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Newly elected Quebec premier wants to ban teachers, judges from wearing hijabs

Canadian province's new right-wing government vows to enact law that would ban religious symbols in public sector jobs
Francois Legault also promised to lower number of immigrants accepted into Quebec (Reuters)

MONTREAL, Canada - Only a few days after being elected, the new right-wing government in the Canadian province of Quebec has vowed to bar women working in public service jobs from wearing headscarves.

Francois Legault, the premier-elect, said he plans to put forward legislation that would ban teachers, police officers, judges and other public sector employees from wearing religious symbols.

That would affect Muslim women who wear headscarves (hijabs), Sikh men who wear turbans and Jewish men who wear kippahs, among others.

“I think that the vast majority of Quebecers … would like to have a framework where we say people in an authority position, they must not wear religious signs,” Legault said Tuesday, during his first press conference since being elected on 1 October.

A ban on religious symbols in public life in Quebec has been a heated topic of debate in the province for more than a decade.

More restrictive than previous law

The previous government in Quebec City passed legislation last October that banned face-coverings when giving or receiving public services.

Human rights groups and legal experts criticised the law, known as Bill 62, as an affront to religious freedom, as it would prohibit Muslim women who wear full face veils (niqabs) from taking public transportation, going to hospitals, or attending public school.

The province justified Bill 62 on the basis of state religious neutrality, and it had previously argued it was a question of being able to properly identify people.

The law is currently being challenged in court as unconstitutional.

'Second-class citizens?': Muslim women fear Quebec law banning veil
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Now, the new government has taken an even more restrictive approach, banning all religious symbols in the public service sector.

Legault has also said he would consider invoking the notwithstanding clause, which gives federal and provincial governments the power to override the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to enact the measure.

Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cautioned the new Quebec premier against using the exceptional provision.

"It's not something that should be done lightly," Trudeau was quoted as saying by CBC, adding that "careful attention" must be paid to anything that could remove or fail to defend "the fundamental rights of Canadians".

'Women wearing hijabs have been targeted'

Legault’s Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) party, which secured a majority in the provincial legislature, also campaigned on a promise to lower the number of immigrants allowed into the province.

The party said it would subject newcomers to French-language and values tests three years after they settle in Quebec. If they don’t pass the tests, the immigrants would be expelled from Canada, Legault said during the campaign.

In response to the election result, more than 160 community groups will take part in a demonstration against racism in Montreal, the largest city in Quebec, on Sunday.

"During the election campaign, migrants were heavily scapegoated," the organisers of the march said in a statement this week.

"Several CAQ proposals, such as the reduction in the number of immigrants, their useless ‘values test’, or even the expulsion of people who fail French tests, are just some examples that have led to significant fear among migrant populations," they said.

"Once again, women wearing hijabs have been targeted by proposals that would bar them from working, even as teachers."

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