The story of a long debate on religious symbols

The Coalition avenir Quebec (CAQ) tabled its long-awaited bill Thursday on secularism of the state. Some people criticize the government for reopening a sensitive debate that divides Quebeckers, whereas Prime Minister François Legault believes that the issue must be settled once and for all. Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who is bringing this bill, intends to pass it by the end of the parliamentary session in June. To better understand the context in which it fits, Le Soleil offers a step back: the story of this long debate.

Accommodations that shock

In 2006 and 2007, reporting on religious accommodation to minorities increased in the media: wearing kirpan at school, installing frosted windows around a women’s training room, introducing a menu Halal in a childcare center (CPE), etc. Discontent is growing.

The leader of the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) Mario Dumont denounces that Quebecers tend to “bend over” and “collapse” when it comes time to affirm their values. The municipality of Herouxville in the Mauricie even adopts a code of life which draws up a list of prohibitions for immigrants who would like to settle at home.

Faced with the unrest among the population, Liberal Premier Jean Charest announced in the middle of the election campaign a consultation on reasonable accommodation. Philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gerard Bouchard travel across Quebec and hear the concerns of 3,400 citizens.

The Bouchard-Taylor report

Released in 2008, the Bouchard-Taylor report continues to serve as a basis for debate today. The commissioners conclude that there is no crisis of accommodation in Quebec, but a “perception crisis”. “The media rush and the phenomenon of rumor” contributed to this crisis, write MM. Bouchard and Taylor.

To resolve this “identity robbery” however real, they make several recommendations, including prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols to judges, Crown attorneys, police officers, prison guards, the president and vice-presidents of the National Assembly. They advocate leaving teachers, health professionals and civil servants free to wear religious symbols or not.

The report also recommends that the Blue Salon Crucifix be removed for placement elsewhere in Parliament and that City Councils abandon the prayer recited at the beginning of the session.

Let us note that in 2017, Charles Taylor dissociates himself from the recommendation to forbid the wearing of religious signs to the agents of the State (judges, policemen, etc.)


If he intends to follow up on the Bouchard-Taylor report, Premier Jean Charest immediately opposes the removal of the crucifix from the Blue Room, given its heritage character.

In 2010, Liberal Minister Kathleen Weil tabled Bill 94, which outlines what a reasonable accommodation is and states that any service given or received by the state must be face-up.

Bill 94 is criticized by the Human Rights Commission for indirectly targeting Muslims. It would have the effect of prohibiting the full veil (burqa or niqab), while allowing the wearing of other religious symbols by the agents of the State. After advancing it through a parliamentary commission, the Liberal Party lets this bill float in limbo. He will never be adopted.

The Charter of Values

Since it made it an election issue, the PQ government of Pauline Marois is determined to write a charter of Quebec values.

In the fall of 2013, Minister Bernard Drainville tabled Bill 60, a charter of secularism which stipulates that all employees of public and parapublic services (public servants, nurses, daycare educators, etc.) must leave their religious symbols at home. them. Those who refuse to do so would lose their jobs after a certain period of adjustment. For Minister Drainville, it is essential that the state “embodies secularism”.

Demonstrations for and against this charter are organized. The public consultation period, which lasts more than two months, gives rise to lively exchanges and controversies. Minority, the Parti Québécois (PQ) will have failed to pass its charter before returning to elections in spring 2014.

In the courts

When he came to power, the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard distanced himself from the Bouchard-Taylor report, and in the spring of 2015, Minister Stéphanie Vallée tabled Bill 62, which forbade any religious sign, even for people who are figures of authority.

Only the concept of giving and receiving open government services survives and extends to municipalities and transport companies. Thus, anyone who wants to board a bus will have to face it openly.

The bill is adopted in the fall of 2017 by the Liberal majority, but the PQ, the CAQ and Québec solidaire vote against it. As soon as it is enacted, however, this law is challenged in court and Article 10, on the provision of over-the-counter services, is suspended. The Superior Court is of the opinion that this article causes “irreparable harm” to Muslim women. The case has not been debated on the merits.


This debate on religious symbols and reasonable accommodation has almost never been released in the National Assembly over the last 12 years. Some politicians have caused controversy with their positions. During the leadership race against Alexander Cloutier, former PQ leader Jean-François Lisée argued that it was necessary to think about banning the burqa in the public space, because people of bad faith could to hide under this full veil. “People are recruiting from us and they want to kill Quebeckers,” he said. In 2016, Cassian MP Nathalie Roy called for the ban on wearing the burkini, a swimsuit that covers the entire body, on the beaches of Quebec. She then went on to argue that it would be “very difficult” to do so.

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