Secularism charter slammed by Quebec politicians

A proposed charter that Premier Pauline Marois says will help unite Quebecers is being called "divisive" by her political opponents.

Vision Montréal leader says government can't legislate values

Quebec secularism charter controversy

9 years ago
Duration 2:32
Proposed legislation would ban religious symbols for public workers

A proposed charter that Premier Pauline Marois says will help unite Quebecers will accomplish the exact opposite, according to her political rivals.

The Parti Québécois's proposed charter of Quebec values, would see religious symbols such as turbans, kippas, hijabs and visible crucifixes banned for public employees. Doctors, teachers and public daycare workers would be covered by the legislation.

'We know that this debate will divide Quebec.'—François Legault, leader of Coalition Avenir Québec

Over the weekend, Marois said the charter would be a "strong uniting element between Quebecers."

But the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec party, François Legault, disagrees.

"We hope that the Parti Québécois turns the page as soon as possible because we know that this debate will divide Quebec," he said.

However, Legault did acknowledge the principle behind the PQ's charter. He said too much religious accommodation has been made over the years and criticized the provincial Liberal Party for not defending Quebec's traditional values.

"What is important … is that people in a position of authority, they should not have any religious signs," Legault said.

He said the ban on religious wear would be suitable for judges, policeman and teachers, but Legault added the rule should not extend across-the-board to public servants such as doctors and nurses.

Federal politicians speak out

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also voiced his concerns on Monday, saying he doubts Marois will move ahead with the planned ban because it would be contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mulcair compared the proposed ban to Marois musing last year about requiring language tests for candidates in municipal elections.

"And I said, look, it's so patently unconstitutional they'll never do it. And guess what? It was so patently unconstitutional, they never did it," Mulcair told reporters in Ottawa.

In Toronto, the normally outspoken federal minister of foreign affairs declined to offer his opinion on the proposal.

"I think one of the things that we made very clear when we launched the office [of religious freedom] within the Department of Foreign Affairs was my mandate was strictly outside of the country. So I'm going to repeat that obviously. I'm a big believer in freedom, a big believer of freedom everywhere, but the mandate that I have is in foreign affairs," John Baird said.

'These things can't be legislated'

The PQ's proposal also received a critical response in Montreal.

Louise Harel, municipal party leader for Vision Montréal, said it's not the government's role to regulate values.

"We can legislate rights, we can legislate duties," Harel said on Radio-Canada’s morning show.

"Kindness, hospitality, brotherhood — these things can’t be legislated."

'Your religion is in your heart. It's not how you dress, it's not what you wear around your neck.'—Elissa Estefan, Laval resident

Harel recalled how her partner was recently treated by a female doctor wearing a hijab.

"Will we ask her to quit now, even though we’re in need of doctors?" Harel wondered. 

Religion is in your heart

Laval resident Elissa Estefan says she moved to Canada from Lebanon in search of a more secular society.

Even though she's religious, Estefan says she's in favour of the proposed charter.

She goes as far to say that religious symbols should be banned in public for everyone, and not just public-sector employees.

"You can practise your own religion, and you’re free to do so in your mosques, in your churches, in your synagogues. You can choose to do it, but I don’t have to see it. I left my country not to see it," she says.

"Your religion is in your heart. It's not how you dress, it's not what you wear around your neck."