Montreal·Q&A

Architect of Quebec's secularism bill addresses Quebecers concerns

Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette, joined CBC Montreal News at 6 anchor Debra Arbec to discuss what Bill 21 means for Quebecers and their institutions.

Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette explains points in Bill 21

Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette tabled a legislation on laicity of the state on March 28. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

In the day since the Quebec government tabled Bill 21, entitled "An Act respecting the laicity of the State," many questions have been asked by citizens, politicians and institutions.

The bill's architect, Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette, joined CBC Montreal News at 6 anchor Debra Arbec to address them.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Debra Arbec: We spoke to many people yesterday about this bill. One teacher we spoke with is Muslim and doesn't want to work beside someone she feels will have more rights than she does. What do you say to her? 

Simon Jolin-Barrette: We [don't] want people get fired because they [are] wearing a religious symbol. And I think that's a compromise that we made in the bill. And it's a transition. I think people here in Quebec want teachers and people in authority to not wear religious symbols.

DA: She won't be able to be promoted. Can she even switch from class to class? How does that even work?

SJB: The grandfather clause that we put in the bill permits [a teacher] to change classes inside the same school board. So that's really important when you work as a teacher. You can continue to be a teacher with your religious symbol inside the same school board. If you change school board or you change jobs — like you become a school principal — you lose your grandfather clause because it's a limited grandfather clause. It's a balance between the collective rights and the individual rights. So I want people [to] keep their job if they don't want to take off their religious symbol.

In this excerpt, Jolin-Barrette discusses teachers:

Quebec immigration minister says he doesn't want anyone fired over secularism bill

3 years ago
Duration 0:58
Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says his government's secularism bill has a grandfather clause as a compromise to those already with public-sector jobs.

DA: Twenty-four hours after you tabled the bill, [Montreal Mayor] Valérie Plante received messages, violent messages, because she came out against the bill yesterday. What do you say to the mayor?

SJB: That is unacceptable. And when I tabled the bill yesterday, in my speech I said I want to have a respectful debate about [it]. We have to be calm. We need to discuss. We can have different points of view on an issue ... and the mayor of Montreal has the right to have her opinion. That's correct. But we have to, as [legislators] or as people of Quebec, we have to be respectful of each other.

DA: The EMSB has already come out and said that they will not apply the bill. They'll hire people who wear kippas, Sikhs who wear turbans, and women of Muslim faith who wear veils.

SJB: I heard the comments from the school board. I said to them: 'Come to the Parliamentary Commission in Quebec. I invite you. We'll have the discussion. Table a [brief], and I will read it. And talk to me, and maybe I will make some modifications on the bill.' But one thing is for sure, when the bill will be adopted, it will be validly adopted by the members of the National Assembly, it will become the law. And the school board will have to apply the law.

DA: So you say that there are going to be talks, that there will be modifications made. Will you take teachers off the table?

SJB: No, that's clear. And it was a [commitment] in the last campaign. We were really clear about that. That some people, in a [position] of authority, or with authority, will not be able to wear religious symbols.

DA: Your government is hoping to get this bill passed by June, by the end of the session. Will you push the bill through?

SJB: I hope that the opposition party will work with me to make it really quick — before June 15 — and I'm hoping to hear what they have to say about the bill. But one thing's for sure, the will of the government is to adopt the bill [before] June 15. And we have two months and a half to adopt the bill. I think we are ready to work and I think [for] 10 years we [have been] talking about this subject. We already talked about it, and now it's the time to turn the page.

The full interview between Simon Jolin-Barrette and CBC's Debra Arbec.

3 years ago
Duration 13:22
In the day since the Quebec government tabled Bill 21, entitled "An Act respecting the laicity of the State," many questions have been asked by citizens, politicians and institutions.

With files from CBC Montreal News at 6

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