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Teachers, judges, and police will be among those barred from wearing anything with a religious symbol in Quebec. Flickr
James Risdon James Risdon

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Quebec’s premier-elect wants to ban religious symbols for teachers, police, judges

James Risdon James Risdon

QUEBEC CITY, October 11, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Wearing religious symbols in the Canadian province of Quebec will become illegal for teachers, judges, police officers and those who work in prisons under a campaign promise made by the newly-elected Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ).

Premier-elect François Legault's party isn't set to officially take over in the predominantly French-Canadian province until October 18. But the party's official line while it waits in the wings is that its campaign promise to bring in a secular charter will go ahead.

Aspects of that secular charter, widely considered to be open to a constitutional challenge, would make wearing religious symbols illegal for agents of the state who wield coercive power.

CAQ spokesman Mathieu St. Amand refused Thursday to get into the details of just what is included in the term "religious symbols" ahead of the government swearing-in ceremony.

In Quebec, the term "religious symbols" is commonly thought to include the wearing of the hijab, a veil worn by some Muslim women in presence of any male other than members of their immediate families, which covers the top of the head and shoulders but not the face.

Religious symbols targeted by a secular charter in Quebec would also likely include crosses, crucifixes, and the yarmulke, worn by Orthodox Jewish men.

"Religious signs will be prohibited for all persons in positions of authority, including teachers," states the CAQ website. "After 10 years of discussion on the subject and on reasonable accommodations, it is more than time to act and adopt legislation clearly establishing the secularity of the state."

It's not a new idea in Quebec, but it’s one that previously cost political parties dearly at the polls.

The then-reigning Parti Quebecois came out with similar draft legislation to develop a Charter of Quebec Values five years ago. It would have forbidden employees in law enforcement, schools, courts, hospitals, and daycares from wearing conspicuous religious symbols.

“To recognize secularism as a Quebec value is to take cognizance of the evolution of a people which, for the past half century, has become increasingly secular and has taken the confessional character out of its institutions,” then-Premier Pauline Marois reportedly said in 2013.

Despite its aversion to the wearing religious symbols, the Parti-Quebecois-led government had no issue with flying an LGBT "Pride" flag for six months over its government buildings to affirm its solidarity with homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered people during the Sochi Olympics.

In 2014, after a massive outcry over the ban on religious symbols, Quebecers went to the polls and voted the Parti Quebecois out of power.

Anti-Catholic and anti-religious sentiment has been brewing in Quebec since its 1960s Quiet Revolution that saw Quebecers turn away from the Catholic church in droves. Politicians have since sought to capitalize on that secularist tide.  

The CAQ is simply the latest political party to try to make hay with a ban on religious symbols.

Legault has gone so far as to reportedly say that he will invoke the notwithstanding clause to get around the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and put in place this ban against the wearing of religious symbols. The ban would also mean amending Quebec's bill of rights.

Under that provincial Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, freedom of religion and expression are both expressly protected.

"Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on …. religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin," reads that provincial charter of rights.

The CAQ scored a massive electoral victory October 1, soundly beating the Liberals with a platform that promised to cut the number of immigrants, lower taxes, and privatize some parts of the health-care system.

But the CAQ landed its majority and 74 seats with only a smidgeon more than 37 percent of the popular vote. The Liberals, left licking their wounds with only 32 seats, had garnered almost 25 percent of the popular vote.

That opposition to the CAQ is now making itself felt in the streets.

In Montreal last weekend, thousands protested the proposed secular charter, cuts to immigration, and the anticipated values and language tests for immigrants.

One Muslim woman held up a sign. It read in French: "Not only will I keep my veil, Mr. Legault, but I will put on my cowboy hat and fight for my rights."

Another protester held up a sign that proclaimed "The human race is one: Co-exist" with the word co-exist including an Islamic crescent and star, a peace sign, a Star of David, and a cross.

The idea of banning some public officials from wearing religious symbols was recommended in the Bouchard-Taylor report presented to the Quebec provincial government a decade ago.

While that report recommended prohibiting judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and the president and vice president of Quebec's National Assembly from wearing religious symbols, it exempted teachers.

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