Quebec 'needs to pass' values charter minister says as hearings begin
Published Tuesday, January 14, 2014 7:36AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 14, 2014 4:40PM EST
The provincial government intends to go ahead with its proposed values charter despite vocal opposition, the minister responsible for the bill said Tuesday as public hearings got underway.
Bernard Drainville made the comments in Quebec City as dozens of groups and individuals prepared to speak to the proposed legislation, which would ban religious symbols in public buildings. The bill would also prohibit public-sector employees from wearing religious clothing, such as kippas, turbans and large crucifixes, on the job.
"It is a moderate and well-balanced bill and the kind of state secularism that we are proposing is going to be a state secularism that is unique to the Quebec society,” Drainville told reporters.
"I am convinced we need to pass the charter but we can't cut any corners. I believe we need to maintain the respect we have for the process.
"Even if people are against the charter, if they have the impression they have been listened to and respected, they will be more inclined to respect it when it becomes law."
More than 250 briefs were submitted ahead of the hearings, which could take several months.
A recent poll suggested that as many as 48 per cent of Quebecers support the proposed bill, which the Parti Quebecois government insists is necessary to ensure secularism in the civil service and to protect women’s rights.
However, representatives from some religious groups say they are being discriminated against. Dr. Sanjeet Singh Saluja, an emergency room doctor at McGill University Health Centre who intends to appear at the hearings, says his turban is “inherent” to his Sikh faith, and “it’s not an option to remove the turban or even let our hair down while we work.”
“We are a member of society, we are an active participant, and we are a good part of society,” Saluja told CTV News Channel on Tuesday morning. “Multiculturalism is a strength of Quebec society, and that’s what we hope to establish, that we are a strength to Quebec society and not some kind of cancer or blight to our society.”
Saluja says when asked, he identifies as a Quebecer and a Canadian before telling people that he is Sikh, and he is proud to be all three.
“This sort of charter, this sort of discussion, is making me a little less proud of my upbringing,” he said.
Saluja said that the discussion around the values charter is diverting attention away from more pressing issues, such as resources in the health-care sector that are spread thin.
And while he says he has never before considered leaving Quebec, he will if the legislation becomes law.
“I do have to think of my family,” he said. “So I’ll fight this with every legal means that I can. But if push comes to shove and finally I need to leave, I will leave because taking off the turban is not an option.”
The opposition parties in Quebec are accusing the minority PQ government of using the debate over the charter to divide Quebecers and improve their standing with voters ahead of an expected spring election.
If the opposition parties defeat the PQ government’s spring budget before lawmakers vote on the bill, the charter will likely become a key election issue.
However, Premier Pauline Marois denied Tuesday that she is angling for an election.
“We are not in election-mode or even pre-election mode," Marois said. "If the Liberals and the Caquistes want to bring us down, that will be their decision.
"We are not thinking whatsoever about an election. We're putting the emphasis on employment and we have other irons in the fire."
CAQ MNA Nathalie Roy accused the PQ government of stifling debate over the charter.
“The PLQ wants to exploit the question of the charter, the PLQ doesn’t want to talk about it,” Roy told reporters Tuesday.
Liberal secularism critic Marc Tanguay said it is “a pity” if workers face losing their jobs if they don’t abide by the law.
“And that’s why we will be fighting for our rights and freedoms,” Tanguay said.
With a report from CTV Montreal's Max Harrold