Chris Selley: The debate over Quebec’s religious symbols bill nears its wretched end

Pointed commentary:

Better late than never, one supposes: Three days before Premier François Legault’s self-imposed deadline for passing Bill 21, which would prohibit certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job, his government proposed an amendment that would actually define “religious symbol.” (It had hitherto argued none was necessary.) If the amendment is adopted, teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and others deemed to be in positions of authority would be forbidden to display any “clothing, symbol, jewellery, ornament, accessory or headgear that is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief and can reasonably be considered as referring to a religious affiliation.”

Kudos to whichever reporter thought on Wednesday to ask whether wedding rings count. The question utterly stymied both Legault and his Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister — you read that correctly — Simon Jolin-Barrette, who’s in charge of this project. “The person who wears an object that for her constitutes a religious symbol, that constitutes a religious symbol,” Jolin-Barrette explained. “And the person who wears an object that in the eyes of a reasonable person represents a religious symbol, that constitutes a religious symbol.”

Many scoffed at the question. Reporters were just playing silly buggers, they said —  “f—ing the dog,” in Quebec parlance. The government quickly clarified that wedding rings would not be covered.

And indeed, there are many 100-per-cent non-religious wedding bands in the Quebec civil service. But many wedding rings are unambiguously religious symbols to the people wearing them. The standard Catholic marriage script suggests priests ask “the Lord (to) bless these rings” before giving them to the bride and groom. Each will ask the other to “receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Of course, who’s to know? The religious rings don’t glow a special colour. So long as devoutly religious police officers and public-school teachers do their jobs properly and professionally, without fear or favour, everything will be fine. Only that’s precisely what Bill 21’s opponents have been saying forever: A kippa or hijab is no evidence of a partial or biased civil servant, and the lack of a kippa or hijab is no evidence of an impartial or unbiased one. By definition, a law about religious symbols can’t do anything that’s not symbolic — only in this case, the symbolism involves trampling all over minority rights.

Legault has never shown any particular enthusiasm for this project; rather, he defends it on grounds that it has majority support and that it’s time to put the whole issue to bed. As Bill 21 nears passage, more and more voices have made it clear that won’t happen.

On Saturday Le Devoir ran a huge spread about how much religion is costing Quebecers in terms of tax breaks for churches and faith-based organizations. It gave ample voice to the view that faith itself, separated from the charitable works of faithful people, has no intrinsic value to society (or is even a net detriment). “It is difficult to understand how we can enshrine the secular status of the Québécois state in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, reaffirm the separation of the state and religion and the equality of all citizens, and give away hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year,” an editorial argued.

In fact it’s perfectly easy to understand: The government demonstrates its neutrality, and its respect for the equality of all citizens, by treating people the same way regardless of their private faith or lack thereof. If laïcité were incompatible with respecting religious faith and its contributions to society, it’s unlikely the French state would own and maintain so many churches.

Outright anti-religious sentiment is one thing Bill 21 won’t get rid of. It also won’t quiet people who think it should apply to daycare workers and teachers at state-subsidized religious schools — or indeed to the entire civil service, as was contemplated by Pauline Marois’ popular Values Charter. And Bill 21 certainly won’t dissuade bigots from taking out their inadequacies on Quebec’s minority populations. This week a Montreal woman who wears a niqab tracked down the driver of a bus that blew past her at a stop — deliberately, she alleges, based on anti-niqab sentiments the driver had previously expressed on Facebook. When the woman complained in the same medium, CBC reported, respondents included a Société de Transport de Montréal union rep who suggested “a normal Quebecer would have waited for the next bus.”

It’s one of many alarming incidents that Muslim Quebecers in particular insist have become more and more frequent as this interminable debate drags on. The government has proposed no solutions except to make the majority more comfortable — perhaps by banning women wearing niqabs from riding public buses. That particular question will have to wait for a while, tied up as it is in the courts. But Bill 21 will pass before MNAs break for the summer.

At least those affected will finally know where they stand (pending further restrictions). At least greener pastures await elsewhere in Canada if they decide, not unreasonably, that they are no long welcome.

Source: Chris Selley: The debate over Quebec’s religious symbols bill nears its wretched end

Urback: If Trudeau takes his own advice, he will take a stand against Quebec’s religious symbols ban: Robyn Urback

Valid test:

October 2018 was less than two years after a madman named Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire in a Quebec mosque, killing six people. And October 2018 was the same month a gunman walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire, killing 11. By that time, reported hate crimes in Canada had reached an all-time high, with every other week bringing a new report about hateful vandalism appearing in public spaces.

October 2018 was also the last time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in at length on the plan by Quebec Premier FrançoisLegault to implement a ban on religious symbols worn by public servants — a xenophobic dog whistle, for those trained to hear the call.

Not unlike the proposed “values charter” tabled by the Parti Québécois under Pauline Marois, Legault’s religious symbols ban will prohibit teachers and other provincially employed “authority figures” from wearing symbols of faith on the job.

While its defenders point out that the ban will apply to Christians as much as Muslims, Sikhs and Jews — though the crucifix hanging in Quebec’s National Assembly will stay in place, for now — the message is clear in the context of Quebec’s enduring anxieties over immigration and diversity. A province obsessed with maintaining its language and culture is not drawing up legislation to rid the public sector of tiny crosses worn around teachers’ necks.

So back in October, Trudeau issued a warning. When asked about Legault’s threat to use the charter’s notwithstanding clause to implement the ban, Trudeau said: “It’s not something that should be done lightly, because to remove or avoid defending the fundamental rights of Canadians, I think it’s something with which you have to pay careful attention.”

Trudeau also said, ostensibly in reference to clothing such as hijabs, that the state should not “tell a woman what she can or cannot wear.”

It was tepid language for a nakedly bigoted proposal — strikingly so, especially when viewed through the lens of today, after the monstrous act of violence and hatred carried out in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand.

