Quebec passes controversial religious ban on state employees

Lawmakers in the Canadian province of Quebec have adopted a law banning public service employees from wearing religious symbols. Critics and advocates both see it as an attempt of the Francophone region to preserve its identity.

Bill 21 (Loi 21) was passed by a vote of 73-35 in the National Assembly on Sunday. It bars civil servants “in positions of authority” – such as teachers, police, and government lawyers – from wearing religious symbols. This includes Christian crucifixes, Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans and Jewish yarmulkes, for instance.

Muslim women wearing the full face veil (burqa) will be directly affected by the provision requiring people giving or receiving government services to uncover their faces, for purposes of security or confirming identity.

Lawmakers also approved Bill 9, which imposes new French language and values tests for prospective immigrants intended to “protect Quebec identity.”

“Look, we can talk semantics all day long. You know and I know what this is all about,” legal and media analyst Lionel told RT, suggesting that the seemingly secular statute stood as a proxy for anti-immigrant sentiment.

“I do believe there is a mixture of this attempt to preserve the uniqueness of that province… and trying to ‘dress’ a certain immigration situation,” Antonio Rossini, professor at the University of Windsor in neighboring Ontario, agreed. “I doubt that this would have popped up in a different historical context.”

Rossini told RT that many Canadians tend to wear religious symbols not as a show of their faith, but as a statement about their identity and origin.

In Canada, such a measure seems frankly out of place.

Commentator Gavin McInnes pointed out, however, that Quebec is very distinct from the rest of Canada: the province has “language police” that enforces the primacy of French, and its inhabitants – mainly descendants of French colonists from the early 1600s – have “perfectly preserved their country in amber, like some prehistoric dragonfly.”

McInnes disagreed with the ban on Sikh turbans and called the ban on the yarmulke “absurd,” but agreed with the ban on the burqa as something “just not compatible with Western culture.”

“If you keep creating this bubble, eventually you’re going to come across as a fascist,” he told RT. The idea of banning religious symbols appears “totally fascist and tyrannical,” but Quebec could be trying to nip identity politics – other than its own – in the bud, McInnis said.

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