How Quebec's proposed ban on religious symbols will work

Katie Ramirez
March 31, 2019

THE World Sikh Organization of Canada said on Thursday that it is deeply disappointed by the tabling of Bill 21 - "An Act Respecting Laicity of the State" by the Coalition Avenir de Quebec government banning the wearing of religious symbols.

In an about-face before the bill was tabled, the government said it would propose a motion calling for the withdrawal of the crucifix from the provincial legislature.

Sikhs living in Canada have mainly objected on the section of bill that outlaws wearing of religious symbols by public workers. The proposed ban has even made global headlines, but that seems to have no influence on the Quebec government who has fatuously promised to use the Notwithstanding Clause to stop any legal challenges to Bill 21. If Bill 21 is passed, it will forbid public sector employees "in position of authority" from wearing religious symbols at work - the small consolation being a provision which would allow for employees already working in those public sector positions to continue wearing their religious symbols.

The bill, titled "An act respecting the laicity of the state", has been proposed by the right-leaning Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government, elected previous year with pledges to restrict immigration and cement secularity.

But it was swiftly panned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who said: "For me, it's unthinkable (that) a free society would legitimize discrimination against anyone based on religion".

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Defending the "controversial" bill, Jolin-Barrette said that he "thinks people are reasonable", adding: "I am convinced people targeted by the bill will respect the law".

"What we want is to show all Quebecers that we are also ready to make compromises on the grandfather clause, on the crucifix in order to get as much support as possible", said Legault.

Thursday's bill invoked the rarely-used "notwithstanding clause" in an attempt to override future legal challenges to the legislation. Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said symbols of all religions are included, no matter how small or whether they're visible.

The legislation, known as the "Secularism bill", includes a clause that would grandfather in workers who now wear religious symbols. Additionally, he said, the sweep of people captured by the bill goes much further than originally anticipated.

"Are we prepared as a society to tell an aspiring police officer that she will never enjoy the privilege of protecting her community?" "I ask everyone to be very careful and to keep in mind that we are talking about human beings", she told reporters. However there wouldn't be a "strip search to check if the person is wearing a religious sign", he said. "I am even more anxious by those, I'm thinking of the children, who are in the schoolyard who will perhaps be judged", she said.

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