Canada's Quebec province is considering a law that would make it illegal for public employees to wear religious headwear such as Muslim burqas and Jewish skull caps (kippas), along with prominently displayed religious symbols such as crucifixes. The proposal mirrors a law passed in France in 2010 that effectively banned Muslim women from wearing burqas in public. Some observers suggest the proposed legislation is part of a push by separatist-minded French Quebec to move toward total independence from the rest of Canada.
The minority Parti Quebecois, which is behind the proposal, says that the law would treat everybody equally by eliminating special clothing privileges for certain individuals in the public workplace, and allow other employers to set limits on employees' religious practices, such as prayer times, that interfere with business. They point out that the law would discourage the wearing of clothing such as burqas which, they insist, cultivates discrimination against women.
“We want rights and values that will be the source of harmony and cohesion,” Bernard Drainville, Quebec's minister of democratic institutions and active citizenship, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying of the proposed law. “That will apply to all Quebecers, regardless of our faith and religion.”
Opponents of the measure argue that it is a blatant attack on religious freedoms and cultural minorities, with Muslims and Jews insisting that the proposed law specifically targets them and their unique worship practices.
“This is painful; it's an encroachment on freedoms that are guaranteed constitutionally,” said Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal.
Harvey Levine, president of the Quebec branch of B'nai Brith, an international Jewish organization, agreed, charging that “they're trying to remove religious freedoms. They're trying to impose rules on religious values.”
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