Proposed ban on religious symbols in Quebec a 'violation of freedom of religion'
Published Wednesday, August 21, 2013 4:24PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 21, 2013 9:44PM EDT
Quebec’s proposed ban on religious symbols and clothing in public buildings “would be very vulnerable to a challenge” in the courts, says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
A media report on Tuesday suggested that Quebec’s Parti Quebecois government will unveil new legislation this fall that would ban public employees from wearing religious clothing such as turbans, hijabs and kippas.
The report said the so-called “Charter of Quebec Values” would also ban employees in public institutions from wearing religious symbols like crucifixes.
Neither Quebec Premier Pauline Marois nor the minister responsible for the charter, Bernard Drainville, has commented on the report, but Marois is expected to address the reports Thursday.
But the leaked details of the proposed bill have already sparked an outcry among constitutional experts, who say the legislation would violate citizens’ freedom of religion.
“I’m not sure that it would survive a court challenge,” Cara Zwibel, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told CTV News Channel Wednesday afternoon.
“On its face, the idea that the government tells individuals that they can’t express their religious beliefs, that they can’t wear religious attire, is … a violation of freedom of religion, which is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And we also need to ask whether we want government to be responsible for deciding what’s a religious symbol and what’s a cultural symbol, what’s an expression of our cultural backgrounds and beliefs?”
Zwibel said her agency would “quite likely” get involved with a challenge of the law that would “probably be started by an individual directly affected.”
Prominent civil-rights lawyer Julius Grey told The Canadian Press Tuesday that “the type of secularism that is being promoted goes beyond what is acceptable.”
Politicians also criticized the proposed legislation. Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, said his party “will defend the neutrality of the state, but we will be a lot more responsible than the PQ.”
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he suspected the legislation would spark “a very strong backlash” in Quebec.
“For me to force people into a situation where they have to decide between their job and their religion….for me that’s not a question we should be asking people to think about as Canadians or as Quebecers,” he told reporters.
News of the proposed legislation comes less than three months after a firestorm erupted in Quebec over an attempt to have turbans banned on the province’s soccer fields.
The Quebec Soccer Federation attempted to ban players from wearing the traditional Sikh turbans, patkas and keskis on the pitch. The QSF said the ban was for safety and not religious reasons, and because soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, had not clarified its position on the headgear.
Marois came out in defence of the organization after it was hit with a barrage of criticism. However, after FIFA clarified that it permits players in Canada to wear turbans, the QSF reversed its position in June.
While the Sikh community and politicians were outraged at the ban, polls suggest the broader legislation may hold up in the court of public opinion.
Previous polls have found that a majority of Quebecers supported the turban ban and considered religious clothing such as hijabs and kippas as cultural threats.
Still, Quebecers are more likely to care about the economy, education and health care during election cycles, and view the integration of immigrants as a low priority. A Leger Marketing poll conducted during last year’s provincial election put immigrant integration 15th on the list of important issues to voters. Health care, lowering taxes and fighting corruption were numbers one, two and three in that poll.
Lucie Jobin of the Movement for a Secular Quebec said her organization wants secularism to be spelled out in Quebec’s charter of rights.
“Otherwise it sends the message that the state favours one religion over another,” Jobin, a retired schoolteacher, told CTV Montreal.
Charles Taylor, who co-chaired a commission into “religious accommodation” five years ago, said the legislation would help create cultural and religious ghettos in Quebec.
"It tells a category of citizens 'you are excluded, we don't want you here,'” Taylor said Tuesday. “It doesn't make any sense."
Mona Lisa Farinacci-Borrega of the Association of Private Daycares, said the law would affect the large number of women who hail from diverse cultural backgrounds and work in the province’s daycares.
“Religion has no place in daycare,” Farinacci-Borrega told CTV Montreal. “But we are a diversified society in Quebec and they are part of our diversified society.”
Prem Singh Vinning, president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada said such a ban would send the wrong message.
“Is the Christmas tree next? It is synonymous with Christmas and the celebration of Christ,” he said. “Where does this stop?”