A majority of Quebecers agree with proposed legislation that would ban religious clothing and symbols in Quebec’s public buildings, a bill that also has the support of the political party that could give the Parti Quebecois the votes it needs to get it passed.

Last week, details of the proposed “Charter of Quebec Values” emerged in Quebec media reports, which suggested that it would essentially ban public employees from wearing religious clothing such as turbans, hijabs and kippas, and other symbols, such as crucifixes.

The bill won’t be officially unveiled until mid-September. However, a Leger Marketing poll says that:

  • 57 per cent of Quebecers say it’s a good idea.
  • 28 per cent of Quebecers say it’s a bad idea.

The split is stark between francophones and Anglophones, however. Sixty-five per cent of francophones support a charter of values, compared to only 25 per cent of Anglophones.

On specific questions, such as whether special meals should be allowed in hospitals to accommodate religious requirements or to create more holidays for religious purposes, two-thirds of all Quebecers said they were opposed.

And 91 per cent of Quebecers of all backgrounds said they were opposed to gender considerations in the charter, such as separate swim times for men and women at public pools.

Premier Pauline Marois has refused to discuss the details of the bill. But she said Monday that she is “sure we are able to arrive to a consensus, because it is important to precise what will be the rules for living together in Quebec.”

The third-place party in the province, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), echoed sentiments heard on the streets of Quebec City Monday: that it supports a charter that limits religious symbols for some public service jobs, but not for others.

"What we say also is that we should exclude religious signs for employees being in authority, like judges, policemen -- and teachers because we think that teachers, they have in front of them children in a vulnerable position. But, that's it," Legault told reporters.

"We don't think, like the Parti Quebecois, that we should extend this exclusion to doctors, nurses, all civil servants. We think that they should have the right to continue to wear a religious sign because they are not in an authority position.”

While the CAQ is running third in the polls in the province, the party could give the PQ’s minority government the votes it needs to get such a bill passed.

While the legislation may win the public and political battles, it will face a fight in the courts if it becomes law. When details of the bill leaked last week, civil rights experts were quick to warn that they would launch legal challenges, saying the bill violates citizens’ freedom of religion.

“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,” Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association told CTV News Channel last week.

“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.”

Religious accommodation arguments have long been part of the political discourse in Quebec, particularly since 2007, when the Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ) under Mario Dumont nearly won the provincial election over the issue.

Leger Marketing vice president of public affairs Sebastien Dallaire said Monday his firm got similar polling numbers six years ago, showing that religious accommodation has “been a lingering issue.”

The provincial Liberals have signalled their opposition to such a charter, but Dallaire said until the specifics of the legislation are unveiled it remains to be seen how each party will spin the conversation to their advantage.

“We see on the one hand there’s a lot of political capital to be made on that issue, because you’ve got a large swath of voters who are favourable towards the idea of a charter and we’ll see what becomes of it,” Dallaire said.

“But for now the idea’s really popular so we can expect that the PQ and the CAQ will try to use this to their advantage.”

The Leger poll sampled 1,000 respondents over the weekend and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Max Harrold and files from The Canadian Press