The attack on two mosques there last Friday, which left 50 people dead and dozens more injured, struck a nerve globally in a way the Quebec mosque shooting simply did not. Perhaps it was because of the scale of the violence, or in part because the massacre was live streamed on social media, but the Christchurch attack appears to have catalyzed action worldwide.

Here in Canada, the response was swift. The Liberals on the Commons justice and human rights committee, which had been investigating the SNC-Lavalin affair, shut down its inquiry and took up an investigation on how to stem hate crimes in Canada. Cabinet ministers started showing up at mosques to demonstrate their solidarity with the Muslim community. And the prime minister delivered an impassioned 17-minute speech in the House of Commons about the need to speak out against hatred and discrimination.

“The problem is not only that politicians routinely fail to denounce this hatred — it’s that, in too many cases, they actively court those who spread it,” Trudeau said at one point, taking a not-so-subtle shot at Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

“To politicians and leaders around the world: the dog whistle politics, the ease with which certain people choose to adopt extremist ideology — it has to stop.”

Trudeau went on:

“Politicians stand around, and we offer our condolences, and we say nice things in the aftermath. We say that we’ll do better. We say that never again will such hatred be allowed to fester unchallenged. And then, when the flames die down, and the smoke clears, we look the other way.”

Not looking the other way

Legault has signalled he will table his religious symbols ban sometime this spring. If passed, it will essentially allow the state to discriminate against job applicants because of what they wear for their faith. Vigilante enforcement is sure to follow, given that the province says it will grandfather in workers who already wear religious symbols, though the public will have no way of knowing whether a hijab-wearing teacher, for example, has been granted an exception, or if she is breaking the rules.

So here is an opportunity for Trudeau to put his preaching into practice. It’s easy to call out hatred when it is blatant: an anti-Muslim screed on an online message board or a swastika painted on the side of a building. It is also easy to insist we must speak out against bigotry and xenophobia as general concepts, from a nonspecific source.

It is much more difficult, however, to call out dog whistles and subtle efforts at division and prejudice. Especially in an election year. Especially when it comes from Quebec.

I hold little hope that Scheer is capable of doing so; based on recent appearancesand performances, it’s likely he would short-circuit, smile awkwardly and later insist that he didn’t hear the question. But Trudeau stood in the House of Commons earlier this week and specifically called on politicians to own their influence.

To repeat Trudeau’s words: “Politicians stand around, and we offer our condolences, and we say nice things in the aftermath. We say that we’ll do better. We say that never again will such hatred be allowed to fester unchallenged. And then, when the flames die down, and the smoke clears, we look the other way.”

The flames may die down and the smoke clear by the time Legault tables his legislation. Trudeau’s message that politicians should not allow hatred to fester unchallenged is a necessary one. Yet his anemic response when the topic came up in October was the moral equivalent of looking the other way. In the aftermath of the New Zealand massacre, we should hope that he finally takes his own advice.

Source: If Trudeau takes his own advice, he will take a stand against Quebec’s religious symbols ban: Robyn Urback

School boards push back on ‘witch hunt’ as government seeks data on staff religious symbols

Very intrusive vs the self-declaration approach of the census and employment equity (which do not capture the degrees of religiosity in the census or religious minority status in EE). The 2011 NHS provided the following numbers for Quebec education Muslim employees (not only teachers) – 2.3% in schools, 1.9 % in CEGEPs, 5.3% in universities:

The head of Quebec’s largest school board says she was outraged by a request from the province’s Education Department last week seeking to know how many board employees wear religious symbols.

Catherine Harel Bourdon, who oversees the Commission scolaire de Montreal, says the request received Friday could be seen as contravening the rights and freedoms of its employees.

Harel Bourdon says the board was not told why the department was seeking such information. She said the board’s response was that it does not collect such information and would not engage in what she called a witch hunt.

The controversy comes as the new Coalition Avenir Quebec government prepares legislation that would prohibit public servants in positions of authority — including teachers — from wearing religious symbols such as the hijab, kippa or turban at work.

Francis Bouchard, a spokesman for Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge, says no formal request for a tally was made — rather a number of school boards were called to determine whether such information exists. Bouchard accused the boards of manufacturing a scandal.

Relations were already strained between the province’s school boards and the new government, which was elected on a promise to eliminate the boards in favour of new service centres.

Source: School boards push back on ‘witch hunt’ as government seeks data on staff religious symbols

More extensive reporting in French:

Le ministère de l’Éducation a causé toute une commotion en demandant à des commissions scolaires de dénombrer les enseignants et les membres de la direction des écoles qui portent un signe religieux au travail, a appris La Presse.

Leur fédération s’est aussitôt rebiffée, mandatant ses services juridiques de vérifier la légalité d’une telle manoeuvre, selon un courriel envoyé à tous ses membres.

Des sources sûres indiquent qu’au moins trois commissions scolaires de la région métropolitaine ont reçu une demande du Ministère visant à divulguer des statistiques sur le port de signes religieux. Il s’agit des commissions scolaires de Montréal (CSDM), de la Pointe-de-l’Île (CSPI) et de Laval (CSDL).


La demande aurait été faite verbalement, et non par écrit, vendredi dernier. Le ressac a été immédiat. Les commissions scolaires visées ont exprimé leur malaise devant une telle demande.

La Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec (FCSQ) s’est mêlée du dossier, selon un courriel envoyé à l’ensemble de ses membres. « Certaines commissions scolaires ont reçu une demande du bureau de la sous-ministre de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur pour dénombrer le personnel des commissions scolaires et des écoles qui portent des signes religieux au travail », peut-on lire.

« Dans l’éventualité où vous auriez reçu une demande semblable, nous vous prions de nous en informer dans les plus brefs délais. »

La FCSQ suggère de ne pas répondre au Ministère pour le moment, toujours selon ce courriel. « Nos services juridiques évaluent présentement cette demande. Des instructions supplémentaires vous seront transmises le plus rapidement possible », écrit la fédération.

