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Quebec hardens stance on religious symbols and immigration

On Sunday, June 16, the National Assembly of the French-speaking province of Canada passed two bills, one of which provides for the prohibition of certain religious symbols for state officials.

Published: June 17, 2019, 10:22 am


    Quebec is following the growing nationalist trend worldwide, as parliamentarians in the Canadian province passed two bills backed by the new centrist government.

    The first provides for the prohibition of wearing religious symbols to several categories of officials in positions of authority, reported French weekly Le Point.

    Francois Legault. Wikipedia

    The officials involved include police officers, judges, lawyers, prison guards and teachers. But only newly hired officials will be covered by the new law, which was the main campaign commitment of François Legault, Quebec’s prime minister since October 2018.

    Bill 21 was tabled on March 28, 2019, by the Quebec government, entitled “An Act respecting the laicity of the State”.

    The crucifix at the legislature will, however, stay.

    The second bill adopted on Sunday provides for a re-think of the selection process of the candidates for immigration. The latter will now be based on the suitability of the professional skills of applicants to the labour needs of Quebec.

    Some 18 000 applications submitted under the old system will have to be re-submitted. As a reminder, François Legault and his party came to power promising a 20 percent drop in immigration to the province.

    He has vowed to reduce the number of immigrants coming to the province from 50 000 down to 40 000 in 2019. He was elected with 38 percent of the popular vote, and holds a majority of seats in the legislature.

    According to Legault, the debate over religious accommodation has been playing out for more than a decade in Quebec, and it’s time to “turn the page” on the issue. “I think it’s good for what we call the vivre ensemble,” he said.

    Legault’s proposals was called “racist” and “xenophobic”. But Legault says there’s a risk of upsetting “social cohesion” in the province if the debate over religious symbols and integration is allowed to linger any longer.

    His party, the Coalition Avenir Québec campaigned on promises to slash the number of immigrants coming into the province and to force them to take tests assessing their knowledge of the French language and of the values outlined in Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    Legault says there are good reasons not to boost immigration. “I know that you’re maybe tired to hear this figure, but 26 percent of new immigrants leave Quebec in the first 10 years, so this is not a success.”

    Anglophone politicians in Canada are worried that the anti-immigration sentiment will be ignited in the rest of the country.

    “We are concerned about the CAQ election because they have been trying to divide Quebecers into real Quebecers and immigrants,” said Scott Weinstein of the Independent Jewish Voices. His organisation joined a rally last week in Montreal against Legault’s planned policies.

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