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‘Quebec will always be open’: Immigration minister defends religious symbols bill

The Coalition Avenir Québec government is standing by its controversial secularism bill. Global Montreal Senior Anchor Jamie Orchard speaks to Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, the minister in charge of Quebec’s proposed religious symbols legislation, still believes the province is a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds.

READ MORE: Quebec religious symbols bill would affect students planning to be teachers, police officers

“Quebec society is an inclusive society, an open society to everybody who wants to come to Quebec and work here and choose Quebec. Quebec will always be open,” he told Global News.

“We all have to have a tone in this debate that is respectful. We have to, because it’s an emotional debate, stay calm.”

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Over the weekend, Quebec Premier François Legault posted a video to Facebook saying the province has debated religious symbols for over a decade and it’s “about time a government put in place clear rules for everyone.”

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WATCH: Quebec Premier François Legault says he is “very proud” of the province’s secularism bill, saying it represents “our values”

Quebec Premier ‘very proud’ of religious symbols bill
Quebec Premier ‘very proud’ of religious symbols bill

Soon after, right-wing group La Meute — which supports the bill — posted a photograph of the premier to its Facebook page.

Next to the photo are the closing remarks from the premier’s speech: “Au Québec, c’est comme ça qu’on vit” — in Quebec, this is how we live.

READ MORE: CAQ tables controversial secularism bill, banning public employees from wearing religious symbols at work

“That kind of extremist group has no place in Quebec, and I am clear about that,” Jolin-Barrette argued.

“The government of Quebec has nothing to do with that kind of group. We fully banish what they are doing.”

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Bill 21, titled An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State, was tabled last Thursday, prohibiting public-sector employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work.

WATCH: EMSB community voices opposition to proposed religious symbol ban

EMSB community voices opposition to proposed religious symbol ban
EMSB community voices opposition to proposed religious symbol ban
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The proposed legislation affects elementary and high school teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and other public servants in what the government considers to be positions of authority.

READ MORE: Quebec’s attempt to track how many teachers wear religious symbols violates rights and freedoms: FAE

“Only a few people in certain positions, certain jobs, they are not allowed to wear religious symbols. They have power,” Jolin-Barrette told Global News.

“It’s applied to all religions. It applies to all Christians.”

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The bill has created much controversy over the last few months, and since its tabling, many organizations have come out opposing the bill, referring to it as discriminatory and divisive.

READ MORE: EMSB vows not to comply with Quebec’s proposed religious symbols ban

Several school boards, including the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) and Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB), have stated they will not be abiding by the law.

However, Jolin-Barrette insists the school boards will have to apply the bill once it is voted into law as it is part of the province’s democratic process.

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WATCH: Quebec tables bill banning religious symbols at public jobs

Quebec tables bill banning religious symbols at public jobs
Quebec tables bill banning religious symbols at public jobs

“I encourage school boards to look at the bill and come to the National Assembly to share their point of view,” he said.

Teachers, he argues, will be part of the bill even if the school boards say they won’t follow suit.

READ MORE: Legault stands firm on immigration, secularism in outline of CAQ priorities

“They represent a figure of authority on the children, and the link between children and teachers is a special link,” he told Global News.

“They have an influence on the children.”

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Included in the bill is a grandfather clause permitting current employees to continue wearing their religious symbols.

WATCH: Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante weighs in on Quebec’s proposed religious symbols ban

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante weighs in on Quebec’s proposed religious symbols ban
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante weighs in on Quebec’s proposed religious symbols ban

“It has nothing to do with immigrants,” he said.

“It’s religion. All religions are on the same level. We’re making a clear separation between state and religion.”

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The government said it would also propose a motion calling for the withdrawal of the crucifix from the provincial legislature.

READ MORE: ‘It’s a part of me’ — Quebec teachers decry proposed religious symbol ban

“What we want is to show all Quebecers that we are also ready to make compromises on the grandfather clause, on the crucifix, in order to get as much support as possible because my goal is really to unite Quebecers,” insisted Legault.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) maintains the bill has widespread support from across the province.

Parliamentary hearings are expected to be organized in the next few months. The minister said he is open to listening to proposed “improvements.”

rachel.lau@globalnews.ca

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