Quebec Is Yet Again Trying To Ban Religious Symbols Worn by Public Workers

It’s the fourth time the province has tried to ban religious symbols, including hijabs, worn by government employees.
March 29, 2019, 3:36pm
Quebec ban
Protesters of the proposed Quebec Values Charter demonstrate in in Montreal, Sunday, October 6, 2013. If implemented, the law would ban the wearing of religious symbols and clothing in all public institutions.THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES /Graham Hughes

Quebec is making its fourth attempt to ban hijabs and other religious symbols worn by many government employees much to the dismay of federal politicians and civil liberties advocates who call it discriminatory.

On Thursday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s majority government tabled a draft bill that would prohibit public sector workers from wearing any religious symbols, and would bar their ability to challenge the ban on civil rights grounds.

Bill 21 would ban a wide range of government employees in “positions of authority”—including school teachers, police officers, prison guards and judges—from wearing religious symbols including crosses, headscarves, and turbans. It also doubles down on Quebec’s previous legislation to ban face coverings by those providing government services.

Premier Legault said parts of the law provide a “compromise” for public workers who already wear religious symbols. His government also introduced a motion to take down the crucifix in the legislature if the law is passed.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slammed the proposed law after it was tabled saying, “Quebeckers, like all Canadians, are proud of living in a free and just society and I don’t think that a lot of people feel that in a free society, we should be legitimizing discrimination of our citizens based on religion.”

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was less pointed in his criticism, saying that a free society “must always protect fundamental individual rights and should not in any way impede people from expressing themselves and in any way infringing on those fundamental rights,” according to The Globe and Mail.

And Leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh, who is Sikh and wears a turban, called the bill “saddening” for creation division within the population of Quebec. “I think it's hurtful, because I remember what it's like to grow up and not feel like I belong,” he told reporters.

Last year, for a second time, a Quebec judge suspended part of the previous secularism law, Bill 62, that banned face coverings, stating that it discriminates against Muslim women who wear burkas or niqabs.

The latest legislation purports to uphold the secularity and neutrality of Quebec. It states that secularity ought to strike a balance “between the collective rights of the Quebec nation and human rights and freedoms." It also claims to give “importance to the equality of women and men.”

Religious and civil liberties advocates echoed Trudeau’s concerns, and plan to challenge the law in court.

"We will fight this," Leila Nasr of the National Council of Canadian Muslims told CBC News. "The reality is that Muslim women, and other people who choose to wear their religious identifiers, will now wake up to an entirely different set of opportunities that is afforded to other Quebecers," Nasr told CBC, describing the bill as “textbook state-sanctioned discrimination.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter