Quebec opposition parties come out swinging against Liberals' criteria for religious accommodation

Guidelines for determining religious accommodation, released yesterday, are being criticized by all sides, with the CAQ accusing the Liberals of "creating chaos," and Québec Solidaire blaming all parties for stirring up a "toxic debate."

CAQ accuses government of 'creating chaos,' Québec Solidaire blames all parties for stirring up 'toxic debate'

Gabriel Nadeau Dubois, spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, had some scathing criticism of the Liberal's latest update on BIll 62 Thursday morning. (CBC)

It's a debate that has gone back and forth in the province for more than a decade: the question of religious accommodation in a secular state and how Quebec should handle these types of requests without infringing on the rights of individuals.

On Wednesday, the government released six criteria which decision-makers are to use to weigh the validity of requests such as wearing a veil at school or asking for a religious holiday off work.

Thursday, all opposition parties responded, saying that the government's attempt to clarify the most controversial aspect of Bill 62 has failed outright.

The government is putting the decision-making power in the hands of administrative bodies, like the heads of public transit agencies, school boards and medical centres.

"It will create chaos," said Nathalie Roy, the Coalition Avenir Québec's spokesperson on secularism. "We're opening the door to subjectivity."

"We are going to have two administrators who have a different opinion on the same accommodation request," Roy said.

"It's on the backs, on the shoulders of employees to find an answer," said Agnès Maltais, the Parti Québécois's secularism critic.

"Quebecers still don't have a universal answer," she said, vowing that if the PQ gains power in the upcoming election, it will create legislation that would "go much further."

The CAQ, on the other hand, said that it will scrap Bill 62 if the party comes to power in the fall.

Debate escalates

Québec Solidaire has taken the strongest stance, with spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois calling the Liberals "incompetent" and "unable to provide basic and clear rules for accommodations."

He accused all the parties of contributing to a "toxic debate" that has plagued politics for the last decade.

"Ten years later, we are at the same point. And the responsibility is equally shared by the Liberal Party that has done nothing, and the duo PQ and CAQ that is using every opportunity they have to put, once again, that debate on the table."

Premier Philippe Couillard defended Bill 62 and the accompanying guidelines, saying that it was never the Liberal government's intention to provide "a rigid, micro-management framework, but an intelligent framework for local decision-makers to make appropriate decisions."

He said he's confident the law, with the accompanying criteria, will stand up in court.

Warda Naili is a Quebec woman who had spoken out against Bill 62. The law, once implemented, would restrict access to public services, including buses, schools and hospitals to people with their faces covered. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Looking to Bouchard-Taylor report

Both the government and several opposition parties used the Bouchard-Taylor report as justification for their positions.

In their 2008 report, sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor offered solutions aimed at assuaging concerns about the erosion of Quebec identity while respecting the rights of minorities.

The report did suggest that public servants who exercise the power of the state — such as police, judges and prison guards — be barred from wearing religious garb.

It did not, however, extend the same recommendation to public employees such as teachers or daycare workers, or to those receiving services. 

The two authors have since diverged in their opinions, with Taylor coming out staunchly against Bill 62 and its proposed implementation.

The section of Bill 62 that concerns banning face coverings for people using or providing public services is expected to come into effect July 1.

With files from Benjamin Shingler