Que. Liberals call for "open secularism"

The Quebec Liberals said the Parti Québécois government's expected proposal to ban civil servants from wearing religious symbols is "an attack on individual freedoms."

Say workplace religious symbol ban would go too far

Philippe Couillard, leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, announcing his response to the propsed secular charter on Sept. 5, 2013 (Radio-Canada)

The Quebec Liberals said the Parti Québécois government's expected proposal to ban civil servants from wearing religious symbols is "an attack on individual freedoms."

Liberal leader Philippe Couillard outlined his party's response to the planned secular charter today, advocating an "open secularism" and calling the ban on religious garb "unrealistic, difficult to enforce and probably illegal." 

"Instead of getting active in how people dress, can’t you take care of the real issues?" said Couillard. "[The PQ’s plan] is an unacceptable attack on our individual freedoms and we will never tolerate it."

Couillard said that his party's plan would prohibit civil servants only from covering their faces, along with other general rules for religious accommodations which he says fall in line with the report of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission and many of the recommendations adopted by the previous Liberal government.

Although the exact contents of the PQ's charter have not been released, it is expected to propose banning any civil servant from wearing a religious symbol—such as crosses, kippas and hijabs—in the workplace.

The charter of values was scheduled to be made public on Sept. 9; however, the government says it is postponing the publication by a "few days."

Premier says hijabs likely banned for civil servants

Premier Pauline Marois told Radio-Canada today that civil servants—who represent the state—must project a neutral image on the job and are free to wear any religious symbols they want in private.

Marois said hijabs are obvious religious symbols and would likely be banned for workers in the public sector.

"[The hijab] is a gesture of submission in many cases. In some cases I know it's not, but I listened to a young Muslim woman who said, 'you know, when I arrive at work I take off the veil. I don't need to wear the veil there. After that, when I leave I put it on because it's important to me,'" said Marois.

Couillard said he objects to the government's stance that the charter would promote equality between men and women.

"It’s a very strange strategy, by the way, that in order to achieve emancipation of Muslim women, you bar them from working," said Couillard. "I find it extremely objectionable."

Hadia Sawaf, a 21-year-old Montrealer who wears the hijab, says the charter will target Muslim women more than men.

"It... would have more effect on women, because women who work in public areas and public places, they're going to have to either quit or take off the hijab," said Sawaf.