January 10, 2014 6:12 pm
Updated: January 14, 2014 4:34 pm

Quebec National Assembly prepares for charter hearings


QUEBEC CITY – A National Assembly committee is getting ready to hear groups from all sides of the debate around Quebec’s controversial charter of values.

Hearings into Bill 60 kick off on Tuesday.

More than 250 groups and individuals have submitted briefs and, already, the tone has risen a notch.

On Friday, Gérard Bouchard, the former co-president of the Bouchard-Taylor commission, published an opinion piece accusing the Parti Quebecois government of lying, manipulating public opinion and whipping up xenophobic feelings.

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Bouchard had always been critical of Bill 60, which aims to ban ostentatious religious symbols from the public service, but his tone intensified on Friday, just as Quebec’s Justice Minister appealed for calm.

“We are a mature society and we can have big debates with respect of the different opinions,” said Bertrand St-Arnaud.

One of the first groups to present on Tuesday will be the Société d’histoire de Charlevoix, which supports the bill.

It will be followed Wednesday by a law professor who believes the bill goes against Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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Identity questions in Quebec have always tended to become emotional.

That’s why the Sûreté du Quebec (SQ) told Global News on Friday it is evaluating the risk of potential clashes and adjusting its security strategy.

On the day Bill 60 was tabled, police detained a man believed to be carrying a suspicious package and a security perimeter was set up.

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Procedure at the National Assembly typically calls for employees with cards to be admitted, while guests pass through a scanner.

Global News was told that procedure will be followed to a tee.

As usual, each presentation will be filmed and National Assembly guards, SQ officers and Quebec City police will be on hand to insure safety in and around parliament, although St-Arnaud thinks participants will remain respectful.

“In 1995, we had a big discussion about the future of the Quebec nation,” he said.

“We did a referendum with respect of different opinions and no violence.”

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Groups will present at the hearings on a first-come-first-served basis.

The full schedule has not yet been divulged, but National Assembly communications agent Jean-Philippe Laprise said those who submitted briefs first would get a chance to address the committee in the first week, while others could be asked to present as late as March.

Laprise said 215 hours of debate have been scheduled, making this consultation process one of the biggest Quebec has seen in years.

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