Break­ing down party po­si­tions on religious sym­bols

Le­gault claims PQ, QS sup­port CAQ’s views, but closer look tells more nu­anced story

Montreal Gazette - - CITY - ANDY RIGA ariga@post­

Premier-des­ig­nate François Le­gault says his po­si­tion on bar­ring some gov­ern­ment work­ers from wear­ing religious sym­bols is sup­ported by two other Que­bec par­ties. And he cites the BouchardTay­lor Com­mis­sion as ev­i­dence of a con­sen­sus in Que­bec.

“I had a clear man­date, and it’s the con­sen­sus of Que­be­cers and Bouchard-Tay­lor,” Le­gault told an in­ter­viewer soon af­ter his Oct. 1 elec­tion vic­tory.

“We have three par­ties out of four at the Na­tional As­sem­bly that agree with this ban,” the Coali­tion Avenir Québec leader added at the Fran­co­phonie sum­mit in Ar­me­nia this week, re­fer­ring to the Parti Québé­cois and Québec sol­idaire and leav­ing out the out­go­ing Lib­er­als.

But a closer look at party po­si­tions and Bouchard-Tay­lor rec­om­men­da­tions tells a more nu­anced story about how state neu­tral­ity should be achieved.

Le­gault’s pro­posal would tar­get judges, Crown prose­cu­tors, po­lice of­fi­cers, prison guards and teach­ers wear­ing sym­bols such as the Mus­lim hi­jab, Jewish kip­pah and Sikh tur­ban.

No other Que­bec party says it would go as far as the CAQ po­si­tion. The PQ says cur­rent teach­ers should be ex­empt and QS in­sists the pro­hi­bi­tion should not cover teach­ers at all.

In its 2008 find­ings, the Bouchard-Tay­lor Com­mis­sion on cul­tural and religious ac­com­mo­da­tion also said teach­ers should in no way be cov­ered by a ban on religious garb.

There are also dif­fer­ences on the ques­tion of whether or not the cru­ci­fix should be kept above the speaker’s chair in the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Je­sus Christ on a cross should re­main be­cause it’s a his­tor­i­cal rather than religious sym­bol, ac­cord­ing to Le­gault, who will be sworn in as premier on Oct. 18.

That view clashes with the po­si­tions of Québec sol­idaire and the Bouchard-Tay­lor re­port. Both say it should be re­moved from the leg­isla­tive cham­ber where the province’s laws are en­acted.

Here is a break­down of the po­si­tions.


Bouchard-Tay­lor: Should be banned for em­ploy­ees in a “lim­ited range of po­si­tions” that “strik­ingly ex­em­plify state neu­tral­ity and whose in­cum­bents ex­er­cise a power of co­er­cion.”

CAQ: Should be pro­hib­ited for gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees “in po­si­tions of co­er­cive author­ity.” The party says if nec­es­sary it would be ready to use the not­with­stand­ing clause to cir­cum­vent the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms.

Lib­er­als: In Oc­to­ber 2017, the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment passed Bill 62, which stip­u­lated that pub­lic ser­vices must be de­liv­ered and re­ceived with the face vis­i­ble, tar­get­ing women who for ex­am­ple wear

religious gar­ments such as the niqab and burka. A Que­bec Su­pe­rior Court judge sus­pended the ban af­ter Mus­lims and civil-rights ad­vo­cates chal­lenged the law in court.

PQ: In the 2018 elec­tion, the PQ said it sup­ported a ban on religious sym­bols for state em­ploy­ees in po­si­tions of author­ity.

QS: Sup­ports the Bouchard-Tay­lor rec­om­men­da­tion.


Bouchard-Tay­lor: “Judges, Crown prose­cu­tors, po­lice of­fi­cers, prison guards and the pres­i­dent and vi­cepres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­sem­bly.” How­ever, “teach­ers, pub­lic ser­vants, health pro­fes­sion­als and all other gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees (should) be au­tho­rized” to wear religious sym­bols. The re­port noted that “the wear­ing in schools or hos­pi­tals of religious signs is a mar­ginal phe­nom­e­non that in no way af­fects the es­tab­lish­ments’ au­ton­omy.”

CAQ: Judges, Crown prose­cu­tors, po­lice of­fi­cers, prison guards, as well as pri­mary and sec­ondary school teach­ers.

Lib­er­als: Bill 62 did not touch on the is­sue of other types of religious sym­bols.

PQ: Judges, Crown prose­cu­tors, po­lice of­fi­cers, as well as day­care ed­u­ca­tors, el­e­men­tary and high school teach­ers.

QS: See Bouchard-Tay­lor.

Would mea­sures ap­ply to cur­rent em­ploy­ees? Bouchard-Tay­lor:



Since win­ning the elec­tion, the party’s po­si­tion has wa­vered. A party spokesper­son ini­tially said cur­rent em­ploy­ees who wear the sym­bols will be told to re­move them. If they refuse, they will be of­fered be­hind-the-scenes jobs. If they re­ject both op­tions, they will have to leave their jobs, the spokesper­son said. But this week, Le­gault said “I’m open for this kind of dis­cus­sion about grand­fa­ther­ing rights.”

Lib­er­als: Cur­rent em­ploy­ees would have to show their faces when pro­vid­ing ser­vices.

PQ: For work­ers in day­cares and schools, the religious-sym­bol ban would only tar­get new hires. Cur­rent em­ploy­ees would not be af­fected.

QS: Yes.


Bouchard-Tay­lor: “In the name of both the sep­a­ra­tion of the state and churches and state neu­tral­ity, we are of the opin­ion that the cru­ci­fix should be re­moved from the wall of the Na­tional As­sem­bly, which is the very em­bod­i­ment of the con­sti­tu­tional state.” It said “a rea­son­able al­ter­na­tive would be to dis­play it in a room de­voted to the his­tory of Par­lia­ment.”

CAQ: Keep it where it is.

Lib­er­als: Keep it where it is. PQ: In 2017, the PQ said it was open to dis­cussing its re­moval, but said a PQ gov­ern­ment would only do so if there was a con­sen­sus.

QS: Re­move it.


Coali­tion Avenir Québec’s po­si­tion on the cru­ci­fix in the Na­tional As­sem­bly clashes with the po­si­tions of Québec sol­idaire and the Bouchard-Tay­lor re­port.


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