With the Parti Québécois (PQ) trailing in the polls, the architect behind Quebec's Charter of Values said that students should be banned from covering their faces in the province's classrooms.
Bernard Drainville, the minister for democratic institutions and now a candidate in the riding of Marie-Victorin, told Radio X hosts Stéphane Gasse and Vincent Cauchon on Wednesday that students at Concordia University in Montreal are permitted to attend school in niqabs, and that the practice should stop, Maclean's reported.
In the midst of a discussion about the Charter, a proposed law that would ban religious clothing for anyone on the government's payroll, Gasse said that there have been no major fights about reasonable accommodation in the province in the last few years.
Refusing certain accommodations, he said, would be better than drawing up a law that "basically puts fire to gunpowder."
Drainville then brought up the idea of banning the niqab and the burka, traditional face-coverings worn by Muslims.
Gasse responded, "There aren't any! There aren't any! Where have you seen them?"
The candidate then slammed Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard for saying he would "discuss" the practice of wearing niqabs and burkas instead of banning them in law, asking, "How can we have confidence in a man like that?"
The magazine translated the French radio exchange:
"Gasse: Okay, but the charter isn’t supposed to prohibit students from wearing the niquab. It’s the teachers, because you said…
Drainville: Mr. Gasse, I’ll answer your question. The charter obliges an uncovered face for people giving or receiving a governmental service. Listen to me: a citizen giving or receiving a governmental service must do so with an uncovered face. For all the rest, the prohibition of religious signs applies to agents of the state. You’re right, the employees, the nurses, police officers, judges, everyone paid with public funds. But for people who are requesting a service, like students, must do so with their faces uncovered. The Liberals were once in favour of this, and now they can’t even agree with that. They aren’t even able to ban the niquab or the burka."
At a news conference on Wednesday, Drainville urged Quebecers to vote for the PQ or lose the Charter of Values, which he said has been popular wherever he's been in the 15 days since the election campaign began, The National Post reported.
He denied that he was bringing up the Charter after recent polls put the Liberals ahead, saying that the party always planned to raise it on day 15.
The Liberals led a Forum Research poll with 45 per cent, compared to the PQ's 32 per cent as the parties headed into their first election debate on Thursday night, The Toronto Star reported.
The pollster projected that the Liberals could win 78 of Quebec's 125 ridings when the election is held on April 7, with the PQ falling to 43 seats from its current 54.
Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said the PQ appears to have been hurt by its recruitment of Quebecor chief Pierre Karl Péladeau and its focus on an independent Quebec, an issue that only one-third of respondents supported.
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