The minister responsible for Quebec's controversial secularism charter says the government will not back down on the proposed bill.
Bernard Drainville says the government will proceed with legislation aimed at cracking down on state employees who wear religious symbols.
Drainville made the comments in Quebec City this morning as public hearings began on Bill 60.
"The charter's detractors will say that banning ostentatious religious symbols in public institutions goes too far; that the ban is not necessary," Drainville said in a speech to open the hearings. "On the other hand, this is an essential and unavoidable part of this bill. Why? Because we have to establish the principle of secularism, and that secularism comes with responsibilities."
The legislation would force public-sector employees to take off their headscarves, kippas, turbans and larger-than-average crucifixes if they want to keep their jobs.
The hearings are scheduled to last anywhere from two to three months, with 250 speakers and groups scheduled to present briefs.
The first one to appear was Réjean Parent, the former head of the CSQ teachers' union, who says the charter is a step in the right direction. He says if half or three-quarters of the staff in a school wear religious symbols, it will be hard to argue that the school is neutral.
"If they don't want to follow the rules, at a certain point, they're the ones who are firing or excluding themselves," Parent told the hearings.
Many of those appearing on this first day of the hearings are pro-charter.