The Coalition Avenir Québec government is now promising it will go further in prohibiting religious symbols, with a plan to ban all public employees from wearing the chador, burka and niqab.
The chador is a traditional piece of clothing that covers the body, except for the face. It is worn primarily by Muslim women from Iran. The burka covers the entire face with mesh over the eyes, while the niqab leaves an opening for the eyes.
“Our position is still the same,” Premier François Legault said on Wednesday.
“We do not want any state employees — not just people in positions of authority — to be able to wear symbols like the niqab or the chador.”
The move comes as the newly-elected government has promised to take a firmer stance on secularism in the province.
Legault has also promised to bar certain government employees in positions of authority — such as teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious symbols while on the job.
The controversial plan has sparked protests in Montreal and accusations from teachers that the CAQ is trying to create a problem where none exists. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also voiced his unease, saying he is “not of the opinion that the state should be able to tell a woman what she can wear, nor what she cannot wear.”
On Wednesday, Legault said the new government’s priority is still on banning civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols. He added that a ban on Muslim religious garb is not a priority — but he said the clothing makes him uncomfortable.
“The chador, the burka, the niqab are giving a message regarding equality between men and women,” he said.
Justice Minister Sonia LeBel has said the government will move forward with the proposed ban on the Muslim religious garments for all government employees, even if it’s unclear whether it will get court approval.
“The government will set a goal in that matter,” she said on Wednesday. “And we’re going to work towards that goal and we’re going to work with all the lawyers in the government to make sure it will pass the test.”
The Quebec Liberal Party’s Bill 62 — which was tabled in October 2017 — aimed to ban giving or receiving public services while wearing a niqab. It was swiftly met with legal challenges and has since been suspended by the courts.
WATCH: François Legault stands firm on proposed religious symbol ban
When the CAQ sat as the second opposition in the National Assembly, it argued religious neutrality should also include language to ban all bureaucrats from wearing “accessories of submission,” and would explicitly ban the Islamic chador, burka or niqab.
Minister of Diversity, Immigration and Inclusion Simon Jolin-Barrette said he plans to table a bill as quickly as possible, but he said he couldn’t promise it will be in the first session, which begins late next month.
The legislature is set to resume sitting on Nov. 27.
— With files from Global’s Raquel Fletcher and The Canadian Press
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