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What the leaders are saying about Quebec's secularism law

Federal leaders have been challenged to outline their position on Quebec's secularism law in the first week of the campaign. Here's a look at what they said.

Federal leaders have treaded carefully around the issue in recent months

The three federal leaders who attended the first debate of the election were asked about Quebec's Bill 21. 2:37

Federal leaders have been challenged to outline their position on Quebec's secularism law in the first week of the campaign. 

The law has been met with criticism within the province and across the country, with many saying it infringes on people's right to practise their religion, and because of the Quebec government's use of legal measures to skip the typical parliamentary process to pass it. 

The law, which forbids certain civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, is currently being challenged in Quebec Superior Court by two civil rights groups.

Quebec Premier François Legault has said federal leaders should keep out of the matter "forever," suggesting criticisms challenge Quebec's sovereignty within Canada.

Because of the polarizing nature of the law, federal leaders have tread carefully around the issue in recent months.

Earlier this week, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he wouldn't "close the door on intervening at a later date."

On Friday, he explained further why he would not get involved in the legal challenge.

"I think Quebec voters know full well that I will always defend individual rights and freedoms and indeed that I disagree with Bill 21. I don't think, in a free society, we should be limiting fundamental rights or allowing discrimination to happen," he said.

"We are weighing whether to intervene. At this point we do not think it would be productive."

Trudeau skipped the federal election's first debate Thursday evening, hosted by Citytv and Maclean's. But the three leaders who did participate were asked about their stances on the law by moderator Paul Wells. 

The following is a transcript of their answers. 

Elizabeth May, Green Party

I find it very distressing. Bill 21 is clearly an infringement on individual human rights. When I look back at our history of divisions within this country, separatism within Quebec, I don't want to fuel. I want to work to find a way that ensures the rights of every Quebecer wearing a hijab or a turban or a yarmulke. And it may be that we can find a solution where we leave Quebec alone but we find jobs for anyone that Quebec has taken off of their payroll.

Paul Wells: So we give jobs to people who have to leave?

EM: Yes. 

Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party

I made my views on this position very clear. The Conservative Party will always stand up for individual liberties. We are the party of the Bill of Rights. We are the party that supports individual expression. This is not something that we would ever think of imposing at the federal level. And right now, people in Quebec who are opposed to this legislation or are affected by this legislation are pursuing it in the courts, as is their right. Ultimately the courts will make a decision on the law.

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party

I think about what this bill says to a lot of kids out there, who are made to feel like they don't belong because of the way they look. I remember when I was made to feel like I couldn't do things because of the way I looked. This is a law that effectively says that, not just do we discriminate people maybe in society, but now it's legislated. It's legislated discrimination and it's sad, and it's hurtful.

I think about all the people that wanted to pursue becoming an educator or maybe wanted to become a lawyer or a judge and how it's telling them that they are less worthy and they don't belong. What I do I recognize is that this is within the jurisdiction of Quebec. There is an important challenge going on right now. I support that right to challenge this law in court. I'm hoping that I can send a message to people in Quebec, that you can believe in who you are. You can celebrate your identity and contribute to society.

With files from Sarah Leavitt, John MacFarlane and The Canadian Press

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