A Parti Québécois minister has advice for religious minorities who may have to choose between a spiritual symbol and a job, with the Quebec government's plan to limit religious dress in public sector workplaces: Set the panther skull aside.
Culture Minister Maka Kotto says that's exactly what he had to do when he left his native country of Cameroon as a young man in the 1970s to pursue an education in France. He then moved to Quebec in 1990, where he became a well-known actor. Mr. Kotto, 51, is one of the rare members of a visible minority in the PQ caucus. His view was highly sought on the fractious debate on a dress code that would ban symbols such as the hijab, the turban, large crucifixes, and, presumably, the animist totem that belongs to his family in Africa.
He described himself as a "catholic, with shamanistic tendencies," when asked about his faith.
"If I wanted to play the mystic, I could go around with my panther's head on my chest. It's my family totem. But I don't, because I adhere to what are accepted as the values of the society that welcomed me," Mr. Kotto told reporters Tuesday as the Quebec National Assembly resumed sitting. "It applies to me too."
"When people arrive in a new family, the least we can do is to consider the values of the family and accept their values."
While proclaiming a willingness to compromise, Mr. Kotto's PQ and the opposition Coalition Avenir Québec retrenched their positions Tuesday on forthcoming legislation to ban some religious dress among some employees on the public payroll.
Mr. Kotto, who represents a riding in eastern Montreal, said he believes the emotion is starting to die down in the heated debate about the place of religious symbols in government institutions. "I hope they will calm down further. I want a rational debate, not an emotional one," he said.