« Aberrant ! »

La présidente de la CSDM, Catherine Harel Bourdon, confirme que le Ministère a demandé des statistiques sur le nombre d’employés portant des signes religieux. On lui a répondu que de telles statistiques n’existent pas et ne seraient pas produites non plus. « J’ai trouvé ça aberrant ! », a lancé Mme Harel Bourdon en entrevue. Une commission scolaire qui ferait un tel dénombrement irait à l’encontre de la Charte québécoise des droits et libertés de la personne, selon elle.

« Ça fait plusieurs mois que des journalistes me demandent combien il y en a. Ce que j’ai toujours répondu, c’est que nous, quand on fait des embauches, autant de nouvelles embauches qu’au niveau de notre personnel qui est déjà à notre emploi, on ne demande pas s’ils portent des signes religieux », a-t-elle affirmé.

« Je verrais mal un employeur faire une demande comme ça. »

L’article 18.1 de la Charte stipule que « nul ne peut, dans un formulaire de demande d’emploi ou lors d’une entrevue relative à un emploi, requérir d’une personne des renseignements » relatifs, entre autres, à sa religion.

Certes, il existe des statistiques, par exemple, sur la proportion d’employés du secteur public qui appartiennent à une minorité visible. Mais elles sont le résultat d’un exercice encadré par la Charte. Il s’agit du programme d’accès à l’égalité en emploi. À cette fin bien précise, tous les employés sont appelés, de façon volontaire, à remplir un questionnaire et à déclarer s’ils sont membres d’une minorité visible. La démarche du ministère de l’Éducation ne se fait pas dans ce cadre. Il n’est jamais question de port de signes religieux dans ces questionnaires.

Toutes les sources consultées font un lien entre la demande du Ministère et la volonté du gouvernement d’interdire le port de signes religieux chez les enseignants (mais aussi chez les représentants de l’État dotés d’un pouvoir de coercition : juges, procureurs de la Couronne, policiers et gardiens de prison).

Le premier ministre François Legault affirmait avant les Fêtes qu’il n’y aurait pas de clause de droits acquis pour les employés actuels, communément appelée clause grand-père. Pour éviter des congédiements, Québec a évoqué l’idée de déplacer les récalcitrants à d’autres fonctions. Un projet de loi est attendu bientôt.

Du « profilage » ?

Pour la porte-parole du Parti libéral en matière d’éducation, Marwah Rizqy, la demande du Ministère revient à faire du « profilage ». « Une fois qu’on a répertorié le nombre, c’est quoi, la suite des choses ? Est-ce que c’est pour venir en quelque sorte banaliser en disant : “Écoutez, ça ne touche pas tant de monde que ça ?” Et si c’est ça, l’objectif, est-ce qu’il est aussi en train de nous dire que les droits fondamentaux, si vous êtes un petit nombre, vous n’en avez pas ? C’est de l’improvisation. »

Le gouvernement Marois, qui voulait interdire aux employés de l’État de porter des signes religieux, n’avait pas demandé un dénombrement aux commissions scolaires, a confirmé une source impliquée dans le dossier à l’époque. Elle est surprise de la démarche faite par le ministère de l’Éducation.

Le cabinet du ministre de l’Éducation, Jean-François Roberge, n’a pas donné de réponses aux questions que La Presse lui a posées hier.



Commission scolaire de Montréal

– Plus de 8200 enseignants

– 127 écoles primaires

– 26 écoles secondaires

Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Île

– Plus de 4300 enseignants

– 40 écoles primaires

– 7 écoles secondaires

Commission scolaire de Laval

– Plus de 5000 enseignants

– 56 écoles primaires

– 14 écoles secondaires

Source: Signes religieux chez les enseignants: Québec veut des chiffres

QS: des divisions autour du port de signes religieux

Not terribly surprising that the QS divisions reflect Quebec society at large. Will be interesting to see how and if resolved:

Des lignes de fracture sont apparues au grand jour dans les rangs de Québec solidaire (QS), samedi, alors que le parti s’apprête à redéfinir sa position sur la laïcité.

Des membres de partout au Québec sont réunis à Montréal depuis vendredi à l’occasion du Conseil national de la formation, le premier depuis les élections du 1er octobre. Le rassemblement vise à faire le point sur la campagne historique qui a mené à l’élection de 10 députés solidaires.

Mais en parallèle, les délégués entament une réflexion sur l’enjeu explosif de la laïcité. En mars, ils seront appelés à redéfinir la position du parti sur l’interdiction des signes religieux dans la fonction publique. Et déjà, les clivages étaient apparents samedi.

« Ça peut être très déchirant », a convenu Lise Boivin, coordinatrice du Collectif pour la laïcité de Québec solidaire.

Ce groupe milite pour une interdiction complète des signes religieux dans l’ensemble de la fonction publique, une position plus ferme encore que celle de la Coalition avenir Québec. Mme Boivin fait valoir que les employés de l’État ne peuvent afficher leur appartenance à un parti politique. Selon elle, il devrait en être de même pour la religion.

« La religion, c’est une idéologie aussi. On est libre d’adopter celle qu’on veut. Mais quand on est au service des citoyens, on ne devrait pas afficher notre appartenance religieuse. »

À l’autre bout du débat, on trouve l’ancienne candidate dans Mont-Royal-Outremont, Ève Torres. Cette musulmane féministe porte le voile. Elle souhaite que l’aile parlementaire du parti cesse de défendre le compromis Bouchard-Taylor, qui propose l’interdiction des signes religieux aux fonctionnaires en position de coercition comme les policiers, les juges et les gardiens de prison.

