The Americas

Quebec proposing law to ban religious headwear in government jobs

Quebec is proposing a law that would forbid government workers from wearing religious headwear such as hijabs, turbans, and kippas.

The separatist Parti Quebecois government said Tuesday the so-called "values charter" will be introduced for debate later this year.

The plan has revived a debate in Quebec over religious accommodation and has been widely criticized in the rest of Canada.

Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for the proposal, says the goal is to ensure the complete neutrality of the state on religion.

The ban would apply to every public worker, including teachers and police. It would not apply to elected officials because people have a right to choose their representative, Drainville said.

Smaller religious symbols, such as a Christian cross on a necklace or the Star of David on a ring, will be allowed.

The federal government has said it will seek the advice of the Department of Justice and suggested it could go to court if the proposal violates fundamental rights.

Kathy Malas, a Montreal speech-language pathologist who wears a headscarf, said she has no plans to stop working or take it off if the charter becomes law.

"I would fight it, for sure," she said. "For a government to dictate how people get dressed, it's unreasonable to me."

The minority Parti Quebecois government cannot pass legislation without support from one other party, and it has said it will seek to build consensus.

Asked whether officials and witnesses would still swear an oath on the Bible, Drainville appeared caught off-guard.

"Oh, my God," he said. "We'll get back to you."