The Coalition Avenir Québec government is set to introduce its long-awaited secularism legislation today, aimed at ensuring the religious neutrality of the state.
The bill, titled, “An act respecting the laicity of the state,” will prohibit public workers in positions of authority from wearing a religious symbol such as a hijab or kippa.
The ban would apply to Crown prosecutors, judges and any public employee who carries a firearm.
It would also extend to teachers and principals, though there will be a grandfather clause in the bill to exempt teachers already working in the classroom.
The CAQ government also announced Thursday that if the bill passes, it would introduce a motion to move the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly’s main chamber to a different part of the building.
Premier François Legault said he agreed to exempt current teachers in an attempt to secure greater support for the proposal and, he hopes, to put an end to the debate once and for all.
The Quebec government’s intention of regulating religious clothing has already drawn protests, including this one last fall in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
“It hasn’t been solved since 12 years now, and I would like that we turn the page and talk about health care, education, economy,” Legault said Wednesday, referring to the failed attempts of three previous governments to settle the matter of what religious dress is acceptable in a secular state.
“I would like that it be settled for the summer with the support of as many Quebecers as possible, and that’s why I accepted to make compromises.”
The bill could also reportedly pre-emptively invoke the notwithstanding clause to avoid being held up in the courts by charter challenges.
The notwithstanding clause, officially called Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allows provincial or federal authorities to override certain sections of the charter for a period of five years.
When asked by a reporter if the bill would also include a provision to remove the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly, Legault declined to respond.