Simon Jolin-Barrette insisted Sunday that Bill 21 does not withdraw civil rights. The government House leader is also the minister responsible for Quebec’s controversial secularism bill, which includes a religious symbols ban for public employees in positions of authority, which the government has defined as judges, prison guards, police officers and teachers, among some others.
“No, it will give rights to people. It will give rights to all Quebecers to have the right to have secular services from the state,” he said.
Members of the National Assembly were obligated to sit all weekend after the government invoked a closure motion in order to force the adoption of two contentious bills.
After sitting all day Saturday until after 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning in order to adopt the government’s immigration reform legislation, Bill 9, the National Assembly reconvened five hours later in order to adopt the government’s secularism legislation.
“It’s a progressive bill and we are really proud of that,” he said.
The Quebec Liberal Party and Quebec Solidaire (QS) have staunchly opposed this legislation since it was tabled in March.
“Many, many minorities will feel like they are not Quebecers anymore, that they are not part of the society,” said Liberal MNA Hélène David.
QS co-spokesperson Manon Massé called it a “real sad day.”
“Today we start the day in my heart with a very bad feeling because this bill will divide Quebecers,” she said.
“What effect will that have on Quebecers that will feel like they are excluded by this bill and that their rights are not protected? We want everyone to feel proud to be Quebecers. And now we are sending the wrong message,” added QS MNA Sol Zanetti.
During Sunday’s question period, both of the opposition parties defended minority rights. David accused Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette of “resorting to the most authoritarian tools at his disposal: the notwithstanding clause and closure motion.”
“How can he be proud of that?” she asked.
She quoted Albert Camus: “Democracy is not the rule of the majority, but the protection of the minority.”
In response to her comments and question, which Minister Jolin-Barrette characterized as “pretty harsh,” he said: “It is legitimate for a society like ours to decide how the relationship between the state and religion is going to be handled.”
He added that he was proud that with the adoption of this bill, Quebec would be the first jurisdiction in Canada to formally adhere the principle of secularism into law: “So that’s really important what we’re doing today.”
Before question period began, Legault told reporters: “As premier of Quebec, it’s my responsibility to defend Quebec values in front of the rest of Canada.”
“The vast majority of Quebecers want religious signs to be forbidden for certain groups of employees and that’s what I’m doing. People in the rest of Canada, they may be in disagreement with that, but I think that I’m working for Quebecers,” he said.
The Parti Quebecois supports the bill
“We’re in favour of this project, but we feel that it could be more complete,” said interim PQ leader Pascal Bérubé.
The party would have liked to see daycare workers and teachers in the private system also be covered under the religious symbols ban.
Premier Legault agreed that defining an authority position was subject to debate. He recalled that under the PQ’s charter of Values, the health network was included.
“And indeed, it’s a good question: is a doctor in a position of authority over a patient? We can ask the same question for the CPE’s,” he said.
However, he explained that the government decided to give “a certain autonomy” to daycares.
“At the same time, that makes the bill moderate, just like Quebecers,” Legault said during Sunday’s question period.
“I would have liked it (Bill 21) to also be coherent,” Bérubé replied.
Since the notwithstanding clause must be renewed after five years, Bérubé said he expects secularism and religious symbols will again be an election issue during the 2022 provincial election.
“It’s going to be a debate in the next election for sure,” he said.