TORONTO (JTA) — Quebec’s government introduced its much-discussed Charter of Quebec Values, which would ban “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols worn by government employees.
The plan proposed by the secessionist, secular-minded Parti Quebecois would prohibit public and para-public employees, from judges to day care workers, from wearing large crosses and crucifixes, Islamic headscarves, Sikh turbans and yarmulkes in order to establish “religious neutrality” in the public realm.
If passed, the law would also make it mandatory to uncover one’s face when providing or receiving a state service.
The prohibitions would apply to civil servants, teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses and public day care employees. Elected officials would be exempt. Universities and municipalities could seek a renewable, five-year exemption.
“The time has come to rally around our common values,” Bernard Drainville, the government minister in charge of the portfolio, said at a news conference Tuesday. “They define who we are. Let’s be proud of them.”
A bill will be introduced this fall in the National Assembly. The minority government of Premier Pauline Marois will need opposition support for the measure to pass, however.
The plan has been widely denounced as xenophobic and discriminatory. But polls show that a majority of francophone Quebecers approve the measures.
The federal government responded that if the charter is approved, Ottawa would order a review by its Justice Department to ascertain if the law violates constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion.
The Quebec office of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a statement that it is “dismayed” at the proposed charter.
If passed, it “would restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of Quebecers. The proposed charter will run contrary to the provisions enshrined by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is unacceptable and will only serve to enflame civil discourse.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said “there is no justification” for the government’s proposed legislation.
“The prohibition of wearing religious symbols in the public and para-public service is not justified, and would exclude a large number of Quebecers. The role of the state should be to bring people together, not to divide them,” it said.