Quebec’s Jewish community has rejected a government plan that, if tabled as a bill as early as September, would bar public and para-public employees from wearing “religious symbols” such as kippot, crucifixes, turbans or hijabs in the workplace.
The minority, secession-bent Parti-Québécois government leaked to Quebec media a few details of the so-called “Charter of Quebec Values” on August 20 as a way to gauge public reaction.
Premier Pauline Marois had already earlier indicated her government’s intention to make Quebec institutions secular and foster “state neutrality” through the planned charter.
The moves have inflamed the debate over “religious accommodation” of minority groups, an issue simmering for several years in the province.
Despite public polls showing support for the plan by a narrow majority, groups representing all faiths were quick to denounce it as divisive and contrary to human rights charters.
Critics also said Ms Marois was trying to deflect attention from issues such as the stagnating economy and pandering to intolerant elements in the province as a stepping-stone to secession.
Opponents in the Jewish community have included the main advocacy body, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA); the Jewish federation; Federation CJA; B’nai Brith; human rights advocate and Liberal member of parliament Irwin Cotler; and former chair of the defunct Canadian Jewish Congress-Quebec, Victor Goldbloom.
“We are convinced that religious neutrality does not reside in one’s clothing but in one’s mind,” Mr Goldbloom said in a meeting between Jewish community leaders and Bernard Drainville, Quebec’s minister responsible for democratic institutions.
Months ago, Mr Drainville criticised the lifting of parking restrictions near synagogues on Shavuot to accommodate religious Jews.
CIJA adviser Richard Marceau wrote: “how could one believe that a kippah-wearing Jewish librarian is…trying to impose his religion on society?”
Given the government’s minority status, many expect that a watered-down version of the original bill will be proposed.