QUEBEC CITY – Walk around Quebec’s legislature and you’ll find plenty of Roman Catholic symbols: the white cross on the Quebec flag, the statues of missionaries – there’s even a chapel a stone’s throw away from the Premier’s office, in a government building. Mass for civil servants is held there twice a week.
Inside the legislature, a crucifix hangs in the Blue Room, right above the Speaker’s head. It dates back to 1936, when Premier Maurice Duplessis decided to symbolically seal the bond between the government and the Catholic church. Duplessis’ era later became known as the Great Darkness.
Now, as Quebec embraces secularism, some argue the crucifix should be the first symbol to go.
“If we want to be coherent, then we get rid of Catholic symbols too,” said Lucie Martineau, president of the Syndicat de la fonction publique du Quebec (SFPQ).
But the minister responsible for the Charter sees things differently.
“The crucifix is here to stay in the name of history, in the name of our heritage,” said Bernard Drainville.
The Justice Minister said the Charter of Quebec Values, which bans other religious symbols from the public sector, is on solid legal ground.
“I’m confident that the legal basis of the document of Mr. Drainville is good,” said Bertrand St-Arnaud.
The Liberals doubt the charter is constitutional. They argued it violates people’s freedom of religion. Gilles Ouimet, the Liberal MNA for Fabre told reporters on Friday: “I think the government should be acting responsibly and on the basis of sound legal advice and not on a pleadable case.”
The Charter of Quebec Values will soon become a bill, to be debated by Members of the National Assembly. But ultimately this explosive issue may only be resolved in front of the courts.