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Parti Québécois plans to ban religious wear for public servants

UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA students and professors have expressed opposing opinions regarding the new Parti Québécois (PQ) charter of values and its ban on religious garments and symbols.

The PQ has proposed a ban on all religious garments and symbols worn by public servants in the province of Quebec. It has recently released a charter of values, which will control what will and will not be acceptable in the work place. It claims the charter will promote religious neutrality in the province of Quebec.

Maria Mourani, a member of Parliament with the Bloc Québécois, made a statement on her blog opposing the charter. Mourani said the ban would be a “substantive error” that would cause “stigmatization and exclusion of certain communities, particularly some women.” For her criticisms, Mourani was ejected from the Bloc caucus.

There are separate panels for Muslims, Christians, Jews and Sikhs. Small symbols such as earrings, rings, and subtle crosses will be permitted, but anything visible from across the room will not be allowed in the workplace. This could include turbans, kippas, headscarves, niqabs, and large crosses. The policy would affect Muslim women who prefer to wear a headscarf or niqab to work. If adopted, the ban could force many public servants to choose between their employment and their religious freedom.

“To ban all the religious signs, as they call it, it stirs a lot of problems,” said Salah Basalamah, an associate professor at the U of O who specializes in the study of Islam.

“All I can hear from people already working in the public services is they’re not willing to change their way of wearing their symbols, but they would be willing to change provinces to work in conformity with their religious choices,” he said.

Basalamah said he doubts the ban will have a serious effect on students, but that they will have to reconsider their plans if they want to work in Quebec as a civil servant.

Victoria Albert, a health sciences student and member of Power to Change, a Christian group on campus, said the ban would not intimidate her from accepting a position in Quebec because to her, the cross is not a part of her identity, but is rather an accessory.

“Is me not wearing a cross ultimately stopping me in my faith? I don’t think so,” she said.

However, Yara El Helou, a political science and communications student who wears a headscarf, sees it as a part of her Muslim identity.

“I wouldn’t take off my scarf for a simple job that would take away a simple right of identity,” she said. “However, in the case of jobs associated with danger, such as in a lab where the scarf will become an obstacle and it is necessary for safety precautions, then yes, I would choose to take it off. If I was given a choice I would be more open to removing it for valid reasons, if it is an ultimatum between religion and work then I would not.”