Thaddeus Baklinski

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Quebec gov. considers even more religious restrictions in its values charter: claims public support

Thaddeus Baklinski
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QUEBEC, October 23, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Parti Quebecois, emboldened by what it claims is widespread public support for its controversial “Charter of Values,” has suggested it may toughen up the restrictions on wearing religious symbols rather than pare them down, according to the minister responsible for the plan, Bernard Drainville. 

In August, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ government announced plans for the controversial legislation that would ban “conspicuous” religious symbols worn by public employees at work. The “Charter of Quebec Values” would forbid employees in courts, law-enforcement, schools, hospitals, and daycares from wearing items such as turbans, hijabs, kippas, and crucifixes. 

However, the Parti Quebecois government has faced charges of hypocrisy for not mandating the restrictions on religious symbols across the board. Provisos include exempting legislators, leaving in place "historical" religious symbols such as the crucifix that was placed in the National Assembly in 1936 by the Duplessis government, and allowing an opt-out for certain institutions. 

While no official statement has yet been made, Drainville said at a news conference on October 22 that he may add removal of the crucifix that hangs in the province’s National Assembly, and disallow the current opt-out provisions for institutions, to the proposed legislation. 

Drainville claimed that 68 percent of the 26,000 comments posted on the government's website are entirely or partially in favor of the legislation, while only 18 percent were opposed. 

He said that the changes most often requested by commenters were the removal of the legislature crucifix, restricting the provision that allows institutions to choose not to participate for five-year periods, and changing the name of the values charter to the "secularism charter." 

Against Drainville’s claims of widespread support for the charter is the fact that the legislation has been condemned by the prime minister, the leaders of the Liberal and NDP federal parties, both the opposition parties in Quebec, the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC), and numerous religious leaders. 

In a scathing commentary the QHRC called the Charter of Quebec Values a radical and misguided attempt to create a law that would infringe fundamental rights and freedoms, and that would not withstand a court challenge. 

Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec party, said, "Let's be really clear: This is a debate about the Muslim religion. I think it's bad for our society," according to a CTV report, adding, "It's become really like a trial of the Muslim religion in Quebec... I see serious risks of this getting out of hand... This isn't the Quebec society I know." 

"This is an appeal to the lowest common denominator of human nature. It's being done, and I hope this isn't the case, but apparently it's with electoral aims," said Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard. "That's why we're telling the public and government: Steer clear of these questions. Don't continue with a law that is an unprecedented assault on the fundamental rights and freedoms of Quebecers. Unite Quebecers. It's your duty as a government." 

Federal Employment, Social Development & Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said the federal government is "very concerned about any proposal that would discriminate unfairly against people based on their religion. If it's determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously." 

Despite the criticism, Premier Pauline Marois says her government intends to table the legislation sometime this fall. 

"I'll ask the ... opposition for a bit of patience," Marois said in the legislature according to CTV. "This legislation will be tabled soon and then we'll have the chance to debate their proposals, debate our project."

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