plans to discuss its crucifix in the coming days. 

"We are open to discussion on this topic," David wrote. 

With files from Radio-Canada