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Quebec to push forward with bill to make it easier for immigrants with degrees to find work

WATCH ABOVE: Welcoming immigrants in Canada.

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.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard argued Tuesday the government needs to take immediate action to recognize the educational and professional credentials of immigrants.

It’s an issue that the province’s Muslim community brought to light again following the Quebec City mosque shooting.

READ MORE: Will Quebec stop fighting over religious symbols?

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.

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READ MORE: ‘Discriminatory and unconstitutional’: religious groups react to Saint-Lambert zoning decision

“We’ve said clearly and I’m very proud of that, clearly, no to exclusion and discrimination,” said Couillard.

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“[We] must show now that actions are following so by putting this bill, Bill 98, at the forefront of our legislative work. We’re expressing very concretely what we want to do.”

The premier has stepped away from recent debates about religious signs and accommodations.

He said he never agreed to a ban on religious signs for people in positions of authority, as recommended in the Bouchard-Taylor report, which was commissioned by the Charest government.

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.

READ MORE: Hate crimes spike in Montreal after Quebec City mosque shooting

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.

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Taylor’s voice looms large in the province’s secularism debate.

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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.

READ MORE: PQ leader speaks at Dawson College, shares views on charter of values

“I am thinking particularly to the debate about ‘Quebec values’ [in 2013],” Taylor wrote.

“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.”

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Couillard said Taylor’s change of position demonstrates “that when we have principles we must stick to them.”

READ MORE: CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by 20 per cent

“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.”

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Coalition leader François Legault said while Couillard is sticking to his principles, the premier is asking Quebecers to bend theirs.

READ MORE: CAQ’s Nathalie Roy calls burqas, niqabs ‘accessories of oppression’

“Mr. Taylor, he can think what he wants,” Legault said.

“But Quebecers haven’t changed their minds.”

— with files from The Canadian Press.