Skip to main content

Philippe Couillard waves to supporters as he announces his candidacy for the leadership of the Quebec LiberalsWednesday, October 3, 2012 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A rift has opened in the Quebec Liberal party over the wearing of religious garb by their candidates, as debate in the province continues about the Parti Québécois's proposed ban on religious symbols in the public service.

The Quebec Liberals oppose the public-sector ban because they say it goes too far. But on Friday, leader Philippe Couillard says he would never allow a candidate for his party to wear the chador, a type of cloak worn by Muslim women.

Mr. Couillard said his position was compatible with the party line that requires a women wearing a niqab to unveil her face to either work or receive services in the public sector.

Story continues below advertisement

In fact, he said, his position was not unlike the one taken by Liberal member Fatima Houda-Pepin, who initially broke with her party and publicly criticized a caucus colleague. Marc Tanguay said he would welcome Liberal candidates wearing the chador.

Mr. Couillard says the chador is a sign of religious fundamentalism and oppression that violates the fundamental rights of equality between men and women.

"I would never allow the wearing of the chador by a candidate. But this is a hypothetical situation. It will never happen. There is not much difference between the chador and the fully faced veil. … It is a garment that represents a total social withdrawal which is incompatible with our way of doing politics," Mr. Couillard said in a news conference in Montreal on Friday, suggesting Mr. Tanguay made a mistake in making the remark.

Mr. Tanguay's comments created a major rift within Liberal ranks after Ms. Houda-Pepin said she was "hurt" and "shocked" by the remarks. Ms. Houda-Pepin, the only Muslim woman sitting in the Quebec National Assembly, noted that the chador was the "ultimate expression of oppression of women" and a "radical symbol of fundamentalism." She feared that the party was drifting away from its roots by failing to stand up for the rights of women in the face of the rise of religious fundamentalism.

"I am women of ideas," she said in a Radio-Canada interview on Friday. Ms. Houda-Pepin said she was not breaking ranks with the Liberal party, adding she supported her party's opposition to the contentious Parti Québécois secular charter bill which proposes to prohibit the wearing of overt religious symbols by public sector employees.

"On the question of the chador we both agree," Mr. Couillard said in a news conference in Montreal. "I'm holding out my hand to Ms. Houda-Pepin for her to come to caucus and explain her position."

Mr. Couillard said he had no intentions of expelling Ms. Houda-Pepin from caucus for publicly criticizing her colleague. But he added that it was up to her to take the first step towards reconciliation, otherwise she would be expelling herself from the caucus, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

The Liberal leader said his caucus is preparing a bill that will define the party's views on secularism and will prohibit extremist and radical religious views from undermining fundamental rights, such as gender equality.

Ms. Houda-Pepin proposed to take the debate one step further by inviting Premier Pauline Marois to sit down with the other party leaders to draw up a compromise in order to define a non-partisan secular charter.

"I am for a dialogue on this issue that goes beyond party lines," she said.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies