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Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard puts his hand to his heart at the National Assembly in Quebec City on Dec. 18, 2013. Mr. Couillard was sworn in as a legislature member and becomes the new Opposition Leader, replacing Jean-Marc Fournier. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard puts his hand to his heart at the National Assembly in Quebec City on Dec. 18, 2013. Mr. Couillard was sworn in as a legislature member and becomes the new Opposition Leader, replacing Jean-Marc Fournier. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberals’ Quebec charter would combat religious extremism, Couillard says Add to ...

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard is proposing “concrete actions” against religious fundamentalists and extremists, saying “they are not welcome in Quebec.”

The measures will be part a secular charter the Liberal Party intends to unveil next year in response to the Parti Québécois government’s controversial legislation to ban public sector employees from wearing overt religious symbols.

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Public hearings on the PQ bill begin in mid-January, and the Liberals will argue that it fails to address the real threat to Quebec values and freedoms: religious fundamentalists.

“This threat exists in our country and we must take every action possible to fight it,” Mr. Couillard said in a news conference.

The Liberal Leader said he was referring to Islamic religious sects that engage in honour killings or support terrorist activities, citing the killing of three Montreal women in Kingston, and the discovery of Quebec licence plates in a camp in Syria that suggested a terrorist connection in Quebec. He also mentioned suspected terrorist plots in Quebec and the rest of Canada as signs of religious fundamentalist activities.

He said groups such as the Lev Tahor Jewish orthodox sect, which has come under investigation by child welfare authorities in Ontario and Quebec for child neglect, threaten “social destruction.”

“To those who come here and take advantage of our freedoms and democracy to then attack them and ultimately destroy them, we are saying loud and clear: ‘You are not welcome here, we will fight you, we will go after you,’ ” Mr. Couillard said in a speech after being sworn in as the official opposition leader and MNA for the Montreal riding of Outremont, which he easily won in a Dec. 9 by-election.

He called the PQ charter “a false solution to a false problem” that would create discrimination in the workplace by prohibiting public servants from wearing overt religious symbols such as a hijab or kippa.

When asked for numbers to support his claim of increased terrorist threats, Mr. Couillard said a lot of information on the matter is available, but failed to produce any studies. He added that his party will release more details on how it would fight religious fundamentalism when it unveils its proposals on secularism early next year.

Secularism will likely become an important theme in the next election campaign, and Mr. Couillard said his party is already in the starting blocks, preparing for a possible spring vote. He called the PQ’s secular charter an attack on fundamental freedoms and a divisive electioneering strategy by Premier Pauline Marois.

“We will not barter our liberties. We will not trade them off for votes or political calculations,” Mr. Couillard said in his speech.

Mr. Couillard quit as minister of health and social services in June, 2008. His return to the National Assembly as leader of the official opposition will test his leadership skills when the legislature resumes next February.

He reminded the rest of the country that should the PQ form a majority government after the next election, it will undoubtedly lead to another referendum on sovereignty.

“To believe that the PQ would not aim for another referendum if they get a majority would be naïve, and I encourage Canadians and Quebeckers to understand that. It will be among the issues that will be put forward in the next election,” Mr. Couillard said at the news conference.

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