BOUCHERVILLE, Que. Public servants in positions of authority who refuse to remove religious symbols will be assigned to different jobs or dismissed, a spokeswoman for the Coalition Avenir Quebec transition team said Wednesday.
Genevieve Guilbault, elected for the Coalition in Quebec City’s Louis-Hebert riding, said Quebecers gave the Coalition a clear mandate to prohibit public servants wielding authority from wearing religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab and Jewish kippa. Those who lose their jobs after refusing to respect the new rules will be the authors of their own misfortune, she said.
Guilbault said when the new law is adopted, there will be a “transition period” for any judges, police officers, teachers, prosecutors and prison guards affected.
“Those people will be free to relocate to another job that will not be in an authority situation,” she said. “It will be up to them at that point to make the necessary choice.”
Asked what happens to people who do not want to change jobs and refuse to remove their religious symbols, she said they would be “making the choice to no longer occupy the post if they want to keep wearing religious symbols.”
Coalition leader Francois Legault said Tuesday his government would invoke the notwithstanding clause if necessary to safeguard its religious-symbol legislation against a court challenge. That drew a warning Wednesday from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“It’s not something that should be done lightly because to remove or avoid defending the fundamental rights of Canadians, I think it’s something with which you have to pay careful attention,” Trudeau said in Ottawa.
The proposed Coalition policy would tighten a law passed by the outgoing Liberal government banning people from receiving or giving public services with their faces covered. That legislation already faces a legal challenge.
The Coalition has also promised to reduce immigration levels by 20 per cent beginning next year and to require immigrants to pass French-language and values tests within three years of their arrival in Quebec. The policy has drawn unwelcome praise from far-right groups and led to international headlines labelling the Coalition “anti-immigrant.”
Anti-racism groups are planning a demonstration in Montreal Sunday to protest what they call the Coalition’s “xenophobic politics.” But Simon Jolin-Barrette, another spokesman for the Coalition transition, said the criticism is off base.
“The CAQ is a party that is very open,” he said. “There is not in any way a question of racism. We show our great openness through the policies we are going to introduce.”
He said there is no connection between his party and the far-right group La Meute, which in the past expressed support for Coalition policy. “We strongly denounce their proposals, their remarks,” Jolin-Barrette said.
Legault took to Twitter Wednesday to dissociate himself completely from French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who on Tuesday praised his “firm” and “lucid” immigrationpolicy.
“Quebecers are welcome and generous. We are going to welcome thousands of immigrants every year, but we are going to do it in a way that favours integration,” he said. “We will take fewer of them, but we will take care of them.”