By Hilary White

MONTREAL, May 22, 2008 ( – Every religion but Christianity should be welcome in public life in Quebec, according to a government report. Crucifixes must be removed from the National Assembly and classrooms and Christian prayers banned from city council meetings but students should be allowed to wear their Islamic hijabs, Jewish kippas, Sikh turbans and even the ceremonial dagger called a kirpan.

The report says, “Under the principle of the neutrality of the State, religious displays linked to the functioning of public institutions should be abandoned.” But because “Catholicism has left an indelible mark on Québec’s history,” the huge crucifix on top of Mount Royal in Montreal and the town and village names derived from the Catholic calendar of saints can stay. These were deemed to “no longer fulfil an obvious religious function”.

The famous crucifix in the National Assembly can be put in “a room devoted to the history of Parliament”.

The core values of Quebec society should be the “rule of French, gender equality (and) the separation of church and state.”

Titled “Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation”, the 307-page report on immigration and minorities by sociologist Gerard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor cost the Quebec government $5 million. Premier Jean Charest promised to act quickly to implement the report saying it has the “greatest impact and most immediate impact.”

“We are proposing neither a break nor a radical shift but only measures to facilitate intercultural relations and the normal development of a pluralist, modern society,” Taylor said.

Judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers, prison guards and the president of the National Assembly should be barred from wearing religious symbols, but other public sector employees and students may be allowed to wear religious signs if they do not hinder their jobs or their safety. Quebec should adopt “basic texts” that define “open secularism” and “typically Quebec-style interculturalism,” and the government should produce “a multidenominational calendar” of public religious holidays.

Despite the dramatic decline in the Francophone population of Quebec, the plunging birth rate, the rise of mass immigration from non-Christian cultures and a growing number of inter-cultural clashes between the indigenous French Catholic culture and immigrant populations, the report concluded that there was no cultural crisis in Quebec. Only a “crisis of perception” exists on ethnic and religious integration the report said.

“What we are facing, instead, is the need to adapt,” the report said. The growth of secularism and the fading of the traditional French Catholic culture of Quebec means that greater accommodation must be made to non-Christian immigration. The proposed solution is radical secularization. “Our society is sufficiently divided at present and we must seek to reduce splits and tensions instead of exacerbating them. The time has come for compromise, negotiation and balance.”

Meanwhile, the report did not mention the fact that demographers continue to predict that the native French population of Quebec has only a few decades more life left. The sudden plunge of the birth rate at the end of the 1960s, the abortion rate well above the Canadian national average, divorce, and an aging population spell the impending end of Quebec as a “distinct society”.

In 2005, a group of Quebec’s leaders in politics and business warned that the province would soon see the end of its economic prosperity because of the drastic drop in the birth rate. Economist Pierre Fortin warned that it is already too late and the trend is irreversible, “It is written in the sky.” By 2025, Fortin said there would be two workers for every retiree. “The aging population will tear Quebec apart.”

“Unfortunately, most [Quebeckers] continue to deny or ignore the danger, and this is cause for deep concern,” the group stated in its report. “That’s the peculiarity of the current situation: the danger does not appear imminent but rather as a long slow decline. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any risk. But once it begins, the downward slide will be inexorable.”