Quebec’s proposed religious symbol ban prompts concerns from EMSB community – Montreal

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Montreal parents and teachers are voicing a growing chorus of concerns as the Coalition Avenir Québec government prepares to move forward with its contentious proposal on religious neutrality.

READ MORE: Quebec’s Education Ministry says school surveys on religious symbols began months ago

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) opened its doors to the public on Wednesday for an emergency meeting on the province’s plan to bar civil servants in positions of authority  —including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.

“Our teachers are wearing religious symbols — it has had no effect on students’ success,” said EMSB chairperson Angela Mancini, adding the school board wants to teach its students about diversity.

The proposed legislation was a key election promise made by Quebec Premier François Legault, who maintains it has widespread support from across the province. It has also sparked protests in Montreal and accusations from teachers that the CAQ is trying to create a problem where none exists.

READ MORE: Quebec’s proposed religious symbol ban for public workers fuelled by specific symbols: study

The meeting drew parents, retired educators, teacher’s associations and residents, who showed up to offer their opinions over the proposed ban. The EMSB, which has strongly opposed similar plans from other governments, will use the feedback to formulate its own decision and develop an eventual action plan.

For Saba Ansari, a mother of Muslim faith whose children used to attend an EMSB school, the province’s plan is disappointing.

“Why are we focusing on these kinds of issues?” she said. “This is personal freedom, actually, and it should be given to us.”

If the Legault government’s plan becomes law, Ansari said she fears her children will face hardships due to their religious beliefs.

“How will they feel? They will feel like second-class citizens.”

WATCH: Religious symbols debate turns another corner






The Montreal Teachers’ Association called the government’s decision “regrettable,” adding it would vigorously defend the rights of educators if they are barred from exercising religious freedom.

“Targeting individuals based on what they wear and their personal religious beliefs feeds intolerance,” said MTA president Peter Sutherland, “and is in complete opposition to the very values of tolerance and inclusion that teachers promote in their classrooms every day.”

Last week, the provincial government approached Quebec school boards to ask if they know how many teachers and staff wear religious symbols at work.

READ MORE: Quebec status of women minister calls Muslim head scarf a symbol of oppression

The education ministry then admitted Tuesday it began those surveys in 2018, when the Liberals were in office. Education Minister Jean-François Roberge then denounced the criticism the CAQ government faced from school boards and the opposition over the issue.

Legault, for his part, said earlier this week it doesn’t matter how few teachers in Quebec wear religious symbols at work. He said governments need to have a “vision” and recognize that the practice will become more prevalent.

“We know there will be more and more in our society, and in other societies, and we should have legislated on this issue years ago,” he said on Monday.

READ MORE: Quebec asking school boards how many employees wear religious symbols

The bill on religious neutrality is expected to be tabled sometime in the spring.

— With files from Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Quebec’s proposed religious symbol ban for public workers fuelled by specific symbols: study – Montreal

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The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)’s proposed ban on religious symbols for public servants seems to be widely supported by Quebecers — but only when it comes to certain symbols.

According to findings by the Angus Reid Institute, about 65 per cent of Quebecers and 41 per cent of Canadians in the rest of the country say they support the Quebec government’s overall proposal.

READ MORE: EMSB commissioners unite to fight pending legislation on religious neutrality

If passed, the ban would affect public employees in positions of authority, including police, judges and teachers.

Respondents answered whether or not they support a ban on religious symbols for public servants.

Angus Reid Institute

“The issue has been particularly salient in Quebec, some argue, because the province has long functioned as a distinct society, itself a minority within Canada,” the study states.

READ MORE: François Legault stands firm on religious symbol ban, eliminating school boards in inaugural address

It points out that Quebec governments have grappled for over a decade with questions of reasonable accommodation for religious minorities.

“[Premier François] Legault is the fourth Quebec premier — and the CAQ the third different governing party — to attempt to address these issues through legislation.”

“Like the proposals of his immediate predecessors, Legault’s plan has been met with harsh criticism, even as a majority of Quebecers voice support for it.”

READ MORE: François Legault doubles down on religious symbol ban after meeting with Justin Trudeau

According to the poll, 79 per cent of people surveyed in Quebec and across Canada, say wearing a crucifix is acceptable.

Seventy-eight per cent of Canadians say they also approve of the Star of David.

This is a striking difference to the 17 per cent and 15 per cent who say they are comfortable with the niqab and the burka, respectively.

Should public employees be allowed to wear religious symbols?