« Ce n’est pas ma position personnelle, a affirmé Mme Torres. Pour moi, il est évident, en tant que féministe, que personne très engagée pour la justice sociale, pour moi il n’y a pas de compromis possible parce que j’ai bien conscience de l’impact que ça a. »

Les tenants des deux positions ont disposé des tables dans le collège de Maisonneuve, où se tient le Conseil national. Ils distribuent des tracts aux membres, qui recevront demain un document de réflexion sur le sujet.


La co-porte-parole de QS Manon Massé ne craint pas que la laïcité sème la discorde au sein de ses troupes.

« Ce que ça démontre, c’est que QS n’est pas le parti dogmatique qu’on tend à vouloir dépeindre. Il y a de la vie, il y a de l’échange, il y a de la discussion. Ce n’est pas tout le monde qui pense pareil et c’est ce qu’on veut permettre avec le cahier de réflexion. »

Les députés interrogés samedi matin n’ont pas manifesté le désir de changer leur position sur le compromis Bouchard-Taylor.

« Moi, je suis à l’aise de défendre cette position en ce moment, a résumé la députée de Sherbrooke, Christine Labrie. Mais je trouve qu’effectivement, ça vaut la peine de se poser la question à savoir si c’est encore la meilleure position. »

« Ma position, c’est le compromis Bouchard-Taylor, a renchéri le député de Jean-Lesage, Sol Zanetti. C’est ça qu’on défend. Il est possible que ce soit maintenu, il est possible qu’on diffère. »


Émilise Lessard-Therrien, qui représente Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue, s’est dite à l’aise avec la position actuelle du parti. Elle s’attend cependant à un débat vigoureux dans les rangs solidaires au cours des prochains mois.

« Possiblement que ça va être quelque chose de sensible, a-t-elle reconnu. Mais en même temps, on peut juste l’appréhender. On ne l’a pas vécu encore et ça va se passer au cours des prochains mois. »

Source: QS: des divisions autour du port de signes religieux

Kurl: Quebec’s – and Canada’s – tolerance for religious symbols remains selective

Useful reminder:

As battle lines are drawn over the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s promised ban on public servants wearing religious garments or articles at work, it’s instructive to separate generalities from specifics.

When Quebecers are asked general questions such as “do you support a ban” on public employees in positions of authority wearing religious symbols at work, two-thirds say yes. But when asked specifically which symbols would be unacceptable for said public employees at work, it appears what they’re really saying is they support a ban on non-Judeo-Christian symbols.

This is a key distinction, because some observers take this majority support on the general question as a sign the province – and the rest of the country – is becoming more secular. Indeed, Quebec Premier François Legault himself wraps his plans in words such as “secularism” and “neutrality.” Public sentiment, however, is anything but “neutral.”

While most Quebec residents support the provincial government’s proposal overall, our polling data also show that majorities believe public employees should be allowed to wear a crucifix or a Star of David on the job (73 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively). Indeed, polling further indicates Quebecers are nearly twice as likely to want to see the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly stay put as to see it removed.

Quebecers aren’t alone in this thinking. Majorities in all other provinces are also more amenable to the display of Judeo-Christian symbols in the workplace. But where the province differs from the rest of the country is that while more than half say “non” to public servants wearing the Muslim hijab (57 per cent) and the Sikh turban (55 per cent), majorities in the rest of the country (between 70 and 80 per cent, depending on the province) have little issue with it.

These general opinion trends aren’t new. But Legault now represents the fourth premier (the CAQ the third governing political party) to try such a moratorium. Beyond legal challenges, there’s a reason his predecessors, while never explicitly abandoning the idea, also never quite got around to making it happen.

In a province where Catholic nuns have a centuries-old tradition in health care, is any political party in Quebec willing to apply its own ban evenly and tell them they can no longer provide comfort to hospital patients while in habit? In a province where the first Jewish synagogue was established in the 1760s, will this government politically survive telling a public school teacher to remove his kippah?

Meanwhile, it’s not like the rest of the country is completely tolerant of minority religious symbols. If there is something that “unifies” people across Canada, it is opposition to and discomfort with three specific articles of faith identified with the Sikh and Muslim religions. Regardless of where people live, most don’t think the burqa and the niqab – worn by some Muslim women – or the kirpan, the ceremonial dagger worn by some Orthodox Sikhs, should be worn by public servants in their own provinces.

Many would use these general opinions towards a religious symbol ban as evidence Canada is becoming more hostile to religion. But in fact, more people are inclined to see the general role and contributions of religious and faith groups to Canadian society as good than bad. Instead, the sobering reality is this hostility is reserved for some garments and symbols associated with specific religions.

In a country that often prides itself on acceptance of different cultures and ways of life, this can seem depressing. But a silver lining could exist in the views of the next generation. Times change. Nearly three decades ago, this country was gripped by a divisive debate over whether turbaned Sikhs should be able to serve in the RCMP and armed forces. Today that debate is over. And today, it is younger people – both in and outside Quebec – who are more permissive towards all articles of faith being worn in public workplaces. For more than a decade, a province and a country has exhausted itself talking about these issues. Maybe, a generation from now, the debate will be over.

Source: Kurl: Quebec’s – and Canada’s – tolerance for religious symbols remains selective

Nearly two-thirds of Quebecers support public-sector ban on religious symbols, poll finds

Not much new here:
Most Quebecers are in favour of banning public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols, according to a CROP poll released ahead of the first legislative session under a Coalition Avenir Québec government.

But a separate survey by Vox Pop Labs, conducted following the Oct. 1 election, suggests Quebecers may be more divided when it comes to the details of how such proposals should be implemented.

Premier François Legault indicated after last month’s election that he will seek to bar civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols such as the kippa and hijab.

Not only would this apply to police officers, judges and Crown prosecutors, but also to school teachers, Legault said.

He justified his decision by saying it was the “position of a majority of Quebecers.”

The CROP poll, taken between Nov. 14 and 19, estimated that 72 per cent of Quebecers supported banning visible religious symbols for judges, 71 per cent supported banning them for prosecutors and police officers and 65 per cent backed extending the ban to public-school teachers.

