Cross Country Checkup

Should public servants be banned from wearing religious clothing and jewelry?

The Quebec values charter: The PQ government plans to ban public employees from wearing visible signs of their religion such as head scarves, turbans and large crosses.Some hospital and daycare workers say they'd rather quit their jobs.  Would it make the public service better if workers concealed their religion? With host Rex Murphy....
  The Quebec values charter: The PQ government plans to ban public employees from wearing visible signs of their religion such as head scarves, turbans and large crosses.
  Some hospital and daycare workers say they'd rather quit their jobs. 

  Would it make the public service better if workers concealed their religion? 

  With host Rex Murphy.

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Quebec's Parti Québécois government set the cat among the pigeons this week when it finally released the details of its proposed Quebec Charter of Values. It had the surprising result of lining up all three federal parties against the Charter. In the province of Quebec -- yesterday, thousands took to the streets in Montreal to protest the Charter. It created new divisions within the sovereigntist movement ...and new alliances between federalists and Quebec nationalists. But with polls suggesting a healthy majority support the proposed code, the PQ and Premier Pauline Marois seems to feel secure. 

The stated goal is to strengthen the secular image of the government and its public service. The PQ says the government's secular nature is undermined when frontline workers who represent the government, dress in a way that makes their personal religious affiliation obvious. They want to cleanse the public sector of visible religious symbols. Turbans, hijabs, yarmulkes, kirpans, and large crosses would be banned. 

Some hospital and daycare workers in the province say they'd rather quit their jobs, prompting responses from across Canada. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi invited Quebeckers to move to Alberta. One Ontario hospital has created ads featuring a picture of a woman wearing a hijab and the caption reads, "We don't care what's on your head. We care what's in it." The BC premier too has offered opportunities to Quebeckers who move west. 

Pundits say the Charter is all about politics ...that the PQ needs to pick up support before the next election and this is one way to siphon off votes from one of its rival parties the CAQ (Coaltion Avenir Quebec). They also say that the PQ by appearing pitted against all three federal parties, can only bolster its sovereigntist postition. 

The Charter does represent a response to an issue that has long simmered in the province. Back in 2007 Quebec struggled through a period where 'reasonable accommodation' was debated and a commission toured the province holding public hearings. The concern at the time was that too many accommodations were being made to immigrants who expect that Quebec should change its rules and customs to suit them ...rather than assimilate. It was a new dimension to an old fear of being swamped by the dominant English culture in North America.  Only this one is fear of Quebec culture being watered-down and altered by the influx of newcomers from other parts of the world. 

The Quebec values charter takes a different approach. While it focuses on similar ground -- the practices and habits of ethnic communities and how they interact with the larger community -- it is less about accommodations made by the majority, than the removal of religious symbols in clothing and jewelry least among those on the public payroll in public institutions and services. 

We want to know what you think. 

Would it make the public service better if workers concealed their religious affiliation? Does a secular state mean that evidence of religious belief should be avoided in its employees? How important is it that the public service reflect the citizenry? Is secularism itself a set of beliefs at times in conflict with religious belief? Should it be the prorogative of the state to make rules about the dress code of its employees? Is English Canada missing the Quebec fear of assimilation? Are there ways of assuaging Quebec's desire to keep its culture distinct without alienating new Canadians? Should the state attempt to impose a neutral face on its employees? Is such neutrality even possible? 

Our question today: "The Quebec Charter of Values: Should public servants be banned from wearing religious clothing and jewelry?" 

I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup. 


  • André Pratte
    Chief Editorial writer, La Presse and author of a biography of Wilfred Laurier in Penguin's Extraordinary Canadians series.

  • André Drouin
    Former council member and author of code for immigrants in Hérouxville, Quebec.

  • Yves Lévesque
    Mayor of Trois-Rivières.

  • Peter Stockland
    Publisher Convivium magazine, former editor-in-chief of the Montreal Gazette, former editorial page editor of the Calgary Herald.

  • Daniel Turp
    Law Professor at the University of Montreal and former Bloc Québécois MP and PQ MNA


National Post 

Globe and Mail 


Montreal Gazette 

Toronto Star 

Ottawa Sun 

Vancouver Sun 

Winnipeg Free Press 


  All religions have symbols, practices and values. While the values are generally similar, the symbols (the most visible component of a religion) are very different. Regrettably, the majority of the followers of a religion pay more heed to the symbols than to the values. As such, religions have become a source of divisiveness and alienation rather than a source of love, compassion and peace. I applaud the Parti Québécois for bringing in a measure to start a dialogue to end this madness, at least in public institutions. The PQ would have my full support to go further still and extend the measure province wide, even if it offends the vast and ever-so vested body of religious leaders who, I suspect, are essentially politicians parading in their disguises as holy men under cover of heavy, sombre robes and competing headgear. 

