A family's controversial testimony during public hearings into Quebec's secularism charter has brought widespread attention — with an online video of their appearance attracting nearly 300,000 views in just a few days.
Video excerpts of the Pineault-Caron family's testimony posted on YouTube show them recalling how surprised they were by local religious practices during their visits to the predominantly Muslim countries of Morocco and Turkey.
Their comments last Thursday in favour of the values charter came during public hearings into the contentious legislation — a proposal that would ban public employees from wearing religious symbols, such as the Muslim veil, in the workplace.
In her testimony, Geneviève Caron says she was stunned to see people on all fours on small rugs while they prayed in a Moroccan mosque.
"I was marked by that. I couldn't believe it. I went back to the bus and I said, `Can you believe it? Praying on all fours on a rug!"
She adds she was taken aback when she was asked to follow the custom of removing her shoes before entering the building.
Her husband, Claude Pineault, says people wearing Muslim veils tried to pickpocket him at a market in Morocco and he believes it would be unthinkable to allow people in Quebec to walk around wearing such disguises.
Alluding to a trip to Turkey's Cappadocia region, he describes Christian-era rock-cut dwellings as "Bin Laden-style tunnels."
He also says he found the muezzins' calls for prayers "very bothering."
The couple's comments at the hearings were swiftly criticized on social media for being ignorant.
The Parti Québécois government's identity charter has stirred heated debate in a province where polls suggest more than half the population supports the bill.
Proponents of Bill 60 say it's an important piece of legislation that would ensure gender equality and protect the province from what has been described as encroaching religious fundamentalism.
Critics have called the minority PQ government's plan unnecessary and an attack on personal freedoms that violates the federal and Quebec charters of rights.
Opponents believe the PQ could use identity as a wedge issue in the province's next election campaign, which some observers predict could begin as early as next month.