Editor’s Note: The image of MUHC emergency physician Dr. Sanjeet Saluja, previously used with this article, incorrectly implied that he is an immigrant. In fact, Dr. Saluja was born and raised in Montreal and obtained his degree at McGill University. Global News regrets this error.
It’s an issue that the province’s Muslim community brought to light again following the Quebec City mosque shooting.
Instead of discussing issues of religious neutrality, Couillard said he wants to push ahead with a bill that would make it easier for immigrants with specific job training to find work in Quebec, even if they received their training in another country.
“We’ve said clearly and I’m very proud of that, clearly, no to exclusion and discrimination,” said Couillard.
The premier has stepped away from recent debates about religious signs and accommodations.
Its recommendations were broadly interpreted by the then-governing PQ, who introduced a charter that sought to ban all employees of the state, including doctors and teachers, from wearing religious symbols at work.
Recently, one of the report’s authors, Charles Taylor, said he changed his mind about the ban on religious symbols following the mosque attack.
In an editorial in LaPresse, he pointed out the recommendation has led to a divisive debate over values.
“The time when the majority in our society can act without regard for marginalized minorities is over,” he wrote.
Taylor’s voice looms large in the province’s secularism debate.
The 2008 report he co-authored with historian Gerard Bouchard on the accommodation of religious minorities was a precursor to the contentious secularism charter introduced by the Parti Québécois (PQ) in 2013.
In the report, the two men recommended state employees in “coercive” positions, such as judges, Crown prosecutors and prison guards, be prohibited from wearing conspicuous religious symbols on the job.
WATCH BELOW: Religious neutrality in Quebec
Taylor’s report has repeatedly been used by the PQ and members of the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) – as recently as last week – to criticize the Liberals for not going far enough.
He said his 2008 report was written in a particular context, which has changed.
“There were multiple incidents of aggression, particularly towards Muslims wearing the veil. In the past few weeks, we witnessed a horrible shooting, but also an outpouring of solidarity and mutual understanding from the community.”
“I think we cannot afford to take new steps that could renew this effect of stigmatization.”
Couillard said Taylor’s change of position demonstrates “that when we have principles we must stick to them.”
“It starts with the police,” Couillard said about clothing bans.
“Then it goes to teachers, and then we’ll get to the beaches,” he said, referencing the so-called burkini ban in France.
“If we want to avoid giving Quebec a black eye internationally these are things we need to avoid doing.”
Coalition leader François Legault said while Couillard is sticking to his principles, the premier is asking Quebecers to bend theirs.
“Mr. Taylor, he can think what he wants,” Legault said.
“But Quebecers haven’t changed their minds.”
— with files from The Canadian Press.