Values charter a form of employment discrimination: Quebec Liberal leader

MONTREAL – The leader of the Quebec Liberals appears prepared to do everything he can to stop the Parti Quebecois government’s proposed charter of values — including fight an election over the issue.

Philippe Couillard says he’s against any law that leads to employment discrimination, and that Muslim women who wear a veil will always be welcome in his own party.

The PQ plan will become law “over my dead body,” Couillard said Sunday at a party meeting on women’s issues in Montreal.

“The big mistake that the government is making is to make people believe that, in order to defend what is specific about Quebec, we must trample on other people’s rights.”

The PQ wants to forbid public employees from wearing religious headwear, including the veil, as part of a proposed charter announced last Tuesday.

The plan has little chance of passing in its current form.

The party that holds the swing vote in Quebec’s national assembly, however, has left the door open to compromise.

Francois Legault, head of the Coalition, said Sunday he’s hopeful the PQ will soften its position.

“After they see what happened yesterday in Montreal, I hope they’ll understand that they need to find a compromise,” said Legault, who has advocated a ban on religious headwear for those in positions of authority.

Meanwhile, debate continues to rage over proposal, particularly when it comes to the hijab.

A protest against the charter on Saturday in Montreal drew several thousand people, while a petition against it already has more than 10,000 signatures.

A Muslim woman wearing a veil was also verbally accosted in Quebec City, according to media reports.

There are some Muslim women who support the PQ move.

Yolande Geadah, who is originally from Egypt, believes public employees should be neutral when it comes to religion. She doesn’t believe such a law would compromise personal freedoms.

“I think there is a lot of confusion between the idea of religious liberty and wearing a symbol,” said Geadah, author of a book on religious accommodation.

“A symbol remains a symbol. It has nothing to do with your beliefs.”

Participants in Saturday’s protest march took a different view.

Yasmine Filali Baba, a Concordia University student who wears a headscarf, said it should be up to each woman to make her own choice.

“A government that tells you what to wear, and what not to wear, especially a woman, sounds very oppressive,” said Baba, a religious studies major who is considering becoming a teacher.

“It makes me feel I’m unwelcome in my home. I’m a Quebecer and a Canadian.”

— with files from Magdaline Boutros

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