Trudeau takes swing at religion plan
Aug 21, 2013 / 9:19 pm
Justin Trudeau became the first prominent federal politician to oppose Quebec's controversial plan to ban religious headwear for public employees.
The Liberal leader castigated the idea and said the Parti Quebecois government would damage Quebec's reputation if it proceeded with such a policy.
Trudeau, who happened to be in Quebec City on Wednesday, added the topic to the agenda of a previously scheduled meeting with Premier Pauline Marois.
Other party leaders, meanwhile, avoided comment.
A media report this week published leaked details of the controversial PQ proposal — saying it would prohibit people like doctors, teachers and public-daycare workers from donning turbans, kippas, hijabs and visible crucifixes.
After his meeting with Marois, Trudeau said they agreed to disagree. The Liberal leader said the plan was motivated by a defensive "fear of the other" and unworthy of modern Quebec.
"Like we saw with the (recent) soccer turban ban, people laughed at Quebecers," said Trudeau, a Quebec MP.
"And I don't think it's who we are and I don't think it honours us to have a government that does not represent our generosity and openness of spirit as a people."
The Prime Minister's Office, for its part, said: "It's a debate that will occur at the provincial level," while Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney tweeted late Wednesday that "freedom of religion is a universal principle." The previous day NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, whose party has nearly five-dozen seats in Quebec, sidestepped the issue by calling the leaked report a "trial balloon.''
Trudeau said the purported plan was responding to a non-existent problem and said he couldn't understand which rights the PQ was seeking to protect that weren't already protected in the Canadian or Quebec charters of rights.
He said state institutions should indeed be neutral, like the Quebec government says, but he added that the individuals who work there are entitled to their religion and freedom of expression.
The PQ minority government, lagging behind in popularity, hopes to win votes by championing a "secularism" plan that polls have suggested has considerable support in the province.
The government says it expects to present the charter this fall — although it's not clear yet that the plan will get support from opposition parties, which hold a majority of seats in the legislature.
It's also unclear yet whether the plan, even if it proves popular, would sway voters in the next election campaign.
Polls have suggested that while the idea has strong support it's far less of a priority for Quebec voters than other issues, like the economy.
A few hours after Trudeau attacked the PQ plan, Kenney tweeted his own objection: "A child is no less Canadian because she or he wears a kippa, turban, cross, or hijab to school. Kids have always worn religious symbols in Canadian classrooms, w/out jeapardizing (sic) social cohesion. So why is this suddenly a divisive issue?"
Mulcair was more cautious Tuesday when asked about it while in Montreal.
"I'm not going to respond to trial balloons," said Mulcair, adding his party presented a substantive report in 2007 before Quebec's Bouchard-Taylor commission on the accommodation of minorities.
"When there is something concrete on the table, I'll have no hesitation to respond to it."
The Government of Ontario, however, reacted to the PQ proposal Wednesday without any prompting in an issued statement.
"Our government would oppose the introduction of any legislation in Ontario to restrict or prohibit people's freedom of expression and religion in public places," Ontario Immigration Minister Michael Coteau said in the news release with the heading: "Religious Symbols and Coverings in Places that Receive Public Funding."
"Ontario's diversity and freedom of expression and religion is a model to the world — where we celebrate and respect each other's differences."
The PQ proposal would let culturally specific hospitals — like Montreal's Jewish General — seek an exemption, according to the leaked details in a tabloid newspaper.
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