Fatima Houda-Pepin breaks Liberal ranks on charter debate
Liberal MNA disagrees with colleague's religious garb stance, still opposes current secular charter
Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin has broken rank with her party's views on the secular charter, saying garments like the chador are symbols of fundamentalism.
"I do not support the charter as it stands now. However, I do support neutrality of the state," said Houda-Pepin in an interview with Radio-Canada on Friday.
Houda-Pepin — the only Muslim woman in the Quebec national assembly — wrote a letter to the Canadian Press after Liberal secularism critic Marc Tanguay said he would welcome candidates wearing the chador, a large veil that covers a woman’s body and head.
In the letter, the MNA representing the La Pinière electoral district compared her party's views to those held in Saudi Arabia.
“This is the straw that broke the camel's back," wrote Houda-Pepin. "Gender equality is a fundamental right in an era of fundamentalism. We must protect it, defend it and not put it at risk."
In response, Quebec Liberal leader, Philippe Couillard said he would not remove Houda-Pepin from the caucus, instead proposing a meeting to discuss the party's stance.
"This can only be done by a team—with, by and for the team," said Couillard at a news conference Friday morning.
Couillard also said he will never allow a candidate wearing the chador to represent the party.
The Liberal leader did, however, reprimand Houda-Pepin for overstepping her bounds as an MNA by speaking publicly on a sensitive issue without consulting the caucus.
Houda-Pepin said the issue of specific religious garments was never addressed by the caucus and that she has always believed the chador is a symbol of oppression for women.
"I see the national assembly as the seat of our democracy, and to see the image the chador projects… I was shocked!" said Houda-Pepin.
Tanguay said today that his statement was "extremely hypothetical," and hopes that Houda-Pepin will quickly return to the caucus.
On Thursday, the Parti-Québécois said it supported Houda-Pepin's stance on the religious garment.
"She made the same observation that we did — that gender equality must prevail," said PQ minister Bernard Drainville.
In September, Bloc Québécois MP Maria Mourani was expelled from the caucus in Ottawa for opposing the draft of the PQ's charter of values.