Analysis: Quebec separatists play to core voters with headscarf, turban ban

Sun Sep 15, 2013 8:07am EDT
 
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By Randall Palmer

(Reuters) - Quebec's separatist government is betting on broad popular support with a proposal that prohibits public workers from wearing headscarves, skullcaps and other religious symbols, yet it is dividing the movement that advocates independence from Canada.

The proposal, unveiled by the ruling Parti Quebecois on Tuesday, plays with the explosive issue of minority rights in a part of Canada, a country that prides itself as being a tapestry of immigrants rather than a U.S.-style melting pot.

The government's proposed Charter of Quebec Values would ban teachers, doctors and other public workers from wearing highly visible religious symbols, including headscarves and large crosses, in an effort to cement a secular society in the French-speaking province.

The charter needs support from at least one other party to become law, and it will certainly face legal challenges.

"The vast majority of our followers agree with what we're putting forward, although obviously this isn't unanimous," Bernard Drainville, the Quebec minister who introduced the proposals, told Reuters.

The broad idea of a Quebec charter that would mandate religious neutrality for government workers seems to have resonated with a majority of people in Quebec. But it has already caused an unseemly divide among the separatists.

"Has the Quebec nationalist movement sunk for the decades to come into a way of doing politics that will divide Quebeckers?" asked Maria Mourani, a Lebanese Christian elected to the federal Parliament as a member of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

The Bloc, the federal counterpart to the Quebec's ruling Parti Quebecois, expelled Mourani from its caucus on Thursday after she expressed reservations about the charter, and she quit the party on Friday. She said her family chose Canada over France as a place to immigrate to, because it was free from the tensions over identity that she saw in France.   Continued...

 
Quebec's Minister of Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville gestures as he speaks during a news conference to present the Quebec Charter of Values at the National Assembly in Quebec City, September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger