Quebec Liberals would enshrine religious neutrality of the state in charter

QUEBEC – The Quebec Liberals say they would enshrine the principle of government neutrality in religious matters in the provincial charter of rights and allow authority figures such as judges and police officers to wear religious symbols.

Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard’s announcement Thursday followed reports the Parti Quebecois government is preparing to release its own Charter of Quebec Values banning the wearing of religious symbols in the public service.

Couillard said the Liberals believe in the idea of “open secularism,” which was also the policy of the previous Liberal government of Jean Charest.

He said government employees would, however, be prevented from covering their faces when delivering services.

That provision was also contained in legislation tabled by Charest’s government which never reached a vote.

Any future Liberal legislation would also reaffirm the equality between men and women.

Couillard was adamant his party will not restrict freedoms.

“Individual freedoms, for us, are absolutely essential,” he said. “We will not be part of an attack on individual freedoms in Quebec.”

The PQ’s charter is set to be tabled next week and Couillard’s tone left little doubt the Liberals plan to oppose restrictions to religious symbols.

“Such a ban is unreasonable and very likely against the charters (of rights),” he said.

Couillard also complained about a lack of government leadership in a debate that has been mainly fuelled by leaked media reports of the proposed charter’s contents.

He said despite the heated debate, no one has actually seen the actual document.

“This is irresponsible, this is not serious,” Couillard said. “This is governmental amateurism. This is not the way to approach a subject of such great importance.”

Couillard suggested an intercultural model for Quebec, where citizens would embrace the values of the majority and share French as a common language but without renouncing their differences, rights and convictions.

Couillard added he does not believe there is an identity crisis in Quebec.