CROP also found widespread support (55 per cent) for leaving the crucifix in the National Assembly, another of Legault’s promises. Twenty-eight per cent wanted to see it removed.

More divided on specifics

Alain Giguère, CROP’s president, said the results indicated unprecedentedly high levels of support for banning religious symbols.

“I think we can conclude that the average Quebecer really wants to remove religion from the public sphere, especially for people who hold positions of authority,” Giguère said.

“The numbers are high but they are the product of a public discussion that has lasted since Bouchard-Taylor,” he said, referring to the public commission into reasonable accommodation that wrapped up in 2008.

One of the commission’s key recommendations was that civil servants in positions of authority shouldn’t be allowed to wear visible religious symbols. That, however, did not include teachers.

CROP’s findings are based on an internet panel of 1,000 people. They were asked which government professions should be subject to a ban on religious symbols. The questionnaire did not specify which symbols would be at issue.

When data science firm Vox Pop Labs recently asked Quebecers more detailed questions by about the specific religious symbols they object to, and in which professions, the answers varied widely.

More divided on specifics

Vox Pop, which operates Vote Compass for CBC and Radio-Canada, surveyed 4,000 people about identity issues in the month after the election.

Respondents were shown images of various types of religious clothing and symbols and asked to choose different situations where they should be banned.

The results suggested high levels of support — 87 per cent — for preventing police officers and judges from wearing the burka, a full body covering with only a mesh screen for the eyes.

But that number dropped to around 65 per cent for the turban and kippa.

The Vox Pop findings also suggested Quebecers are, in fact, divided about what religious symbols teachers should be allowed to wear in the classroom.

The kippa was opposed by 49 per cent, the turban by 51 per cent, the hijab by 52 per cent and a large cross by 53 per cent.

Vox Pop summarized its findings by noting a majority of survey participants — 55 per cent — backed the so-called Bouchard-Taylor consensus.

The research firm, though, also concluded that there is little support — only 41 per cent — for extending those limits to teachers, which the CAQ is proposing to do.

Moreover, the Vox Pop findings found higher levels of support for removing the crucifix from the National Assembly than CROP.

They recorded 50 per cent of respondents saying they opposed its presence in the legislature, compared to 45 per cent who were OK with it there.

A Mainstreet poll published two weeks ago, meanwhile, found 42 per cent support for removing the crucifix, compared to the 50 per cent who preferred that it remain.

The National Assembly will begin a two-week session on Tuesday that will be the first opportunity for the CAQ to advance its legislative agenda since it was elected in October with a decisive majority.

Legault said recently his government will likely wait until next year to table legislation on religious symbols.

CROP poll. Results published by CBC Nov. 26, 2018. (Roberto Rocha/CBC)

Source: Nearly two-thirds of Quebecers support public-sector ban on religious symbols, poll finds

Signes religieux: le feu sous la cendre

Good commentary:

La mairesse Valérie Plante et le chef de l’opposition à l’Hôtel de Ville de Montréal, Lionel Perez, ont eu la sagesse de refuser de se lancer prématurément dans un débat sur les signes religieux, mais ce n’est que partie remise.

La motion du conseiller indépendant de Snowdon, Marvin Rotrand, qui semble se complaire dans le rôle du boutefeu, était d’ailleurs sans objet. La CAQ n’a jamais évoqué la possibilité d’interdire le port de signes religieux aux élus, que ce soit à l’Assemblée nationale ou au niveau municipal. La charte de la laïcité du gouvernement Marois ne le prévoyait pas non plus.

M. Rotrand soutient avoir obtenu l’assurance que les élus de Projet Montréal et d’Ensemble Montréal auraient appuyé sa motion si celle-ci avait été mise aux voix. Cela est en effet probable, mais quel aurait été l’intérêt d’enfoncer une porte ouverte, sinon d’envenimer un débat qui est déjà suffisamment explosif ?

M. Rotrand n’en est pas à sa première intervention du genre. Au printemps dernier, il avait demandé au Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) d’autoriser ses agents à porter le hidjab ou le turban, comme c’est le cas dans de nombreux corps policiers municipaux ailleurs au Canada, que ce soit à Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary ou Edmonton, ou encore dans la GRC.

Aucun policier en service au Québec n’avait manifesté l’intention d’en porter, mais une jeune étudiante en techniques policières du collège Ahuntsic, Sandos Lamrhari, qui souhaite faire carrière au SPVM ou au Service de police de la Ville de Laval tout en portant le hidjab, avait été érigée en symbole par le premier ministre Couillard, qui voyait en elle l’incarnation d’un Québec confiant dans l’avenir, où tout le monde peut participer.

Là encore, il était permis de s’interroger sur l’opportunité de provoquer ce débat, puisque le gouvernement libéral refusait d’interdire à qui que ce soit de porter des signes religieux, pour autant que le visage soit découvert, contrairement à la recommandation de la commission Bouchard-Taylor. Il entendait plutôt laisser à chaque corps policier le soin d’établir son propre code vestimentaire. Or, la direction du SPVM se disait ouverte à toute demande, tout comme la mairesse Plante.

Le changement de gouvernement rend cependant le débat inévitable. Si le premier ministre Legault n’exclut pas que les enseignants puissent échapper au projet de loi que présentera éventuellement le ministre de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion, Simon Jolin-Barrette, il n’y aura pas de recul dans le cas des agents de l’État exerçant un « pouvoir de coercition », notamment les policiers.

La constitutionnalité du projet sera contestée à coup sûr. M. Jolin-Barrette se dit convaincu que son projet passera le test des tribunaux. Sinon, M. Legault a réitéré dès le lendemain de l’élection qu’il était prêt à invoquer la disposition dérogatoire (« clause nonobstant ») prévue dans les chartes des droits. D’une manière ou d’une autre, l’interdiction du port de signes religieux finira donc par avoir force de loi.

