Amani Ben Ammar, 34, an accountant who emigrated from Tunisia to Montreal six years ago and comes from a Muslim family, said she supported the bill because it was imperative that those representing the state in positions of authority appeared to be neutral.
“How can a judge wearing a Muslim head scarf be deemed neutral in a case involving a homosexual?” she asked, referring to Islamic views condemning homosexuality. “Diversity is important in society, but the state needs to avoid conflicts between professional duties and religion.”
“I left my country because of the pressure of Islamization and do not expect to find that in Quebec,” she added.
Issues of immigration and identity run deep in Quebec, a majority French-speaking province surrounded by English-speaking North America. The case of religious orthodoxy is especially sensitive. In the 1960s, Quebec experienced a social and cultural revolt known as the Quiet Revolution, during which Quebecers rebelled against the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the province — including pressuring women to have children.
The bill also has echoes in Europe, where Austria approved a law in May banning Muslim head scarves in primary schools. France has also banned Muslim head scarves and other conspicuous religious symbols at state schools.
After criticism from opposition politicians that the bill failed to adequately define what constitutes a religious symbol, the government amended the measure to clarify that a symbol constituted “any clothing, symbol, jewelry, ornament, accessory or headgear that is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief.”
The legislation does not apply to those already working in the public sector as long as they stay in the same position. However, under the bill, a Muslim teacher wearing a head scarf could not be promoted to a higher position like school principal if she refused to remove her head scarf.
Lawyers who wear head scarves, crosses, skullcaps or turbans will also no longer be able to work as external counsel for the government, or to represent it before the courts or with a third party.