Quebec mulls religious headwear ban for public workers

Bernard Drainville, Quebec's Minister of Democratic Institutions, speaks during a news conference to present the Quebec Charter of Values in Quebec City, 10 September 2013 Bernard Drainville, Quebec's Minister of Democratic Institutions, said the ban would apply to "ostentatious" religious symbols

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The Canadian province of Quebec has proposed banning public workers from wearing religious headwear, including Muslim scarves and Jewish skullcaps.

The proposed measure was unveiled on Tuesday by the minority Parti Quebecois, a separatist party which controls the provincial government.

Supporters say the ban, which would apply to teachers, police officers and others, would promote secular society.

The federal government suggested it could challenge the law in court.

The government of the mainly French-speaking province says the proposed Charter of Quebec Values, as the law is named, promotes state neutrality on religion, including among those who work in the public sector.

"That's why the government of Quebec is proposing to ban public employees from wearing ostentatious religious symbols during work hours," Bernard Drainville, the Quebec minister of democratic institutions, said in a new conference on Tuesday.

Those include "very obvious symbols" which "send a clear message: 'I am a believer and this is my religion,'" he said.

Legal challenge expected

The proposed law would ban prominent crucifixes, all manner of Islamic covering, Sikh turbans and Jewish skullcaps but would allow public workers to wear discreet religious symbols including small crucifixes or a Jewish Star of David.

The ban would not apply to elected officials because people have a right to choose their representation, Mr Drainville said.

The minority Parti Quebecois government must win support from another party in order to enact the measure, and officials say it will be introduced for debate later in the year.

Political leaders and religious groups have already voiced opposition to the measure.

"They're trying to remove religious freedoms. They're trying to impose rules on religious values," Harvey Levine, president of the Quebec branch of the Jewish organisation B'nai Brith, told Reuters.

The federal government has said it will seek the advice of the Department of Justice and suggested the measure could face legal challenges should it be approved.

"If it's determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously," federal Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said.

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