Quebec Proposes Bill Banning Public Employees From Wearing Head Scarves at Work

Quebec Proposes Bill Banning Public Employees From Wearing Head Scarves at Work

MONTREAL — The Quebec government on Thursday proposed a bill banning public schoolteachers, judges, police officers and other public employees from wearing religious symbols including Muslim headscarves while working, a move that could aggravate simmering cultural tensions in the province.

The Quebec premier, François Legault, has said the bill, which also applies to Catholic crosses, Jewish skull caps and Sikh turbans, was necessary to preserve Quebec’s secular values and identity. It is expected to pass in the Quebec legislature where his right-leaning party has a majority.

Religious and human rights advocates immediately attacked the legislation as a breach of religious freedom. Some said it conflicts with the image Canada has projected as an open, multicultural society.

“Every young person who aspires to a be a judge, a teacher or a police officer and wears a head scarf will think that they have no future in this province and it will push Muslims away from Quebec,” said Shahad Salman, a young lawyer who wears a head scarf and whose parents emigrated to Montreal from Iraq in the 1980s.

Legal critics have criticized the Quebec bill because, in order to insulate it from potential legal challenges, the government has chosen to invoke a rarely used constitutional loophole known as the “notwithstanding clause,” which enables Canadian legislatures to override some constitutional rights like freedom of religion or freedom of expression.

Many teachers also railed against the bill.

One of the biggest teachers’ unions in Quebec has filed a legal challenge against the Quebec government over its efforts to press public schools to reveal how many of their teachers wear religious symbols, saying that such a request breached Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which safeguards human rights.

After the Christchurch attack, a senior policewoman in the country donned a head scarf to show solidarity with Muslims. Anthony Housefather, a Liberal member of Parliament from Montreal, said that under the Quebec bill, such a gesture would be illegal.

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