NEWS

Fatima Houda-Pépin breaks Liberal ranks on charter debate

11/15/2013 08:55 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin has broken rank with her party's views on the secular charter, saying garments like the chador are symbols of fundamentalism.

"I do not support the charter as it stands now. However, I do support neutrality of the state," said Houda-Pépin in an interview with Radio-Canada on Friday.

Houda-Pépin — the only Muslim woman in the Quebec national assembly — wrote a letter to the Canadian Press after her colleague Marc Tanguay said he would welcome candidates wearing the chador, a large veil that covers a woman’s body and head.

In the letter, the MNA representing the La Pinière electoral district compared her party's views to those held in Saudi Arabia. 

“This is the straw that broke the camel's back," wrote Houda-Pepin. "Gender equality is a fundamental right in an era of fundamentalism. We must protect it, defend it and not put it at risk."

In response, Liberal justice critic Gilles Ouimet said he was surprised Houda-Pépin chose to express herself through a letter instead of first consulting the party.

“We had proposed to work together,” said Ouimet.

Houda-Pépin said the issue of religious garments was never discussed in caucus and that she has always believed the chador is a symbol of oppression for women.

"I see the national assembly as the seat of our democracy, and to see the image the chador projects… I was shocked!" said Houda-​Pépin. 

Members of the Quebec Liberal Party said it will be up to leader Philippe Couillard to decide whether Houda-Pépin will remain in caucus. She told Radio-Canada that she's meeting Couillard this morning before he makes a statement at 10 a.m.

On Thursday, the Parti-Québécois said it supported Houda-Pépin's stance on the religious garment. 

"She made ​​the same observation that we did — that gender equality must prevail," said PQ minister Bernard Drainville.

In September, Bloc Québécois MP Maria Mourani was expelled from the caucus in Ottawa for opposing the draft of the PQ's charter of values.

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