Quebec’s school boards say they have been receiving calls from the government asking if they know how many of their teachers and staff wear religious symbols at work.
“Our school board does not have that type of listing, so we told them we don’t have that information, said Carol Heffernan, assistant director general of the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB).
She notes that the government did not request the board make such a list.
“I never heard of that being a part of any type of list that school boards do, or any employee recruitment kit,” she said, adding that boards work closely with the ministry and would not say if she found the request to be ethical or not.
“I was pretty surprised to hear that the government was looking into this. It is concerning. We don’t have that information, so we can’t provide it.”
According to Quebec’s education ministry, there was no “official demand made to the school boards to know how many people in their network wear religious symbols.”
Officials stated that only “some directors” were contacted to know if they “already had this information.”
However, in an interview with Global News Monday, Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said he was the one who made the request for data.
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“Right now, we are writing a bill about the secularization of the state, about the fact that people who are in authority, like judges, police officers, prison guards and teachers should not wear religious symbols.”
The minister argued the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) has been clear since the election campaign last fall that they were going to create this “clear separation between state and religion.”
“They should collaborate and they should not antagonize their relationship with the government,” Jolin-Barrette told Global News.
“We need to work all together on that bill and project, it’s really important. The population of Quebec wants it.”
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Lawyer Julius Grey points out the government has every right to request such information, without making it obligatory to submit.
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“What I find disturbing about it all is that the government is continuing to treat this problem as through it were a real problem,” he told Global News.
“In fact, it’s a completely trivial matter, which is unfair. They shouldn’t legislate on it at all.”
Grey argued the government should instead be concerned with improving pressing issues at its schools.
“Why are we obsessed with what I’m sure will turn out to be a very small number of people who happen to wear a perfectly harmless scarf or turban or whatever it is.”
He noted that having a representative from the ministry call each school board individually is a “terrible waste of time.”
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“It once again shows how, for many years now, Quebec has been preoccupied with something that they shouldn’t be preoccupied with. It doesn’t matter,” Grey told Global News.
“I think it’s indicative that they didn’t want it to fall into the hands of journalists and they were afraid about how to formulate it.”
Jolin-Barrette notes that the bill will be tabled, stating it won’t make a difference how many teachers or staff are affected.
He argued that it was not in an attempt to “hide the request,” saying the school boards’ responses will be part of the greater debate.
“Now, we have a clear answer that the school boards don’t have that information and that’s the end of that question,” he said.
Jolin-Barrette said he expects the bill to be tabled sometime in the spring during the next parliamentary session..