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Union sides with PQ, fine with ban on public servants wearing religious symbols

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois receives the Charter of Quebec Values from Citizenship Minister Bernard Drainville Sept. 10, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois government has won backing for its contentious values' charter from the union representing 42,000 provincial civil servants.

The Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ) says it has called for a secular charter for years and welcomes the proposals tabled by Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville on Tuesday. They would ban religious symbols such as headscarves and turbans in the public service.

Union president Lucie Martineau drew a parallel between the measures and those introduced in the late 1960s to forbid overt signs of political allegiance in the public service.

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"We are for the neutrality of the state," Ms. Martineau said in an interview after making the union's position public at a press conference in Quebec City. "People can (practise their religion) outside working hours. The state is secular."

Ms. Martineau was unable to say what percentage of her members wore religious symbols and stood to be affected by the new measures.

She said rules for reasonable accommodations were necessary, citing the example of citizens demanding to be served by a male employee. She was unable to quantify how many such requests had ever been made.

Ms. Martineau also said her union had a duty to represent all its public employees, though she would not specify if it would fight to defend staffers who might face dismissal over their religious garb.

"We will accompany this person," she said.

The union disagrees with the PQ government's position on the crucifix in the National Assembly, however. The SFPQ says the crucifix should be removed.

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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