Quebec’s religious symbols definition sparks confusion over wedding rings, discrimination concerns

Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette picks up documents on the first day of a legislature committee studying a bill on secularism, Tuesday, May 7, 2019 at the legislature in Quebec City. Hearings into Quebec's secularism bill veered off track Thursday when a former senator drew a connection between the Muslim head scarf, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebec Premier François Legault says his government was acting in good faith by outlining the definition of religious symbols as it tries to pass its secularism bill by the end of the week.

“We are trying to be more precise on what are religious symbols,” he said on Wednesday. “Of course there will always be debates on what is or what is not [a symbol].”

The Coalition Avenir Québec government’s Bill 21 would bar civil servants in positions of authority — including judges, teachers and police officers — from wearing religious garb in the workplace. It was widely criticized by the opposition because it did not include a definition of what constitutes a religious symbol.

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READ MORE: Quebec immigration minister defines ‘religious symbol’ in proposed amendment to Bill 21

The province made an about-face Tuesday evening in the National Assembly when Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette tabled an amendment to include a definition.

The wording of the amendment to Article 6 states, “any object, including a garment, a symbol, a jewel, an adornment, an accessory or a headdress” will be considered as a religious symbol, if it is worn “in connection with religious belief“ or “reasonably considered to refer to religious affiliation.”

Under the definition, there is some confusion as to whether or not wedding bands would be considered as religious symbols. When the bill was tabled, Jolin-Barrette said wedding rings wouldn’t be subjected to the ban.

When asked about wedding bands on Wednesday, Legault wasn’t able to directly answer and admitted there is room to perfect the amendment.

“We will define it exactly in the bill,” he said. “We will improve it if it’s necessary.”

WATCH: UN condemns Quebec over bill 21

Click to play video: 'UN condemns Quebec over bill 21' UN condemns Quebec over bill 21
UN condemns Quebec over bill 21 – May 23, 2019

Opposition parties were quick to criticize the CAQ’s definition of religious symbols, saying it’s open to arbitrary interpretations.

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Québec Solidaire MNA Sol Zanetti prepared a pop quiz, which included different images of random objects to test politicians on which would be subjected to the law and which would not. He said it will be a difficult exercise for people to determine what a religious symbol is and could lead to “abusive and restrictive” interpretations.

“They will create injustices,” he said.

Will the National Assembly sit through the weekend?

Legault took aim at the Liberals on Wednesday, claiming they are dragging their heels on the CAQ’s immigration and secularism bills. He said the bills have been slowed down at the committee level by the opposition.

“It’s clear again on this point, the Liberals don’t want to forbid religious symbols — for example, for police men and police women — so we will never agree on the main issues of this bill,” he said.

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

The premier says it is imperative for Bill 21 to become law and that he hasn’t excluding working through the weekend.

“I think it’s urgent,” he said. “We have the support of the vast majority of Quebecers and we will do what needs to be done in order to respect the will of Quebecers.”

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— With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher and The Canadian Press

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