Proposed secularism bill would force Singh to remove turban in public sector gig: Quebec MNA
Published Saturday, March 30, 2019 7:18AM EDT
If NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wished to work as a police officer in Quebec, he would have to take off his turban. That is, if the province’s new secularism legislation, Bill 21, becomes law.
That’s what Quebec MNA Christopher Skeete, who serves as the parliamentary assistant to Quebec’s Premier Francois Legault, told Evan Solomon during an episode of CTV Question Period, airing Sunday.
“While [Singh] is working, if he chooses to be a police officer, we would ask him to remove his turban while at work, yes,” Skeete told Solomon.
Singh would be just one of many people impacted by the secularism bill, which was introduced in Quebec’s National Assembly Thursday. The proposed legislation would prevent certain public sector employees from wearing overt religious symbols at work. The bill specifically mentions teachers, police and court clerks, among other people in positions of authority in public sector workplaces.
“We’re saying that when you come to work, when you exercise the power of the state, that you leave your religion at the door, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask in a secular society,” Skeete said.
“Of course, they can always wear their religious symbols when they’re finished work.”
The bill has come under fire from civil rights groups and groups representing religious minorities. While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedoms of conscience, religious expression and the right to equality, the bill invokes the notwithstanding clause to override those charter rights.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who represents a Quebec riding in the House of Commons, also criticized the proposed legislation.
“I don't think a lot of people feel that in a free society we should be legitimizing discrimination of our citizens based on religion," he said, speaking with reporters in New Brunswick on Thursday.
Singh has addressed Bill 21 as well. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, he said “it’s something that’s going to hurt people.”
“I remember what it’s like to grow up and not feel like I belong, and I think about all the young people in Quebec right now that won’t be able to pursue, maybe, their dream job that won’t be able to become a police officer or a judge or a teacher -- and that, to me, is sad,” Singh said.
The Quebec government, however, has been defending its proposed legislation. They say they’re addressing something that has been a conversation in Quebec for 12 years -- and Skeete said Quebecers support the proposed law, even if advocacy groups warn it could tread on minority rights.
“Well we do live in a democracy, so you know, the majority often does determine the orientation that we take, but we always have to be careful when we make laws like this to make sure that we do respect minority rights,” he said.
Skeete emphasized that the legislation is all about balance.
“I think it’s just a question of how do we balance individual rights from collective rights and I realize that we’re on that line… but I do believe that ultimately it’s more important to have a truly secular state,” he said.
Skeete said the bill will undergo a consultation period where it will seek support from other parties and hear the concerns of affected groups. While he said the government is open to changing the bill, he said the changes would only take place “where we think it’s acceptable,” and “where it’s in line with what the population wants.”