Quebec's Plan to Ban Public Workers from Wearing 'Ostentatious' Religious Garb

If Quebec's "Charter of Quebec Values" passes later this fall, all "ostentatious" religious clothing would be banned in the public sector. Under the charter judges, teachers and daycare workers would not be allowed to wear "kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and 'large' crosses."

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If Quebec's "Charter of Quebec Values" passes later this fall, all "ostentatious" religious clothing would be banned in the public sector. Parti Québécois, the party behind the bill, has an in-depth guide to the charter, found here (in French), which provides a few lovely drawings to make it clear what sort of religious items are and are not allowed. Small crosses and tiny jewelry are okay (at right), but pretty much everything else — including kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and "large" crosses (pictured above) — is not.

Parti Québécois, Quebec's leading party, just presented its long-awaited proposal which, among other things, would ban government workers from wearinostentatious or conspicuous religious symbols. Under the charter judges, teachers and daycare workers would not be allowed to wear "kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and 'large' crosses," said Bernard Drainville, the minister heading the bill. "If the state is neutral, those working for the state should be equally neutral in their image," Drainville said.

This isn't the first time Quebecers have tried to deal with their "religious accommodation" problem. Earlier this year Quebec banned Sikh turbans from soccer teams, until the Canada Soccer Association banned Quebec from national and international games. Really, the balancing act between secularism and allowing religious freedom has been going on in Quebec since the '60s. But if this charter passes, it'd veer sharply in the secular direction.

Who came up with this?

The plan was drafted by Parti Québécois, a leftist group that thinks Quebec should secede from Canada. PQ, as they're known, holds a slight majority of seats in the National Legislation of Quebec, making the head of their party, Pauline Marois, the head of the province's government. Marois recently made headlines for linking multiculturalism in England to bombs.

Why would anyone think this is a good idea?

The PQ describes the plan as "a natural extension of Quebec’s recent history when the province emerged from the domination by the Catholic Church into the 1960s and pushed hard for gender equality." So, basically, this is about freedom from religion, maybe at the expense of freedom of religion. Or as Matt Gurney, summarizing the viewpoint of those for the charter, wrote in the National Post: "It’s about cracking down on hardline Muslim immigrants, where the men force the women to cover up their entire body under a niqab. That’s the problem Marois wants to address, and good on them for standing up against oppression against women." Gurney went on to argue that, if that's the case, "Could she find a stupider way of doing it?"

So what exactly is the "Charter of Quebec Values"?

The charter has five proposals. In addition to restricting the wearing of religious symbols, it would also:

  • Amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
  • Establish a duty of neutrality and reserve for all state personnel.
  • Make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service [meaning niqab would be banned for everyone, public employee or not, in certain settings].
  • Establish an implementation policy for state organizations.

By firmly establishing the religious neutrality in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, PQ hopes they'll avoid any human rights violations with this charter.

What do people think about this?

In America, where many school children say "under God" every day, it's hard to imagine a bill like this gaining any sort of traction. But Quebec is sort of split on the matter. According to The Globe and Mail, one major teacher's union is against the charter while a union of civil servants said they were for it. Quebec's Liberal party, which has the next highest number of seats after PQ, plans to oppose the bill, but polls have shown that most Quebecers support the charter, though they didn't think it would solve the problem of religious accommodation.

Of course, those who would be prevented from practicing their religion by the charter are against it. Hagirah Farooq, a Quebec student, told The Globe and Mail that the charter aimed to violate her rights as a Canadian citizen. She said:

As a Canadian-Muslim woman, I proudly wear my hijab, a choice that is completely my own and not influenced by others. [...] Have we really become so intolerant and insecure of ourselves that even the sight of a religious symbol has become unbearable and strikes fear in our society? The proposed charter is an infringement on my basic rights as a human. What I choose to wear is my personal choice; a freedom I thought I had as a Canadian citizen by birth.

The government will hear discuss the charter later this month.

(Screenshots via Parti Québécois Charter of Quebec Values outline, found here.)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.