Quebec government to invoke closure on controversial secularism, immigration bills

People hold up signs during a demonstration opposing the Quebec government's newly tabled Bill 21 in Montreal, Sunday, April 14, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL – The Quebec government will invoke closure in order to force through controversial bills on secularism and immigration that it says must be adopted before the summer break.

That means the legislature will sit exceptionally over the weekend to debate the government’s proposed secularism bill, known as Bill 21, and Bill 9 on immigration reform. By invoking closure, the Coalition Avenir Quebec government will curtail debate and use its majority to force a vote.

Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says the exceptional measure is necessary to pass bills that are in the public interest. He accused the Opposition Liberals of systematically trying to block the bills.

Quebec’s Bill 21 would prohibit public servants in positions of authority _ including teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards _ from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Following criticism that it had failed to define what constitutes a symbol, the government introduced an amendment this week describing symbols as clothing, jewelry, ornaments, accessories or headgear worn with a “religious conviction or belief” or objects that can be “reasonably inferred as relating to a religious affiliation.”

The bill already invokes the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to prevent court challenges based on rights violations.

Bill 9 would give the government more authority to select who receives permanent residency in Quebec. The legislation also allows the government to cancel roughly 18,000 pending applications for immigration to the province _ something the Liberals oppose.

Jolin-Barrette says the religious neutrality debate has spanned more that a decade, and the government’s bill has already been studied for 50 hours. He said the immigration changes are necessary because of the province’s labour shortage.

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