As marathon weekend sitting of Quebec’s National Assembly continues, focus shifts to religious symbols bill

After a legislative session that ended in the wee hours Sunday with the adoption of a controversial immigration reform bill, bleary-eyed MNAs are back in the National Assembly this morning debating another contentious piece of legislation. 

The Coaliton Avenir Québec government wants to pass a bill today that will bar public-school teachers, government lawyers, judges and police officers from wearing religious symbols while at work. 

In order to do so, the majority government is using a parliamentary mechanism called closure. This shuts down the usual committee debate over a bill, and forces a vote after around 12 hours of additional discussion on the floor of the legislature.

That process is currently underway in Quebec City, meaning a vote on the religious symbols bill isn’t likely before sometime this evening.

Closure is the same mechanism the CAQ government used yesterday to force passage of a bill that aims to reduce delays in Quebec’s immigration system by tossing out more than 16,000 pending applications for skilled worker status.

That bill, Bill 9, passed just after 4 a.m. EST, by a vote of 62-42.  

The religious symbols bill has attracted widespread criticism from legal experts and minority groups, who worry it will institutionalize discrimination. They say Muslim women who wear the hijab will be disproportionately affected.

The bill also invokes the notwithstanding clause in an effort to spare it from court challenges about its constitutionality. Protests against the impending law are already being planned in Montreal on Monday.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette has defended the legislation, which he sponsored, as a chance to safeguard Quebec’s secular society.

“This is the first time here in Canada, and Quebec, that we have the principle of secularism and laicity in a law. So that’s why what we’re doing today is really important,” Jolin-Barrette said Sunday morning.

The two largest opposition parties, the Liberals and Québec Solidaire, have indicated their intention to vote against the religious symbols bill. The Parti Québécois has indicated it will vote in favour.

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