Angus Reid Institute

“Out of nine religious symbols asked about in this survey, only three (the aforementioned crucifix, star of David and nun’s habit) are acceptable to more than half of Quebecers,” the study states.

“Elsewhere in Canada, majorities see six of the nine symbols as acceptable.”

Critics of the CAQ government argue the planned legislation discriminates against non-Christians and, in particular, Muslim women.

WATCH BELOW: Quebec Premier François Legault speaks directly to English-speaking Quebecers in his inaugural speech.






“Symbols from Sikhism and Islam are less favourably viewed, particularly if they cover the face (such as a niqab or burka) or, as some argue, could be considered a weapon (as in the case of the kirpan),” the institute found.

READ MORE: Quebec group says cuts to Ontario francophones touch all linguistic minorities

Turbans and hijabs are acceptable to about 60 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec. Within the province, the majority of respondents are opposed to public employees wearing head coverings.

Percentage by province of people who think public servants should not be allowed to wear religious symbols at work.

Angus Reid Institute

Across the country, the institute found young people under the age of 35 to be less supportive of a potential ban on public employees wearing religious symbols.

READ MORE: National Assembly crucifix representing Quebec ‘heritage’ only 36 years old

This was not the case for older demographics.

WATCH BELOW: François Legault stands firm on proposed religious symbol ban






“Political partisanship is also a key driver of views, with past Conservative voters mostly supporting a religious symbols ban in their province,” the study states.

“While [the] majority of past Liberal and New Democratic Party voters are opposed.”

Percentage of Quebecers who think public employees should not be allowed to wear religious symbols.

Angus Reid Institute

rachel.lau@globalnews.ca

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Crucifix represents Christian values but isn’t a religious symbol, Quebec’s incoming premier says

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The crucifix hanging in Quebec’s National Assembly is a historical symbol, not a religious one, even though it represents the Christian values of the province’s two colonial ancestors, premier-designate François Legault said Thursday.

Legault made the comments as he defended his decision to keep the crucifix in the legislature while moving forward with plans to ban certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols.

« We have to understand our past, » Legault told reporters in Yerevan, Armenia, where he is attending the summit of the Francophonie.

The crucifix, he said, invokes the role of French Catholics and British Protestants in Quebec’s history. He made no mention of Indigenous people.

The crucifix has hung above the Speaker’s chair in the National Assembly since it was installed there in 1936. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)  

« In our past we had Protestants and Catholics. They built the values we have in Quebec. We have to recognize that and not mix that with religious signs. » 

The crucifix was installed above the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly in 1936. A government-commissioned report into secularism and identity issues recommended in 2008 that it be removed, but no government has done so.  

A delicate issue

Since his Coalition Avenir Québec won a majority in last week’s provincial election, Legault has said one of his priorities will be preventing civil servants in « positions of authority » from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs and kippas.

Among those to be affected are police officers, provincial judges, prison guards and teachers. The move is necessary, according to Legault, in order to protect Quebec’s secular society. 

He raised his plans in a meeting earlier Thursday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is also in Yerevan attending the Francophonie summit and who has publicly opposed Legault’s proposal. 

« This is a … delicate issue with Mr. Trudeau, » Legault said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

« I told him I want to do this quickly. It’s an issue that has lingered for 10 years, and now there is a consensus in Quebec. »

Asked whether he feared a confrontation with Ottawa over the issue, Legault added: « Quebec is a nation. It is a distinct society. We have support. We just received a clear mandate in the election. I think all that has to be taken into account. »

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Quebec’s incoming premier, François Legault, in Armenia on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Quebec’s new immigration model

Along with religious symbols, Legault also raised his immigration polices with Trudeau.  

The incoming premier informed the prime minister that Quebec intends to accept 20 per cent fewer immigrants next year.

Legault also told Trudeau that Quebec will add language and value requirements for immigrants seeking to settle in the province.

Though immigration falls under federal jurisdiction, Quebec has an agreement with Ottawa that allows it to select its own economic immigrants.

According to Legault’s account of the meeting, Trudeau raised the possibility that Quebec would be able alter how it selects immigrants without reopening that agreement.

« He wasn’t certain that we would need to modify the agreement between Quebec and Ottawa, » Legault said in the Radio-Canada interview.

He added that representatives from the province would meet federal officials in the coming weeks to detail the « new immigration model that my government will put in place. »  

Legault is scheduled to appoint a cabinet next week.

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