MONTREAL- Public hearings on the controversial Quebec charter of values has been launched at Quebec's national assembly turning the debate over the secular charter into a more official form.
“There is no study that shows someone who is wearing a religious symbol can't do their work,” Samira Laouni, the head of a Montreal-area multicultural group told the hearing, Al-Jazeera America reported on Tuesday, January 14.
The new charter of values was unveiled by Bernard Drainville, the province’s Minister for Democratic Institutions from the governing Parti Quebecois (PQ), last September 10th.
The Minister argued that preventing public servants from exercising religious freedom at work is part of a broader secularism or “state neutrality.”
The proposed Charter of Values would prohibit public servants from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, including hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and larger-than-average crucifixes.
Tuesday's hearing has witnessed presentations from both the supporters and opposition of the secular charter.
The hearings are expected to extend until April, with more than 250 registrations from individuals and organizations.
Debating the Bill 60, Laouni said that the charter of values posed challenges to many religious Quebecers, forcing them to make a choice between job and their faith.
Offering a compromise, she suggested imposing a ban on headwear only in positions of authority, such as police officers and judges.
The Parti Quebecois proposal would apply to all public employees, including teachers, doctors, nurses and public daycare workers.
Drainville claimed that the hearings are the initial steps to activate the bill.
“It is a moderate and well-balanced bill and the kind of state secularism that we are proposing is going to be a state secularism that is unique to the Quebec society,” Drainville told reporters, CTV reported.
“I am convinced we need to pass the charter but we can't cut any corners. I believe we need to maintain the respect we have for the process.
“Even if people are against the charter, if they have the impression they have been listened to and respected, they will be more inclined to respect it when it becomes law.”
The hearing was attended by a broad sector of Quebecers who warned against dividing their community.
“We need to find a solution,” said Sam Haroun, a retired history teacher originally from Lebanon, who was in favor of the bill.
“I worry about the polarization of Quebec society.”
Despite the wide support of the plan in yesterday's hearing, broad sector of Quebecers are showing solidarity with the opposing religious minorities.
Individuals and institutions against the charter, including universities, school boards and hospitals, have also submitted briefs and will make presentations.
More than 250 groups and individuals are expected to make submissions at the public hearings.
“We wanted to make sure we reach out to everybody,” Sama Al-Obaidy, a 27-year-old Muslim woman who grew up in Montreal and was attacked for donning hijab, said.
“Regardless of people's opinions on the charter, violence has no place in Quebec society.”
Defying Bill 60, many employees have went to work wearing kippas, headscarves and comically-large crucifixes to work on Monday, responding to the earlier calls by Support Another Montreal-based group.
Muslims are the fastest growing religious community in Canada, according to the country’s statistical agency, Statistics Canada.
Canada’s Muslim population increased by 82 per cent over the past decade — from about 579,000 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2011,
The survey of almost three million people showed that Muslims now represent 3.2 percent of Canada’s total population, up from 2.0 percent recorded in the 2001 Census.
Two-thirds of the country’s 1 million Muslims lived in the three largest metropolitan areas combined — Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver.
Toronto had the largest population of Muslims, at just over 424,900. Montréal had just over 221,000 and Vancouver about 73,200.
Related Links:Quebecers Campaign Against Charter of Values
Quebec Muslims Protest Proposed Hijab Ban
Quebec Faiths Rebuff Religious Symbols Ban
Quebec Teachers Defend Hijab
Quebec Charter Ignites Anti-Muslim Attacks