Headdress ban to promote 'unity,' Quebec premier says

Canadian Muslims call the measure a distraction

A Sikh man helps a young player with his uniform during a youth soccer match in Montreal, June 15, 2013. The Quebec legislature is discussing a ban on religious dress for public-sector workers.
Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press/AP

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said Sunday that proposed legislation prohibiting religious dress for public-sector workers will unite the province, according to reports.  

But opponents told Al Jazeera the measure -- which they say would import controversial European legislation banning religious dress -- is a distraction from a slew of other social and economic problems plaguing the province.

The proposed Charter of Quebec Values, which Marois' Parti Quebecois (PQ) will put before the provincial parliament in September, "will come to represent a strong force for unity among Quebecois people," the premier told a group of young PQ supporters at Quebec City's Laval University, the Canadian Press reported.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois
Jacques Demarthon/ AFP/Getty Images

Marois reportedly declined to accept questions from journalists before and after her speech, in which she encouraged young members to recruit more PQ supporters.

The charter's provisions would ban the Muslim headscarf as well as Sikh and Jewish headwear for workers at any venue that receives public funding -- including schools and hospitals, according to information leaked to the Journal de Quebec Tuesday.

"For the Parti Quebecois to now bring forward this kind of legislation, the timing is very interesting. It only serves to distract from more pressing issues that concern Quebecers," Kashif Ahmed, board director of Ottawa-based advocacy organization the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), told Al Jazeera. 

Ahmed cited public unrest over unemployment and corruption in the municipal government.

"Sadly, they are doing this on the backs of Quebec Muslims, Quebec Jews and Quebec Sikhs," he added.

Kathy Nalas, a Quebec native and practicing Muslim, told Al Jazeera Wednesday that the charter may force Muslim women who wear headscarves to choose between employment and expressions of faith.

NCCM's Ahmed said his organization -- together with "many groups" -- would challenge the charter's constitutionality if it is passed, but national Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office told Al Jazeera Wednesday that he would leave the debate to the province.

The PQ was not immediately available for comment.

Al Jazeera

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