Jewish groups condemned a ban on the wearing of “conspicuous religious symbols”
by public workers that was unveiled this week during the presentation of a
Charter of Quebec Values.
Designed to cement a secular society, the
charter is being pushed by the Canadian province’s government.
charter was leaked to the press several weeks ago but was official presented
only on Tuesday. It has drawn fire for what critics are calling its
infringements on civil liberties.
The pro-independence government of the
predominantly French-speaking province says the charter will help create a
distinct identity for its 8 million people and “entrench the religious
neutrality of the state.”
The ban on prominent crucifixes, hijabs,
nikabs, burkas, turbans and yarmulkes would apply to groups such as teachers,
police officers, civil servants, hospital staff, judges and prison
Official documents give the nod to discreet religious symbols,
such as a small crucifix or a ring with the Star of David, but not to veils,
large crucifixes or turbans.
The Quebec branch of The Center for Israel
and Jewish Affairs, an advocacy group representing a number of Canadian Jewish
federations, said that the proposed laws “run contrary to the provisions
enshrined by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Such a move is “unacceptable,” the group
stated on its website on Tuesday. “The separation of Church and State has
existed in Quebec for many years. CIJA-Quebec sees no need at this time to bring
forward new laws on the secular nature of the Quebec public sector. The
prohibition of wearing religious symbols in the public and para-public service
is not justified, and would exclude a large number of Quebecers.
of the state should be to bring people together, not to divide
Bernard Drainville, the Quebec minister of democratic
institutions, said that if the state is neutral, then those who work for it must
be neutral too.
“That’s why the government of Quebec is proposing to ban
public employees from wearing ostentatious religious symbols during work hours,”
he said at a news conference on Tuesday.
“We’re talking about very
obvious symbols... which send a clear message: ‘I am a believer and this is my
religion.’” The government’s website laid out the reasoning behind the new
charter, which would mandate amending the province’s charter of human rights,
explaining that “a number of high-profile religious accommodation cases have
given rise to a profound discomfort in Quebec” and that, as a result, “to
maintain social peace and promote harmony we must prevent tensions from
The prohibition on “the wearing of overt and conspicuous
religious symbols by state personnel... would reflect the state’s neutrality,”
according to the government website.
However, it appears that some public
displays of religion will still be permitted, including Christmas trees in
public offices and a large crucifix in the National Assembly, which Drainville
said reflect Quebec’s culture.
Both Canadian Multiculturalism Minister
Jason Kenny and Transport Minister Denis Lebel spoke out against the charter,
indicating that the federal government is ready to challenge the law in court,
should it pass.
Kenny told reporters that the Justice Department would be
examining the charter for constitutional violations and that if any Canadian’s
right’s are deemed to be violated, the government “will defend those rights
“Obviously, the separatist government in Quebec would like
to pick a fight with the federal government any time on any issue,” he
“They’re trying to remove religious freedoms. They’re trying to
impose rules on religious values,” said Harvey Levine, president of the Quebec
branch of B’nai Brith.
The fraternal Jewish organization announced that
it is prepared to involve itself in any federal legal challenge to the charter, The Canadian Jewish News reported.