'A dangerous man' to 'bravo': Canadians react to Quebec premier-designate's controversial religious symbols ban

Quebec’s next premier says he will do whatever it takes to fulfil his pledges to voters.

François Legault held a news conference a day after leading the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) to a majority victory in Monday’s provincial election.

The CAQ ran on a platform that included a proposed ban against public-sector workers wearing religious symbols on the job. This plan means school teachers, judges, prison guards and police officers would be forbidden from wearing a hijab or kippah at work.

A CAQ party spokesperson told reporters the incoming government is prepared to fire or transfer provincial employees who refuse to comply, the Montreal Gazette reportedThis plan falls under a new “secularism law” in the works, which aims to separate the state from religious institutions. 

When asked specifically about whether the party would use the notwithstanding clause to mandate this policy, Quebec’s premier-designate didn’t rule it out.

“Yes, we’re ready to use the notwithstanding clause,” Legault said Tuesday.

“I think that the vast majority of Quebecers, they would like to have a framework where we say people in an authority position, they must not wear religious signs, and if we have to use the notwithstanding clause to apply what the majority of Quebecers [want], we’ll do so.”

Trudeau issues warning

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been vocal against the potential use of the notwithstanding clause, urging Legault to think carefully before invoking the rarely used political tool that overrides Charter rights.

“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is there to protect our rights and freedoms, obviously,” Trudeau said Wednesday, CBC News reported. “It’s not something that should be done lightly because to remove or avoid defending the fundamental rights of Canadians, I think it’s something with which you have to pay careful attention.”

Last month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford threatened to use the notwithstanding clause to push his plan to reduce the size of Toronto city council from 47 wards to 25. Ford had argued his party was elected to form a majority government in Ontario and the judge who overruled his legislation was appointed.

Quebec premier-designate François Legault, seen here in Boucherville, Que., on Oct. 3, 2018, says he is willing to use the notwithstanding clause to push his political agenda. Photo from The Canadian Press.

In an online poll that featured more than 25,000 votes, 53 per cent of respondents said they agreed with Ford using the notwithstanding clause to slash the number of Toronto councillors.

The Globe and Mail‘s Konrad Yakabuski wrote an opinion column criticizing Legault for using the first news conference after winning the election to answer a hypothetical question that would only make headlines.

“He should have known that nothing productive could come of his outburst, which left exactly the opposite impression that he intended to make,” Yakabuski opined.

Reactions mount online

Here’s a taste of what other people had to say about Legault’s perspective on social media:

“For goodness’ sake, can everyone stop telling women what they can and cannot wear?” Stephanie Lahey pondered aloud.

“Quebec is waking up,” Ruth Cooke chimed in.

“Legault is a very dangerous man leading one of our most populated provinces,” Kathy Kells wrote.

“Bravo for his intention to use the ‘Notwithstanding’ clause if necessary,” David Rand said

If Legault invokes the notwithstanding clause to suppress the Charter rights of religious minorities, God help him, our prime minister may have to write him a sternly-worded letter,” Moebius Stripper added.

What do you think of Legault’s willingness to use the notwithstanding clause to push his political agenda in Quebec? Let us know what you think by voting in the poll above and sharing your opinions in the comment section below.