  Ottawa, Ontario 

  I oppose the proposed legislation for two reasons. The first is that it represents an infringement on human rights. The second is that it seeks to resolve a problem that does not exist. If the Quebec government truly wants to secularize public service, they should remove all religious symbols from public buildings and ensure that their laws do not promote any one religious viewpoint to the exclusion of others. But it is unreasonable to also try to secularize individual public servants by outlawing any display of personal symbols or clothing. The whole idea of a secular government should be understood to mean that there should be no discrimination based on religious belief. Human Rights legislation also rules out discrimination on the basis of gender. Perhaps Quebec should also consider ensuring that public servants not be allowed to be of any particular gender. 
  Edmonton, Alberta 

  I seriously doubt that the Charter of Quebec Values was ever intended to be adopted into law. Rather, I see it as a long term, strategic and well-designed separatists trap. Might our evoked resistance, especially by the media, signal that we've been snared? 

  Montreal, Quebec 

  I think this Charter is dreadful, but is a political game being played by the PQ. However, I have a question. I have a Jewish grandson who attends public school in Ontario. If he and his family were to move to Quebec, would he be able to wear his kippah to school? It would be ironic if he could wear his kippah but his teacher were not allowed to wear her hijab. I think kids are more influenced by their classmates than they are by their teachers and that is one of the concerns expressed by the PQ. 

  Halifax, Nova Scotia 

  I have a dream. It's about a time when humanity will have stepped beyond all religions and therefore all religious symbols. If we must have a symbol that defines us, let it be a large human heart, full of love and compassion toward everybody and all living things. 

  Parry Sound, Ontario 

  Religious neutrality will not be achieved as long as Christmas and Easter are legal holidays and the cross remains in the National Assembly. Quebecois really do not want religious neutrality. They want white, Christian people in charge. They should have a limited immigration policy if that is their goal. This bill has allowed their true colors to show and it screams "You are not welcome here!" 

  Montreal, Quebec 

  In our society, wearing a piece of religious jewelry or clothing isn't a significant form of promotion (of the religion). Individual workers are not expected to display personal gender neutrality, or personal race neutrality and no reasonable person seeing these symbols of religious affiliation on individual public servants confuses this with the government promoting a particular religion, or religion in general. 

  On the contrary, there's no better display of the (religious) neutrality of the government than seeing a wide variety of religious symbols, and the absence of them in some cases, on a number of different individuals (in the public service). A cross on the wall, or Christmas tree in the lobby, or swearing in cabinet ministers using a bible, are more serious indicators of non-neutrality. (Hey, maybe Cross Country Checkup needs to be changed to Across-the-Country Checkup!) 

  The full face coverings (like the Niqab and Burka) are another matter. Like nudity, they change the one environment we all share for everyone, and raise issues of identification and accountability. As a compromise, perhaps they should be allowed in public places, but other individuals and organizations should have to right to not enter into formal arrangements and contracts with people concealing their (visual) identities (without facing charges of violating human rights).   

  Winnipeg, Manitoba 

    What I've found amusing about the folks who feel this infringes on who they are and stifling of their personal expression, probably feel an employer should be able to fire someone for a Mohawk or facial piercings. Or they'd support rules that say you can't be hired if you had a huge "I love Satan" tattoo on your face. An employer, especially a public one, should embrace all groups because it services all groups. More expression protects some expression. If those who want crucifixes would stand up for Sikhs when they try to get into the RCMP or ride a bike, maybe there'd be more support. But, typically the religious groups complaining also want to discriminate. 
    Duncan, British Columbia 

  If approved, the PQ Charter of Values as it stands represents an erosion of fundamental freedoms. Canadian society is becoming renowned internationally for its cultural diversity and the respect nurtured between people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds.  Legislation designed to create a neutral environment will weaken the rich, diverse fabric of our society that we experience daily in our schools, work places and recreational events. We discover we can work together and live together in a society which cultivates mutual respect. It's one of Canada's strengths as a nation. 

  King City, Ontario 

  I believe religion is false and immoral. I am happy to see any steps our governments take to remove it from our lives. 

  Rothesay, New Brunswick 

  I find it extremely ironic, a bit disturbing and more than a little bit sad, that a government elected by and representing a group of people who have struggled for so many years to protect the Francophone culture and identity would choose to trample on the individual freedoms of other minorities. If the intended objective of the current values proposal is to sterilize interactions between the Quebec government and their constituents then why not draw a clear line in the sand and disallow all displays of religious affiliation? Why the exemption allowing Roman Catholics to display discrete symbols of their beliefs while disallowing other religious groups similar freedoms?  The proposal smacks of intolerance if not racism. Where is the understanding and niceness that Canadians are known for? Come on Quebec, be nice! Be Canadian! 

