POLITICS

Tom Mulcair: Quebec Values Charter Amounts To 'State-Mandated Discrimination'

09/10/2013 05:35 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 07:02 EDT

SASKATOON — NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says the Quebec values charter introduced by the Parti Québécois Tuesday amounts to state-mandated discrimination.

Mulcair said study after study has found there is systemic discrimination of minorities in the Quebec civil service.

"What we have today is an attempt to impose state-mandated discrimination against minorities in the Quebec civil service, that for us is an absolute non-starter," he told reporters in English during a press conference in Saskatoon, where the NDP caucus is meeting.

Mulcair said the NDP caucus is unanimous in its opposition to the Quebec charter, but did not repeat the point as emphatically in French.

Quebec's values charter would ban employees in government institutions, including schools, hospitals and courts, from wearing any large, visible religious symbols such as hijabs, kippas, turbans and big crucifixes.

Radio-Canada said it spoke on Monday to NDP MP Francois Pilon from Laval-Les îles, a riding on the south shore of Montreal, who, according to the public broadcaster, said he was completely in favour of banning the wearing of religious symbols in the public sector.

Mulcair did not deny there were some in his caucus who favoured the PQ policy but said that was before the document was released in full Tuesday.

Mulcair told reporters he received warm applause when he told his MPs the NDP would come out categorically opposed to the project.

He said the PQ is trying to divide Quebecers but that the NDP will stand up and defend people's rights, "poll or no poll." Public opinion surveys suggest the majority of Quebecers support the policy.

"(It’s) a hot button issue that is set to provoke an epidermic reaction to get people to react emotionally on something and we are taking a cool-headed approach," Mulcair said.

The NDP leader faced criticism for staying silent while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau denounced the PQ plans weeks ago. Mulcair said he wanted to wait to see the text of the charter before commenting, unconvinced Quebec Premier Pauline Marois would do what she was threatening.

"What we saw today went beyond anything that anyone had ever imagined," Mulcair said. "To say that a woman who works in a day care centre is going to lose her job if she is wearing a headscarf is simply unbelievable."

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Quebec Values Charter