Last week, an article in Journal de Montréal, reported the possibility that the minority Parti Québecois government in Québec is preparing to propose legislation that would ban the wearing of religious symbols for employees who work in institutions that receive government funding. The ban would include headscarves, turbans and kippas and other religious symbols worn by many members of society. In theory, the ban would apply to schools, hospitals and government workplaces.1
The purported rationale for this possible legislation is the furthering of a charter of Québec values, initially branded as a plan to promote secularism in Québec. Yesterday (25/08/13), Québec’s premier, Pauline Marois, is reported as confirming that “planned Charter of Québec Values — which would include a ban on religious headwear for public employees — will be a uniting force for the province”.2
Renowned Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, has opined “the idea of a blanket ban on the wearing of religious symbols” is like something we would see in Putin’s Russia.”3
The threat of this legislation comes quickly on the heels of an attempt to ban religious headwear, in particular turbans worn by members of the Sikh community, from children’s soccer-fields in Québec. The ban was repealed in the light of federal pressure.
It is true that the details of the proposed legislation have yet to emerge. However, there has been a curious lack of denial from Marois or the minister responsible for the values charter, Bernard Drainville.
Some have argued that this move by the Parti Québecois emanates from a response to their poor finish in the 2007 election. At the time, the PQ fell to third place in the polls, in part because the Action Democratique party, campaigned on a platform that Québec had gone too far in “catering to newcomers”. 4
At the extreme, this would imply, if our health professional schools at Queen’s were situated in the Province of Québec, that we would have to be advising our students that once they entered the hospitals in a professional capacity, they would have to shed their hijabs and turbans.
In 1977, as a proud graduate of McGill medical school, I chose to pursue internship in Ontario. At the time, one of the main reasons I did so was to leave an environment that I perceived as increasingly small minded.
If the proposed legislation does get tabled, this event will confirm my fears from 36 years ago. It is certainly my view, that there should be loud public outcry to any attempt to dishonor what has emerged as longstanding and cherished set of Canadian values; that of respect for the expression of religious freedom in our society.
If you have any views on this controversy, register a comment on this blog, or better yet, please drop by the Macklem House, my door is always open.