  Burlington, Vermont 

  I am an Anglophone Quebecer and this is the first time I have agreed with the Pauline Marois on anything. It is a secular state and while on the job, the employee should not be showing their religion. They can do that at home. A Fed-ex employee, or UPS employee wears a uniform.  Federal employees that do not wear an uniform in a secular sate should not go out of their way to show something extra in addition to their normal clothing to show off their beliefs. 

  Montreal, Quebec 

  I believe in a separation of religion and state. To wear religious symbols, clothing, etc. while serving the public as a government worker is not appropriate. It sends the signal that one is special or other and has beliefs which could interfere with government work. Government is to serve all citizens without the appearance of favouring anyone. 

  Do you think I would like to get a VISA to a country the gov't agent could personally disapprove of? Do you think I might feel compromised if that religion was tied to a specific area of the world and I was going to a place that was considered "enemy territory"? 

  Also, if one were to recognize a religious symbol on a government worker, perhaps one would feel a kinship that would otherwise be simply carrying out a job without prejudice. I probably would feel more favoured by searching out the government worker who wore my favoured symbol. 

  Vancouver Island, British Columbia 

  I think the purpose of the Charter of Quebec Values is to make minorities, who will never vote for independence nor vote PQ, feel unwelcome and leave. Even if it is defeated, it will still have that effect. We are going to see more measures by the PQ government to repress minorities. Following the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, Mulroney and Bourassa made an agreement that Quebec would get a certain percentage of immigrants coming into Canada. I suspect that that agreement resulted in more than 50,000 more immigrants to Quebec before the 1995 referendum. "No" won by only 50,000 votes. Parizeau blamed "money and the ethnic vote." 

  Cold Lake, Alberta 

  Good question, but do we respect other people's culture when we travel and work abroad? I have been in the Gaza strip when white women have bathed in the nude. Even men cannot get into the monastery in the Sinai in shorts. What would happen if tomorrow Ontario decided that because French is not our native language we declared we would no longer offer services in French? I think we have a problem in that too many people don't think, don't ask, 
  and don't listen. 

  Kingston, Ontario 

  Hurrah for Quebec, the best part of Canada. After 400 years of religious repression by Catholics, it has the courage to confront the phoney God that has betrayed us and left the building. Plaudits to the PQ and let the rest of Canada join in and support their courage. I do not want to have other religions forcing their costumes and beliefs down my throat. 

  Victoria, British Columbia 

  Please let me remind you that religion, along with other things, is a profession. Religion is business that recruits, that vies for relevance, that raises money. To me, wearing an overt symbol makes you complicit in the promotion of that particular religion. You can't do that when you work for me, or many other private employers, because it can offend or  alienate people who eschew religion. If you are serving the public, they deserve your respect. Please respect them by at least appearing to be devoted to their interests, not your own. Save that for your time. 

  I believe that there is a big distinction between the religious obligation to wear a hijab or kippah, and wearing a cross, for example. In the latter case, there is no obligation, just a preference. in Islam and Judaism, one needs to wear a hijab or kippah as an important part of religious life. 

  Toronto, Ontario 

  Why is it that the people away from large urban centers, who have little or no exposure to immigrants, are the ones who support this discriminatory and xenophobic proposed charter? Why do people use the argument that if we were in a Muslim country we would conform to their customs? The reason people come to Canada is because Canada is a better place than other countries due to our inclusiveness and human rights. I am against religion, personally, but much more against discrimination and xenophobia. I am for tolerance, diversity, openness and inclusiveness. We live in Canada in 2013 and we should celebrate these things, not fear them. 

  Montreal, Quebec 

  I can almost understand and agree with what the Quebec government is doing. But, and it is a big but, as a measure to either reduce the so-called "Muslim threat", however real that may or may not be, it is bound to fail. It is very commonly understood that resistance against movement such as religion, only serves to strengthen them. In passing this law, the government will not only introduce a wedge into society, they will also strengthen whatever radical elements exist. This observation is aside from all the other, legitimate human rights concerns. 

  As an agnostic, I view most religions as having very little significance or validity and I believe we will never progress very much further from the cave until we shed them, and the best way to do this is to just ignore them. Eventually, they will fade into the past. 

  Sioux Narrows, Ontario 

  I understand the spirit of the Charter but it is misguided. The state has no business in anyone's religious beliefs or practices. Having said that, anything that would ban the burka or niqab is progress in my books. These savage, primitive, barbaric symbols of misogyny are indefensible in any civilized society. 

  Oakville, Ontario 


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