Thousands of mostly Muslim protesters took to the streets in Montreal, Canada, on Saturday to express their anger at a motion to ban public sector workers from wearing religious garb in Quebec.
The prohibition of headscarves, turbans and other religious garments is part of a proposed overhaul of the province’s “Charter of Values.”
“No to the charter” and “Quebec is not France” demonstrators shouted, referring to a similar law which has been in force in the European country for more than two years.
The planned measure, to be presented to Quebec’s parliament soon, sparked heated debate since details were leaked to the media a few weeks ago.
It would ban public sector employees from donning “conspicuous religious symbols,” including headscarves, yarmulkes, turbans and large crosses at work, but allows certain religious jewelry, as long as it is “not very visible.”
The proposal would also require people receiving state services “to make their faces completely visible” — a measure aimed at restricting some traditional head-to-toe garments worn by Muslim women.
Bernard Drainville, the Quebecois minister in charge of the issue, recently said that ridding the region of the public wearing of religious apparel by government workers would help provide a greater sense of unity among Quebecers.
The proposal also aims to foster “the religious neutrality of the state,” Drainville said.
“The best way to respect all Quebecers, the best way to respect all beliefs and all religious, is for the state to have no religion,” he said.
However, that neutrality does not apply to the crucifix that has adorned the main chamber of the Quebec National Assembly since 1936 and will stay up in deference to the province’s “cultural heritage,” the minister added.
The prospective ban has sparked strong criticism, including from a number of federal politicians, such as the head of Canada’s office dealing with issues of multiculturalism.
Canadian Minister for Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney said he was “very concerned” the measure “would limit the ability of Canadians to participate in our society, and that would affect the practice of their faith.”