10/10/2018 09:58 EDT | Updated 03/29/2019 13:44 EDT

Incoming CAQ Government To Keep Crucifix In Legislature While Demanding Civil Servants Lose Religious Symbols

Police officers, teachers and more to face strict religious-neutrality rules.

Jacques Boissinot/CP
The crucifix inside the National Assembly is shown on Nov. 5, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City.

UPDATE: As part of Bill 21, "an act respecting the laicity of the state," tabled March 28, 2019, the government said it would propose a motion calling for the withdrawal of the crucifix from the provincial legislature.

MONTREAL — The incoming Coalition Avenir Quebec government is facing criticism for saying it has no intention of removing the crucifix from the legislature, even as it plans to crack down on some civil servants who wear religious symbols.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, a spokesman for the Coalition transition team, said Tuesday there is no contradiction between the new government's plan to impose strict religious-neutrality rules on certain public servants and its desire to maintain the crucifix.

He said the crucifix, which has hung behind the Speaker's chair since the 1930s, is part of Quebec's heritage.

Watch: Trudeau warns against CAQ using notwithstanding clause on religious symbols issue

But Patrick Taillon, a professor in Universite Laval's faculty of law, called that a double standard.

"The government can't talk out of both sides of its mouth," he said in an interview.

"I can't see how, on the political level, we want religious neutrality and secularism and not apply that standard at the national assembly."

Jolin-Barrette, re-elected Oct. 1, defended his party's plan to prohibit public servants in positions of authority from wearing visible religious symbols. The edict will cover such positions as police officer, teacher, prison guard and judge.

But Jolin-Barrette acknowledged the principle of judicial independence means that for provincially appointed judges, application of the new law is out of the government's hands.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Coalition Avenir Quebec party leader Francois Legault speaks to supporters from the podium in Quebec City on Oct. 1, 2018.

Taillon agreed the new government cannot force judges to apply the law to themselves.

"If a judge decides to wear a religious symbol, it won't be a Quebec law that prevents them from doing that," he said.

"It's the chief justice or the judicial council that decides if a judge commits a violation of the code of ethics."

Last week, a Coalition spokeswoman said teachers who refuse to accept a different job or to remove religious symbols would be dismissed.

But on Tuesday, Jolin-Barrette took a slightly softer line, saying the Coalition is prepared to work with opposition parties to find common ground.

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"We want to talk with them, we want to find a solution, and I think all Quebecers want to find a solution," he said.

Concordia University's Harold Chorney, a political scientist, had a warning about the plan to prohibit religious symbols.

"It's a very delicate matter, (and) you can unleash a very unpleasant environment here," he said on Tuesday.

Chorney called on the government to be tolerant.

"If they're not, then we're going to have a constitutional clash and a political one."

Mayor of Montreal borough blasts 'perceived racist policies'

The political backlash has been growing since premier-designate Francois Legault said he was moving ahead with the plan to restrict religious symbols.

On Tuesday, Jim Beis, the mayor of the Montreal borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, criticized what he called "the perceived racist policies promised by the new elected Quebec government."

He accused the Coalition of "turning the concept of neutrality into a Trojan Horse to implement policies of exclusion and division." He added: "No Quebecers should have to choose between their careers and their faith. No one, including women, should be told how to dress, and in no way does one's attire determine one's ability to perform their job."

Legault's cabinet is to be sworn in Oct. 18.