Quebec premier stays firm on secularism position despite calls for more action

By on February 7, 2017


The recent shootings at a Quebec City mosque shouldn't distract from the ongoing debate on religious accommodation, Premier Philippe Couillard said Tuesday. (Photo: Philippe Couillard/ Facebook)
The recent shootings at a Quebec City mosque shouldn’t distract from the ongoing debate on religious accommodation, Premier Philippe Couillard said Tuesday. (Photo: Philippe Couillard/ Facebook)

QUEBEC –The recent shootings at a Quebec City mosque shouldn’t distract from the ongoing debate on religious accommodation, Premier Philippe Couillard said Tuesday.

Couillard said his government remains firm on its position that only people receiving or giving state services should have to do so with their faces uncovered.

The opposition is demanding he go further.

Couillard said the Jan. 29 shootings, in which six people were murdered and many others injured, shouldn’t lead politicians to take rights away from Muslims or other minorities.

“The horror that we lived through last week was about xenophobia and racism pushed to extreme violence,” he said as the provincial legislature returned from its winter break.

“That’s the issue. We should not assume we will solve that problem by restricting the rights of certain people in our society.”

Quebec’s debate on religious accommodation has lasted for years.

The Liberals’ Bill 62, which is being studied in legislative committee, is the government’s response to calls from voters and the opposition to create strict rules regulating the religious neutrality of the state.

Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition for Quebec’s Future, said all people who are paid by the government should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols at work.

Legault offered the premier a compromise Tuesday, saying teachers can be excluded from the rules, which he wants applied to state workers such as judges, police officers and prison guards.

The Parti Quebecois also wants the government to toughen the restrictions prohibiting people from covering their face when giving or receiving state services.

Couillard told reporters the debate around religious symbols concerns an issue that doesn’t exist.

“As far as I know, there aren’t any police officers who are wearing religious symbols in Quebec,” he said. “We are debating an issue that is more than hypothetical –it’s non-existent.”