MONTREAL — Quebec’s incoming government wants to ban some public servants from wearing religious symbols to work, spurring concerns from Jewish groups.
The proposed ban by the Coalition Avenir Québec government is ostensibly to make the Canadian province’s public institutions more secular and religiously “neutral.” It would bar police, prison guards, public school teachers, and some others from wearing visible kippas, turbans, hijabs, and crucifixes under the possible penalty of dismissal for noncompliance.
Critics say the plan contravenes Canadian human rights charters and is pandering to intolerant populist sentiment being increasingly exploited in other countries. They also say the plan is hypocritical since the new government, which officially assumes power on October 18, is refusing for “heritage” reasons to take down a large crucifix hanging in the Quebec legislature since 1936.
Most native Quebecers are lapsed Roman Catholics.
“The banning of religious symbols and the possible firing of public employees who freely express their religious beliefs is an assault on the fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Murray Levine of Bnai Brith Canada.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said: “[We] reiterate our long-held position that religious neutrality should be imposed on public institutions, not individuals.”
The proposed ban was an election campaign promise of the Coalition, a center-right populist party led by businessman François Legault, now the premier-elect. Legault and his party won 75 out of 125 seats in the October 1 election and gave the new government the power to pass laws without concern about being ousted in a vote of no-confidence.
The Coalition’s election also relegated the Liberal Party to the opposition ranks after nearly 15 consecutive years in power.
A similar plan proposed in 2013 by the separatist Parti Québécois government that would have affected all public employees never came to fruition.