Quebec may ban religious apparel for public employees

The provincial government of Quebec is reportedly moving forward on legislation that would ban the wearing of some religious apparel by public employees.

Quebec’s separatist, secular-minded government plans to move forward with a controversial bill that would ban religious headgear for public employees.

The Parti Quebecois neither confirmed nor denied details of an Aug. 20 report in the daily newspaper Journal de Montreal that leaked parts of the so-called Charter of Quebec Values, which the government had promised to introduce this fall.

The report said the measure would prohibit doctors, nurses, police officers, civil servants, public school teachers and public day care workers from wearing hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and visible crucifixes or crosses.

Past polls have indicated most Quebecers do not want public workers wearing religious symbols.

Of course, religious groups have opposed the proposal and some individuals have threatened to move out of Quebec if it is passed.

I was not aware that the Quebec government had such a strong secular bent.


  1. says

    Though Quebec is probably the most secular place in the Western hemisphere, this proposed law isn’t really about secularism, it’s about xenophobia and racism. It’s about imposing a cultural hegemony. After all, when the PQ lost the last referendum on separation, they blamed “the ethnic vote”. (Yes, that’s an actual quote.)

  2. Mano Singham says

    But xenophobia and racism usually protects the interests of one privileged group. What group is being protected here?

  3. maudell says

    I lived most of my life in Quebec, and I am currently living in another province. Comment #1 is interesting, because I wanted to comment about the propaganda in most of English Canada stating that these steps towards secularism are about racism. It is not.

    Quebec is just as racist as the rest of the country. (I must admit I see slightly more racism against First Nations in English provinces, but this may have to do with the different system regarding reservations, and the different relationship the province has with the federal government. But English Canadians love to see themselves as absolutely non-racists, without actually looking at the dismal treatment of First Nations). I believe it is significantly less racist than the United States. I want to underline this, because I am not saying there is no problem, but there is no problem specific to Quebec, from my perspective. The last place I lived in Montreal had a large fundamentalist Hasidic Jewish community, and city by-laws were adjusted to cater to their religious needs (for example, snow was not plowed on week-ends because the Hasidic tradition makes them unable to move their car, or touch ‘technology’, on the Shabbath. I can’t imagine Winnipeg passing such a law (but I could be wrong).

    The main grievance of English Canadians is still language, since Quebec has taken steps to protect its language in the 1970s (mainly through Bill 101 and ammendments). Parts of makes children of immigrants who speak neither French nor English as their first language have to go to French school (unless they choose private school). Colleges and universities are not part of the Bill (I went to English university, and I had to go to French high school). The other part of the law forces companies of over 50 employees to have employees that can speak French at all time. There is also a rule for all commercial displays to include French, along with other languages if the company desires. This rule is broken all the time in Montreal, but it has led to some ridiculous cases. There was a controversy regarding an italian restaurant that had to change their name because of the word ‘pasta’. So yes, sometimes the bill went to far.

    Since the 1970s, the English press (particularly in Ontario) is using inflammatory language regarding this Bill and the desire of Quebeckers to keep their language. It’s regularly compared to Hitler and other dictators, against the oppressed English majority (minority in the province, majority in the country and in the metropolis). The last school shooting at Dawson College was blamed on Bill 101 by the Globe and Mail. It is all ridiculous hyperboly.

    Although my family is francophone, I have been living completely in English since my teens. There is still a lot of bigotry against French Canadians here. There is definitely a real political difference (Quebec is generally more progressive). All parties in Quebec are pretty terrible (I would never vote for the Parti Quebecois, I could vote for left wing Quebec Solidaire, who is more progressive).

    I just wanted to clarify. I am not ascribing what I wrote to the commenter who brought up racism (I don’t know hir position). From my perspective, as a French Canadian, I am tired of this propaganda. In an English context, it is easy to blame others for trying to keep their language alive, because English is not threatened whatsoever (it is usually the language taking over minority languages). This is not racist in and of itself. Religion is a difficult issue in Quebec, and due to its heavy Roman Catholic past, people do not want religion to be mixed with politics. I think it’s a good thing.

  4. maudell says

    I want to add a small caveat about the exclusion of Muslim women from the public sphere, however. I think the results of such a law would further the exclusion of Muslim women from civil service, and I think this is a problem. Quebec cities have a large North African population (because of the common language), and it is already underrepresented in the public sphere. There might be a way to customize the legislation to address such problems of exclusion.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    In effect, this law would bar practicing Sikhs, Jews and Muslims from civil service jobs and public office. Call it what you will, it’s horseshit.

    Past opinion polls, however, suggest such policies enjoy broad public support in Quebec. A majority have told pollsters they supported the turban ban and also viewed hijabs and kippas as a cultural threat.

    Sounds more like xenophobia than secularism to me, especially coming so soon after the turban-soccer débâcle.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    This is not racist in and of itself. Religion is a difficult issue in Quebec, and due to its heavy Roman Catholic past, people do not want religion to be mixed with politics.

    So along with Sikhs, etc, any Catholics who insist on wearing their crucifixes visibly will also be barred. Super!

  7. says

    I’m of French Canadian ancestry myself.* I have great empathy for the desire to preserve the French language and am more sympathetic about Bill 101 than some of my francophone relatives (though I think there have been and continue to be ridiculous occasional excesses).

    My comment isn’t propaganda, nor is it a product of propaganda (at least I don’t think it is). It’s my opinion based on the attitudes expressed by PQ politicians in the past, and issues I’ve seen related to accommodation of new Quebecers over the past decade or so (eg. Hérouxville).

    I think that the aim of the bill (keeping in mind that it hasn’t even been proposed yet so it’s all hypothetical and I’m fully open to changing my mind) is actually to implement the exclusion you mention (along with others, such as that of Sikh men). I think the aim is to say: if you want to be Quebecois, you have to act and dress like we do: no hijab, no burqa, no turban–that’s not Quebec enough for us.

    *My mother has been living in English since she was a teen; my father’s family moved to Alberta at the beginning of the 20th century, so have been anglos for a while

  8. nathanaelnerode says

    Inappropriate restraint on personal free speech. So why shouldn’t people wear hats?

    I feel like maybe I should wear a turban, a hijab, a yarmulke, and a crucifix all at once, just in protest.

  9. Ghislain says

    I am a native French speaking Quebecer and I agree with your message. :). This is all about nationalism and xenophobia not secularism. The PQ wants perfect Quebecois clones. This law will divide for no good reason. I don’t believe that Quebecers really want to be protected from religious symbols.

    In fact as a secularist I want to see more diversity because I want kids to see how contradictory all religions are. I want them to see the strange and funny hats and funny veils and funny robes and weird symbols. As long as it does not interfere with the job and it is safe let people wear what they want.

  10. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    I feel like maybe I should wear a turban, a hijab, a yarmulke, and a crucifix all at once, just in protest.

    But in your case they wouldn’t be religious garments, so there would be no objection.

  11. Pen says

    I wonder if there is a relationship between the Quebecqois attitude and that of France which is similar. If so, some Quebecois may sincerely believe that suppressing the public expression of religion is in everyone’s best interests. Based on comparing outcomes for Britain and France, two countries which have tended to differ on this issue, I don’t agree with that but O wouldn’t be surprised if those influences existed.

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