Ce débat risque d’accentuer encore davantage le clivage entre l’île de Montréal et le reste du Québec, dont la dernière élection a donné une illustration spectaculaire. Le feu couve sous la cendre et il ne faut pas sous-estimer le risque de dérapage. Il y a à peine deux semaines, le maire de l’arrondissement de Pierrefonds-Roxboro, Dimitrios Jim Beis, s’en est pris férocement à la CAQ, dont il dénonçait les « politiques perçues comme racistes ».

« La CAQ instrumentalise la laïcité comme un cheval de Troie pour la mise en oeuvre de politiques d’exclusion et de division. Aucun Québécois ne devrait avoir à choisir entre sa carrière et sa foi », écrivait-il sur Facebook. Des propos qui avaient un désagréable accent de déjà entendu.

On peut légitimement plaider que, dans une ville aussi multiethnique que Montréal, la population fera davantage confiance à son corps policier si sa composition reflète la diversité ambiante. La commission Bouchard-Taylor avait pris cet argument en compte, mais avait néanmoins conclu que la nécessité d’incarner pleinement la neutralité de l’État l’emportait dans le cas des policiers.

À l’Hôtel de Ville de Montréal, on trouvera sans doute cette interdiction excessive, même si le projet de loi de M. Jolin-Barrette sera nettement moins contraignant que l’était celui de Bernard Drainville, qui visait, au terme d’une période de transition, l’ensemble des employés d’une municipalité.

Le gouvernement Couillard accordait aux divers corps policiers, donc aux municipalités, le droit de définir leurs propres règles. On ne parle cependant pas ici d’aménagement urbain, mais d’un principe directeur applicable à toute la société québécoise. L’expression de la neutralité de l’État ne peut pas être à géométrie variable. Que cela leur plaise ou non, il n’appartient pas aux municipalités d’en fixer les paramètres, mais au gouvernement élu par l’ensemble de la population du Québec.

Source: Signes religieux: le feu sous la cendre

Quebec wants to expand religious symbol ban, blocking Muslim garments in civil service

The 2011 National Household Survey, indicated a very small number of Muslim Quebecois in the public service (along with other religious minorities):

Quebec’s new government is planning to block Muslim women who work in the civil service from wearing the chador, a shawl-like piece of clothing that covers the head and body, and the niqab, which also covers the face.

Coalition Avenir Québec ​Premier François Legault has already made clear his intention to prohibit those who hold positions of authority including teachers from wearing religious symbols, such as the hijab, a Muslim headscarf.

The ban on the chador and niqab, however, would extend to all employees in the public sector. A representative from the CAQ couldn’t say how many people such a ban would affect.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, the government’s point person when it comes to ensuring the secularism of the state, said Wednesday the government plans to “move quickly” to introduce a law.

“It was always our position to prohibit the chador in the public service,” said Jolin-Barrette, in response to questions following a report in the Journal de Montréal about the government’s stance.

There is no mention of banning the garments in the CAQ’s online platform, but the party has played up its commitment to such a policy in the past.

In 2016, the CAQ said on Twitter that it would “defend Quebec values” by banning the chador, unlike its rivals, the Liberals and the Parti Québécois.

Jolin-Barrette said it was too early to provide details on exactly how and when the law would be implemented.

Later on Wednesday, Legault said a law prohibiting religious symbols isn’t “a priority” for the CAQ, which created some confusion about the issue.

“One important value is equality between men and women, so we want to protect that. Now, is this a priority? No,” he said.

‘Surreal’ debate

Montreal lawyer Shahad Salman, who wears a hijab, said she is discouraged the new government — and the media —  continues to focus on identity issues “rather than talking about real issues.”

“It’s so surreal that we’re talking about this again, honestly,” she said. Salman said such debates are counterproductive if politicians want minorities to become more integrated into Quebec society.

As it stands, when it comes to minorities in Quebec’s civil service, the percentage doesn’t reflect the overall population.

Visible minorities made up 9.4 per cent of the province’s public workforce in 2017, although they constitute 13 per cent of the overall population, according to a study by the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques,

The chador, which covers the head and body but leaves the face exposed, is a garment commonly worn in Iran, where this photograph was taken. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/Associated Press)

The CAQ’s planned ban on religious symbols has been criticized by civil rights advocates who contend the policy will further marginalize vulnerable minorities.

Charles Taylor, author of a landmark 2008 report on the accommodation of religious minorities in the province, called the proposal “either very ignorant or very intellectually dishonest.”

In a recent interview, he pointed out that his report explicitly recommended against including teachers in a ban on the wearing of religious garb.

“We meant it to apply only to people with functions that we called ‘coercive authority’ — police and judges. Functions that can put you in jail,” Taylor said.

Lacking ‘coherent plan,’ Liberals say

The CAQ won a decisive majority in the Quebec election earlier this month, beating out Philippe Couillard’s Liberals.

Pierre Arcand, the interim leader for the Liberals, said the CAQ doesn’t appear to have a “coherent plan” when it comes to religious symbols.

The new government appears to be floating a new trial balloon every day, he said.

Arcand said he would reserve comment until a bill is tabled.

Source: Quebec wants to expand religious symbol ban, blocking Muslim garments in civil service

The CAQ wants to create two tiers of Quebeckers: Sheema Khan

Khan looks at the individual impact. Will be interesting to see the actual legislation and whether some of the initial backtracking – existing employees would be grandfathered – continues or not:

Imagine having a job that you love. You believe you can make a positive difference to society through your chosen career. You have invested heavily in education to arrive at your current position. You can’t imagine yourself elsewhere. Then one day, you are threatened with dismissal.

Not due to a bad performance review – in fact, quite the contrary. Not because of downsizing. Not for lack of qualifications. No, the reason is your expression of faith – although you have never proselytized at work. In fact, you have contributed towards a respectful, inclusive workplace. Your co-workers are like family; you’re closer to some than others. Along the way, you’ve collectively shared life’s burdens and joys, as you try to build a stable life for you and your family.

