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Federal Multiculturalism Minister concerned about Quebec religious-symbols ban

Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 17, 2013. Kenney said June 23, 2013 that Alberta will compile a list of damages for the federal government to pay for.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Federal Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney is weighing in with muted concern over Quebec's plans to legislate a new approach to minority accommodation.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has confirmed a bill is coming, but her government has not commented on a report that the province plans to ban the wearing of religious symbols or clothing by public-service workers.

"Well, first of all, we haven't seen any actual proposed law," Mr. Kenney told reporters at an event in Ottawa. "As I have said, obviously, Canadians believe that freedom of religion and conscience are universal values and we would hope that these are values and principles that would be respected."

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The federal government's comments to date have been less critical than recent statements from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who said he had "enormous concerns" with the proposal after meeting with Ms. Marois earlier this week in Quebec City.

Mr. Trudeau was back at it on Friday afternoon.

"Quebeckers are open and generous. Banning religious headwear for public employees doesn't honour that, and it's wrong," he said on Twitter.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has declined to comment on the issue, saying he will wait until the Quebec government releases its legislation.

NDP spokesperson George Smith pointed out that Mr. Mulcair made a formal submission to the Bouchard-Taylor commission, which reported in 2008 after holding public consultations on the "reasonable accommodation" of minorities.

"We shouldn't look to 'resolve' conflicts that don't exist (such as the question of women wearing the niqab to vote)," Mr. Mulcair's submission said. "Inflaming this conflict with irresponsible proposals toward visible minorities – especially Muslim women – is scapegoating."

Mr. Smith said the NDP will continue to support the recommendations of the Bouchard-Taylor commission.

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"We remain very proud of the constructive role we played," he said.

The commission's final report rejected a general prohibition on wearing religious signs for government employees. However, it did indicate that such a step may be required of some positions, such as judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers and the president of the National Assembly "in order to preserve the appearance of impartiality."

Mr. Kenney, who is also Minister of Employment and Social Development, was in Ottawa for a joint announcement with Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

The ministers announced that Ottawa is contributing up to $1.5-million over two years to an organization called Tribute to Liberty, which is raising funds to construct a memorial to victims of communism in an open space just west of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Bernard Drainville, the Quebec minister in charge of the reasonable accommodation file, said the plan responds to popular demand.

"These proposals are very balanced," Mr. Drainville said. "It's a good balance between respect for individual rights and the respect of Quebeckers' common values."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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