Quebec Liberals to consider religious dress code

After weeks of criticizing the Parti Québécois's secular charter, the Quebec Liberals may consider softening their stance on a religious dress code for some civil servants.

Party confirms it's studying options that would fall in line with Bouchard-Taylor recommendations

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard says his party is studying the option of banning some civil servants from wearing religious symbols. (CBC)

After weeks of criticizing the Parti Québécois's secular charter, the Quebec Liberals may consider softening their stance on a religious dress code for some civil servants. 

The Liberals today confirmed that an internal committee is studying the option of implementing a religious dress code for police officers, judges, and others in positions of authority.

That would fall in line with the recommendations of the 2008 recommendations from the Bouchard-Taylor reasonable accommodation commission.

Until today, the Liberal party has said any restrictions on individual freedoms are unacceptable.

MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin breaks party line

Party officials say the possible changes have nothing to do with recent dissent from MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin, who broke ranks last week to say that garments like the chador are symbols of fundamentalism.

That upset some Liberals, and led to suggestions she'd have to quit the party.

But Liberal leader Philippe Couillard said they've put all arguments behind them.

"The way forward is leadership. I define leadership as bringing people together instead of sending them away," Couillard said.

 Couillard said he's hoping to keep the peace by giving Houda-Pépin a bigger role in drafting the party's new position.

Houda-Pépin is the only Muslim woman in the national assembly. 

PQ calls Liberals 'weak'

Couillard says while the party may open the door to banning overt religious symbols for some public employees, he denies he's flip-flopping on the issue.

"The balance always has to be maintained. The fight against terrorism [and] fundamentalism is a daily challenge in all open and democratic societies. Our challenge is not to relinquish our liberties while doing that," Couillard said.

The PQ is now calling on the opposition to compromise even further.

"They are evolving at last," said Bernard Drainville, the PQ minister in charge of the charter.

"Now they seem to be a little less weak. But it is still very weak to say that religious neutrality extends only to judges and police and prison guards," he said.

Other PQ ministers say their strategy is working, and with time, the opposition parties will warm up to the secular charter.

"The debate is bringing even reluctant parties like the Liberal party to move forward toward our position. I think we should give them more time to move even more forward," said PQ cabinet minister Jean-François Lisée.

But Couillard insists the Liberal party won't go ahead with any charter restrictions if they violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


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