But your new employer has decided that you are no longer welcome. Is it a foreign multinational, eager to impose its own vision at the expense of local workers?

No. It’s a new provincial government making good on its promise to impose an exclusionary brand of laïcité. And it is willing to fire individuals from certain professions whose attire falls outside its definition of state “neutrality.” Unfortunately, through no fault of your own, your chosen career is a central target. The government is even eager to trample on your individual Charter rights. And there is nothing that you – a law-abiding, tax-paying, individual – can do about it. What’s more vexing is that some of your co-workers and neighbours have voted for this government and its policies that are harmful for you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a recent immigrant or if you’ve lived here for generations. It doesn’t matter that you believe in the future of this province, having made the conscious decision to build roots here. It is either your faith or your job.

Welcome to Quebec, where the preceding scenario is a distinct reality. The recently elected Coalition Avenir Québec announced that it would invoke the notwithstanding clause to ban religious symbols for employees in “positions of authority” – including teachers, police officers and prison guards. Examples of offending attire include kippahs, turbans and hijabs.

Following a huge outcry against its plan to fire teachers who wear religious symbols, the CAQ backtracked, offering a kinder, gentler version of discrimination: It will only ban new hires from any expression of faith. Imagine putting yourself through teacher’s college or a police training program, preparing to dedicate yourself to a profession you hold in high esteem – only to be told to discard an integral part of your identity, or choose a different career path.

The CAQ is the third consecutive governing party to threaten a ban of religious attire in the public service. The PQ proposed its infamous Values Charter in 2013, while the Liberal Party’s restrictions on face-coverings were suspended by a provincial court in June.

These efforts reflect the wider debate of defining laïcité, which is distinct from secularism – partly due to the different philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke. According to Rousseau, the individual gains freedom through the state, which has the right to regulate the public sphere of religion. Locke, on the other hand, placed freedom of conscience as the cornerstone of individual rights, which guarantees freedom from the state. These opposing views have permeated societies with French and British roots.

The CAQ’s approach will create two unequal classes of citizens. An overwhelming majority will be free to choose any field of employment, while a minority will have its choices restricted. There was a time not too long ago when women were barred or discouraged from certain professions. Why is the government repeating the folly of denying employment based on an individual’s identity, while ignoring a worker’s abilities and qualifications?

Furthermore, employment restriction is a slippery slope. What’s next? Use of the notwithstanding clause to override the suspension of Bill 62, thus denying niqab-wearing women access to library privileges, public transportation and health-care clinics?

However, the larger question is: Why create two tiers of Quebeckers in the first place? It sends a dangerous message of fundamental inequality enshrined as government policy. No wonder the CAQ has been lauded by European xenophobic parties.

The people of Quebec have an opportunity to forge a distinct version of laïcité, shaped by cultural heritage, linguistic identity and the contemporary reality of living in a fully anglicized North American milieu shaped by Lockean roots. The question is whether it will be inclusive or exclusionary.

Opinion The CAQ wants to create two tiers of Quebeckers: Sheema Khan

Coyne and Yakabuski contrasting views on the CAQ and the notwithstanding clause in relation to religious symbols

Two very different takes, starting with Andrew Coyne:

Be careful what you wish for. Quebec’s election may have signalled a turning away from separatism — the mad, doomed project to wrench apart the country on linguistic and ethnic lines that consumed so much of the province’s energy and wealth over the last 50-odd years. But it has been accompanied by a turning toward other forms of zealotry and intolerance.

The Liberal Party and Parti Québécois may have gone down to their worst defeats in their respective histories, dispatched by voters tired of the ancient existential stalemate and the entrenched/corrupt elites that thrived upon it. But into the vacuum have surged parties peddling other fantasies.

Quebec Solidaire campaigned on a platform that might have been stolen from a student union at one of the less prestigious universities, and probably was. It was rewarded with a doubling of its share of the popular vote and a tripling of its seats in the assembly.

And the “conservative” Coalition Avenir Quebec surged to power on a mix of unfunded tax cuts, warmed-over 1970s-style dirigisme and enriched daycare subsidies. Oh, and beating up on immigrants.

The party will protest at that description, but it is not for nothing that they were feted with victory congratulations from Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader. The party vows not only to slash immigration to Quebec — this at a time of growing labour shortages, in a province where population aging is a particular concern — but to expel those who fail a test of “values” and French language proficiency after three years.

How it would do so, or where they would be deported to, or under whose constitutional authority are among the many questions raised by this odious proposal, to say nothing of the obvious Charter issues. Party leader Francois Legault struggled to explain it during the campaign. But when a voter in Rimouski asked him whether he would fight for “us” against “these immigrants who are erasing us,” Legault was quick enough to reply: “Bien oui!”

If deporting thousands of immigrants was too much for the other parties, on the other great question of the day, whether members of religiously observant minorities should be allowed to work in the public sector, the parties were more in accord than otherwise.

While the Liberals’ Bill 62 would have banned, in the name of “religious neutrality,” covering one’s face, not only for providers but recipients of public services — those wishing to attend school, say, or ride the bus — the other parties would in some ways have gone further.

The CAQ, for example, proposes to ban anyone in a position of authority — police officers, judges, even teachers — from wearing any “conspicuous” religious symbol at work. The party has been admirably clear about what this means: those whose faith requires them to wear such symbols will not only be precluded from being hired for these jobs, but dismissed from such positions as they currently hold.

So to go with mass expulsions of ethnic minorities, add mass firings of religious minorities: the platform, not of some creepy fringe party, but of the newly elected government of Quebec. If Canadians outside Quebec think they can look the other way at this latest manifestation of the province’s famous distinctness, as they did earlier measures banning the display of English in public, they should think again. For it is about to explode in all of our faces.

