Kenney says feds prepared to challenge Quebec's 'values charter' in court
Published Tuesday, September 10, 2013 6:45AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 10, 2013 10:13PM EDT
The federal government said Tuesday it is prepared to mount a legal challenge against a controversial plan to prevent public-sector workers in Quebec from wearing overt religious clothing and symbols.
The federal minister for employment, social development and multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, told reporters that Ottawa is “very concerned by any proposal that would limit the ability of any Canadians to participate in our society and that would affect the practice of their faith.”
Quebec’s minority Parti Quebecois government revealed its controversial “values charter” Tuesday. If adopted, it would ban public sector employees, including teachers, police officers, public daycare and hospital workers, from wearing hijabs, burkas, turbans and kippas.
Large crucifixes and other “ostentatious” religious symbols would also be prohibited.
“We will ask the Department of Justice if these proposals become law to closely review them and if it’s determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections for freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously,” Kenney said.
Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair also spoke out against PQ’s proposal Tuesday.
"We're categorical in rejecting this approach. Human rights don't have a best-before date, they're not temporary and they're not a popularity contest,” he said in Saskatoon, where the NDP is holding a caucus retreat.
"To be told that a woman working in a day care centre because she's wearing a head scarf will lose her job is to us intolerable in our society,” Mulcair said. "This for us is completely unacceptable and the NDP will be standing up four-square against this project."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has also denounced banning religious symbols.
Quebec’s Minister for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, Bernard Drainville, said his government’s plan is about “equality” in a secular state.
"The time has come to unite us around clear values and common rules," Drainville said at a news conference Tuesday.
He said those values include equality between men and women and the need for the province to “remain neutral.”
“What divides us…is the impression that we’re not equal,” he said.
However, observers say the plan is unlikely to pass in Quebeclegislature in its current state because the PQ does not have a majority.
Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA Nathalie Roy told CTV’s Power Play Tuesday that her party supports banning some public servants, such as judges, police officers and some teachers, from wearing religious symbols, but said PQ’s plan is “too radical.”
She said she brought two crucifixes to Drainville’s news conference – one small and one large – and asked what would happen if someone wore a medium-sized crucifix.
“Are we going to need a police of religion?” she said.
There are also inconsistencies in PQ’s plan and Drainville was unable to answer some specific questions about how the “values charter” would be applied.
The giant crucifix above Montreal's Mount Royal, for example, would not be removed because it’s deemed a part of Quebec’s heritage and history, Drainville said.
Asked whether courtroom witnesses would still swear on the Bible to tell the truth, he said: “Oh my God. We’ll get back to you.”
Drainville also declined to say whether prayers during city and town council meeting would be prohibited.
He did say that elected officials would not be subject to the proposed rules.
Under PQ’s plan, public institutions could obtain an exemption from the values charter for five years under an opt-out clause. But Drainville stressed that the clause would only be an intermediary measure.
With files from The Canadian Press