The ferment over the Parti Quebecois' proposed secular values charter will only deepen as the minority PQ government launches hearings into the legislation this week.
National Assembly MNAs are expected to get about 250 submissions when they begin hearings Tuesday on Bill 60, CTV News reports.
The legislation, whose most contentious element would bar public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols such as head coverings, crosses and stars of David, has driven a deep wedge into Quebec society.
The proposed charter has support in predominantly francophone regions of the province, especially in rural areas, but is encountering widespread opposition in multicultural Montreal and among affected institutions, including schools, daycares and hospitals.
A Muslim woman in Montreal organized a protest Monday calling on Quebecers to to wear overt religious symbols to register their opposition to the proposed charter.
“Today basically is just to show up to work, to their everyday life and adopt one of the four symbols the [Parti Québécois] is planning to ban, so either the hijab, the turban, the kippah or a large cross,” Sama Al-Obaidy told CBC News.
Al-Obaid, who wears a hijab, set up a Facebook page after a confrontation on Montreal's Metro a few weeks ago.
“A lady came up and tried to remove my hijab forcefully,” Al-Obaidy told CBC News.
“She told me my hijab and myself don’t belong in Quebec and after a few exchanges of words she decided to start pulling on my veil. As it started getting loose I had to eventually stop her."
Quebec has struggled for years with the idea of reasonable accommodation of religious and cultural values in an increasingly diversified society.
It's not exclusively a Quebec problem – witness the controversy in Ontario over accommodating a York University student who would not participate in a group project with women. But tension has increased in Quebec since elements of the proposed charter were leaked last summer.
A Quebec Muslim group claimed in November it had registered a 300 per cent increase in complaints of anti-Muslim attacks.
“We shouldn’t care what is on a person’s head, but what is in it,” Norma O’Donnell of Canadians for Coexistence told the Montreal Gazette on Sunday as she joined Al-Obaidy in handing out Jewish kippas, Muslim hijabs, Sikh turbans and oversized crosses.
“It shouldn’t matter if someone has arrived recently or has ancestors who came in the 16th century: We are all equal.”
The PQ has defended the secular charter as a bulwark of gender equality and a necessary protective measure against the corrosive effects of multiculturalism, which PQ International Affairs Minister Jean-François Lisée said has failed in Europe.
"The Charter of Values is the latest expression of Quebec’s dim view of multiculturalism," Lisée, who represents the Montreal area in cabinet, wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece on Friday.
"In a very real sense, the debate over Quebec’s charter may be the last stand of Canada’s multiculturalist experiment. Whatever the immediate outcome, it may be only a matter of time until Canadian multiculturalism finds itself buried alongside its European siblings."
So expect a long and heated debate as the hearings unfold and opposition parties weigh the political odds of supporting the legislation as they look at a possible spring election.