Bill 62 was already tied up in the courts, the ban on face coverings suspended while its constitutionality is under review. The CAQ’s more sweeping religious bar, should it be passed into law, will quite certainly meet the same fate. But while the Liberals had never indicated they would do anything but accept the courts’ findings, the CAQ leader has again been clear: it will invoke the notwithstanding clause to override any Charter objections.

Perhaps, in the event, we will be treated to the same circus as surrounded Ontario’s recent flirtation with suspending constitutional rights: squadrons of law professors explaining again that this latest demonstration of the clause’s malevolent potential should not be held against it; elderly veterans of the constitutional wars re-emerging to protest that this was not what they intended, either; people who’ve never liked the Charter pointing out, as if it were either new or relevant, that the Charter override is in fact part of the Charter; and so on.

But in one crucial respect this time cannot fail to be different. The federal government could afford to take a pass on the Ontario fight: the override threat came in response to a particularly wonky court decision, soon set aside by an appeals court, after which it was withdrawn; it was far from clear how far the law in question, redrawing municipal election boundaries, offended against rights, as opposed to common sense; and the use of the clause was opposed by every opposition party — and, polls showed, wildly unpopular.

None of these are likely to apply in the present case. The threat to rights is obvious, and serious; it involves no arcane dispute between different levels of government, but blatant discrimination against vulnerable minorities; and yet it is likely to have the support of at least three of the four parties — and perhaps a majority of the Quebec public.

Can the federal government stay out of this? The immediate response from the prime minister was not encouraging. Invoking the notwithstanding clause, he said, is “not something that should be done lightly.” To suppress “the fundamental rights of Canadians” is “something one should be very careful about.” Stop, or I’ll shout ‘stop’ again.

No, sorry, that will not do. The question he will have to confront, the question confronting us all, is this: do we want to live in a country in which people can be fired from their jobs because of their religious beliefs? In which important positions in the public service are off limits to members of religious minorities? How can we possibly?

Source: Andrew Coyne: Quebec situation is too serious for Trudeau to stay out of notwithstanding debate

In contrast, Konrad Yakabuski is downplays the initial language and says wait to see the actual legislation:

The international headlines referencing Monday’s Quebec election left little to the imagination.

In France, where Quebec politics get more attention than anywhere outside Canada, Le Monde spoke of a “crushing victory by the right.” At the more downmarket Le Parisien, the verdict was even more sensational: Quebec Elects a Nationalist and Anti-immigration Government.

The beleaguered Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s truly anti-immigration Rassemblement national, could hardly believe her luck. She tweeted that Quebeckers had “voted for less immigration,” demonstrating “lucidity and firmness in the face of the migration challenge.”

That is hardly the message premier-designate François Legault hoped his victory would send to the four corners of the globe. But Mr. Legault is learning the hard way that what he says now carries repercussions far beyond the tiny bubble of Quebec politics and can influence his province’s reputation not just in the rest of Canada, but around the world.

For a seasoned politician, Mr. Legault was shockingly undisciplined on the campaign trail. His daily press conferences could go on ad infinitum and Mr. Legault would venture answers to reporters’ questions that a more scripted politician would not touch with a 10-foot pole. It got him into plenty of trouble and, were it not for Quebeckers’ overwhelming desire to punish the Liberals and Parti Québécois alike, it might have cost him the election.

So, it is mind-boggling why Mr. Legault chose to waste his first postvictory news conference on Tuesday by answering a double-hypothetical question about what he would do if courts strike down a law that his government is in no hurry to pass. He should have known that nothing productive could come of his outburst, which left exactly the opposite impression that he intended to make.

While the official program of the Coalition Avenir Québec that Mr. Legault leads favours prohibiting persons in a position of authority from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, passing legislation giving effect to this policy is not high on Mr. Legault’s agenda.

Yet, on Tuesday, the premier-designate was already musing about invoking the notwithstanding clause to override a non-existent court decision that nullifies the currently non-existent legislation, whose shape and form remains a matter of pure conjecture.

This is not to say some form of legislation regulating religious symbols in the public sphere won’t eventually show up on the order paper of a CAQ government. The issue of religious accommodation has dogged successive Quebec governments for more than a decade, as rising Muslim immigration has forced the province to grapple with questions of religious diversity.

Francophone Quebeckers’ idea of state secularism may not correspond with the dictionary definition of the concept, given their desire to grandfather the blatantly Catholic symbols of their past, right up to the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly. But that doesn’t mean the new CAQ government will be able to indefinitely ignore demands to regulate other religious symbols.

There is a large consensus among Quebec’s political class that the best way to settle the debate once and for all is to follow the recommendations of the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor commission on religious accommodation. The commission, led by sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, concluded that “agents of the state” (such as judges, Crown prosecutors and police officers) should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols.

In 2017, Prof. Taylor dropped his support for the proposal, saying that it had been misunderstood. Indeed, the Bouchard-Taylor report explicitly excluded teachers, civil servants and health-care professionals from the list of public employees it said should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols. But that detail seemed to have been lost on many politicians.

The official CAQ policy would include teachers among those banned from wearing the Muslim hijab or Jewish kippa. But whether a CAQ government would legislate to include teachers in the mix remains highly speculative. What’s more, any legislation regulating when and where police officers or judges could or could not wear religious symbols would likely be limited in scope.

On Wednesday, the CAQ MNA who served as the party’s justice critic in opposition moved to clean up the damage Mr. Legault created on Tuesday. Simon Jolin-Barrette insisted that the new government intends to ensure that any future legislation on religious accommodation would stand up in the courts. He added that invoking the notwithstanding clause, while an option, would never be the CAQ’s first course of action.

The CAQ has brought in Carl Vallée, who served as a press secretary to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, to help the new government find its communications footing. It likely signals tighter messaging and less freelancing by Mr. Legault in the future.

After all, those headlines outside Quebec can be killers.