Quebec's New Law Forbids Religious Symbols to be Worn by Public Workers

The legislation will affect all public sector personnel in Quebec.

Legislation introduced by Quebec lawmakers on March 28 will forbid individuals working in the public sector to wear religious symbols when they go about their duties. The “Secularism bill,” drafted by Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), a center-right political entity, sets it on a collision course with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, who advocates religious freedom, at a time when the country heads towards an election year with the Quebec state a crucial electoral battleground. The newly introduced legislation will influence public workers who hold white collar jobs like judges, police officers, and teachers. It, however, excludes present civil servants and government employees in the primarily French-speaking Canadian province.

The measure was brought to separate church and state. Critics claim the actual targets of this law are Muslims and their hijabs. This is the fourth time Quebec tried to pass such a secularism law. This edition was proposed by the right-wing coalition government headed by Premier Francois Legault. The opposition has accused the CAQ government of accelerating the legislation. Helene David, a lawmaker from the Liberal party, alleged the government had not allotted enough time to debate on the fallout from this law and Canadian society as a whole. Polls say a majority of Quebec residents support such legislation.

Prime Minister Trudeau termed the measure as “discriminatory.” He told reporters it is unthinkable for him that discrimination could be legitimized in a free society like Canada and citizens could be discriminated against solely due to the religion they follow. The sponsors of the bill claimed the objective of this legislative piece is to buttress religious neutrality in such a manner which ensures a balancing act between human freedoms and rights and Quebec’s collective rights as a nation.

Multiple faith groups have raised their objection to the legislation that it primarily targets Muslims. The growing number of Muslims in Quebec, consisting majorly of North African immigrants, along with the increasingly common sight of hijab on Canadian streets, have initiated tensions. The early months of the year saw tension on this issue going up when a right-wing political leader claimed that the hijab reflected women being dominated.

The CAQ campaigned in 2018 on issues like controlling immigration and supporting secularism.

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