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VOTE: Rigid or righteous, what is your take on Quebec's religious symbols law?

A collage featuring, from left, Quebec's Premier François Legault, the province's education minister Jean-François Roberge and Nobel Prize laureate and female education activist Malala Yousafzai. (The Canadian Press/Getty Images)
A collage featuring, from left, Quebec's Premier François Legault, the province's education minister Jean-François Roberge and Nobel Prize laureate and female education activist Malala Yousafzai. (The Canadian Press/Getty Images)

The raising of a hypothetical question this week has briefly placed Quebec’s premier, its education minister and its religious symbols law under a microscope, and Canadians are divided in their feelings.

It began with a tweet. Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge shared a photo of himself with Nobel Prize laureate and female education activist Malala Yousafzai to Twitter on July 5 with the caption that said it was nice to meet her and discuss access to education.

Reporter Salim Nadim Valji was quick to challenge Roberge for sharing the photo, since Roberge supported Bill 21, a new law in Quebec that prohibits teachers, police officers, judges and all public sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job.

“Mr. Roberge, how would you respond if Mme Yousafzai wanted to become a teacher in Quebec?” Nadim Valji asked Roberge over Twitter.

Yousafzai, now 21, gained recognition as a child for speaking out against the Taliban occupation of Pakistan’s Swat district, where she lived with her family.

In 2012, at 15, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism.

She survived, recovered and has since worked as an advocate for the right to education, especially for females, in her native Northwest Pakistan and around the world.

She also practices Sunni Islam and wears head scarf over her hair.

To Nadim Valji’s question, Roberge responded that it would be an honour if Yousafzai wanted to teach in Quebec, but like in other “open and tolerant countries, teachers can’t wear religious symbols while they exercise their functions.”

Quebec Premier François Legault has since defended Roberge’s position, claiming that the matters of Yousafzai teaching in Quebec and Quebec’s religious symbols law are separate subjects being mistakenly labelled as one subject.

“Malala did a lot of work to make sure that young girls can have access to different schools in different countries,” Legault said in an interview with Radio-Canada reporter Sébastien Bovet. “Right now, the second subject is about who can teach those children.”

When Bovet asked Legault if that meant Quebec would reject an esteemed human rights activist like Yousafzai over her head covering, Legault responded that while he doesn’t believe people who wear religious symbols are bad people, secularism is highly valued in Quebec.

“She can teach in Quebec if she accepts to remove a religious sign,” he said. “That’s the decision we took, and it’s supported by the vast majority of Quebecers.”

Many Canadians from different religious and ethnic backgrounds have since made it clear, however, that they disagree with Legault and Roberge.

One Twitter user called it absurd to tell someone who survived an assassination attempt over her beliefs what to wear on her head.

Others participating in the conversation online support Legault and Roberge, arguing that the law should apply equally to everyone no matter their status, or that it’s not unreasonable to ask someone from outside of Quebec to adhere to its laws, even if they prevent religious expression.

What do you think? Is Quebec’s religious symbols law too rigid and prohibitive, or should people accept it and move on? Let us know by responding to the poll above, or have your say in the comments section.