Push for 'secularism' divides French Canada

Quebec, Canada - As the government of Quebec moves forward with its controversial "secularism charter", the Canadian province is strongly divided over the plan to ban religious symbols from the public sphere.

"Some people will leave Quebec because of this. Some people will leave their jobs because of this," said Rémi Bourget, a lawyer and president of Québec Inclusif, a group mobilising against the government's proposal. "Freedom of religion in Quebec, in North America, includes the right to wear something that shows your religion. When the government is sending the message that these rights are not so fundamental anymore, we think this is a slippery slope."

Formerly called the "Charter of Quebec values", the secularism charter known as Bill 60 would ban state employees from wearing clothing or displaying objects "that overtly indicate a religious affiliation". This includes headscarves, yarmulkes, turbans, or "larger-than-average" crucifixes.

Public institutions, Bill 60 reads, must "remain neutral in religious matters and reflect the secular nature of the State". The rules would apply to public servants, teachers, doctors, nurses, and daycare workers, among others.

The charter also bans public employees and customers receiving government services from covering their faces. While the regulations will go into force one year after the charter becomes law - with a five-year transition period in some cases - new employees of public institutions would be required to adapt to the charter immediately upon being hired.

After the bill was tabled on November 7, Pauline Marois, the Quebec premier and leader of the Parti Quebecois (PQ), the sovereigntist party that leads a minority government in Quebec, said: "It is a great moment for our society. This is a beautiful day for Quebec."

In order for the bill to become law the government must water down the legislation to win over support from opposition parties, which have so far rejected it, or wait until after the next election in hopes of securing a majority.



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