Renewable Energy

Critics denounce Quebec ban on religious symbols in public sector

Civil liberties and Muslim groups on Monday vowed to challenge a new law in the Canadian province of Quebec that bans some public sector employees from wearing religious symbols during work hours, arguing it triggered the "politics of fear."

MONTREAL, June 17 (Reuters) - Civil liberties and Muslim groups on Monday vowed to challenge a new law in the Canadian province of Quebec that bans some public sector employees from wearing religious symbols during work hours, arguing it triggered the "politics of fear."

Critics said the long-expected Bill 21 that was passed by the predominately French-speaking province's legislature on Sunday mainly targeted Muslim women who wear hijabs.

"We will be filing a challenge to the law," said Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. "I think Bill 21 is a law that will do irreparable harm to communities in Quebec."

"This creates a second-class citizenship," he said, adding that the group would seek a court injunction to block the law that he called "a recipe for the politics of fear."

The law covers public workers in positions of authority, including teachers, judges and police officers, but exempts current government employees and civil servants.

It sets the province's center-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government on a collision course with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who promotes religious freedom, in a federal election year where Quebec is a vital battleground.

Governments in Quebec have been trying for years to restrict civil servants from wearing overt religious symbols like headscarves and Jewish skullcaps at work in an effort to cement a secular society.

Quebec's immigration minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, argued in a statement on Monday that "it is legitimate for the Quebec nation to decide in which form secularism applies in its territory and in its institutions."

(Reporting by Allison Lampert Editing by Paul Simao)

((Allison.Lampert@thomsonreuters.com; 514-796-4212; Reuters Messaging: allison.lampert.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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