Pauline Marois is defending her plans for a Quebec "values" charter with a harsh criticism of multiculturalism, including a suggestion that it leads to homegrown terrorism.
In an interview that ran in Le Devoir on Friday, the Quebec Premier contrasted secularism in France to multiculturalism in Britain, including a vague reference to recent terrorist attacks.
The Parti Québécois minority government is planning next week to release the broad objectives of its charter, which will enshrine the religious neutrality of the Quebec government by preventing public service workers from wearing religious symbols. Ms. Marois said the French model is not perfect, but she had harsher words for the situation across the English Channel.
"In England, they get into fights and throw bombs at one another because of multiculturalism and people get lost in that type of a society," she said.
Ms. Marois's office did not provide further explanation of her statement on Friday, adding that the British and French models have their respective strengths and weaknesses.
"Quebec will develop its own model based on our values and experiences," said Marie Barrette, a spokeswoman for Ms. Marois.
Still, critics said the statement seemed like a reference to terrorist attacks in Britain that were planned domestically.
Philippe Couillard, Leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, called on Ms. Marois to modify or clarify her statement. "I find it unacceptable to make a link between multiculturalism and violence among cultural communities, especially for the leader of a government," Mr. Couillard said in an interview. "We are facing choices as a society in a peaceful manner, and such statements are not helpful."
The federal government accused Ms. Marois of trying to distract attention from the province's economic situation. "Canada has been one of the most successful countries in the world in terms of integrating immigrants because we respect fundamental freedoms like freedom of religion and we fully include immigrants into our society and our economy," Minister for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney said in a statement.
In the interview, Ms. Marois confirmed the charter will call on government workers to adapt to new standards. Still, she said the government plans to implement it slowly to ensure a smooth transformation toward a more secular government apparatus.
"There will be transition periods," Ms. Marois said.
Ms. Marois made it clear she wants to prevent government employees from wearing veils, stating it has a "connotation in regards to the equality between men and women, a form of submission." She said that a veiled educator, for example, has authority over children and could incite them to practise her religion. She said that a full-time teacher who wears a hijab would receive help to make the transition.
Ms. Marois said her government would defend its plan in court, but has no intention of using the Constitution's notwithstanding clause, which would allow the PQ to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"We're not launching judicial battles," Ms. Marois said. "The objective is not to provoke."
The statement is important, as the major federal parties have made it clear that they will object to any proposal that would go against fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians.
The Quebec government is planning to lay out a series of "orientations" and "proposals" for its charter next week, while a full bill will be tabled only after a consultation period, likely later in the fall. It remains to be seen whether the legislation will be adopted before the next provincial election.
Mr. Couillard criticized the PQ government's approach to the release of the charter, which included media leaks and a series of ministerial comments on the plan, without any specific document yet made public.
"Their objective seems to be to test public opinion," he said.
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