Lawmakers in Quebec City have begun two weeks of public hearings into a bill that, if passed, would bar large numbers of civil servants from wearing religious symbols at work.
The bill’s sponsor, Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, opened the legislative hearings by addressing the widespread criticism the draft legislation has attracted.
Jolin-Barrette said the results of the election — which handed the Coalition Avenir Québec a majority — give the government a clear mandate to move forward with its proposals.
Bill 21 would apply to public teachers, judges and Crown prosecutors. It would also force Quebecers to give and receive government services with their face uncovered. Federally regulated employees would not be required to comply.
“The government of Quebec is convinced it has found the right balance between individual rights and collective rights,” said Jolin-Barrette in his opening remarks.
The Opposition Liberals are opposed to Bill 21. Hélène David, the party’s secularism critic, appealed for legislation that will unite Quebecers.
“The danger is that this bill divides rather than it unites,” David said in her opening remarks to the commission.
Unlike the Liberals and Québec Solidaire, the Parti Québécois has signalled it is prepared to support the bill. But the party’s interim leader, Pascal Berubé, said he wants the bill to apply to private school teachers and daycare workers as well.
He also said he wanted more details from the government about how the law would be applied.
The hearings will begin with testimony from several groups who are favourable to the bill.
Philosopher Charles Taylor, author of a landmark government-sponsored report on religious symbols, will be the first critic to be heard. He’s expected to testify around 5 p.m. ET.
This story originally appeared on CBC