A woman is defending controversial testimony made by her parents during public hearings into Quebec's secularism charter.
Manon Pineault says her folks are far from racist and believes they were misunderstood when they recalled their experiences last week from their visits to the predominantly Muslim countries of Morocco and Turkey.
Their remarks in favour of the values charter drew criticism and a YouTube video featuring excerpts of their appearance attracted some 300,000 views in just a few days.
The couple's comments Thursday came during public hearings into the contentious legislation — a proposal that would ban public employees from wearing religious symbols, such as the Muslim veil, in the workplace.
In her testimony, Pineault's mother says she was stunned to see people on all fours on small rugs while they prayed in a Moroccan mosque.
Genevieve Caron adds she was taken aback when she was asked to follow the custom of removing her shoes before entering the building.
Her husband, Claude Pineault, says people wearing Muslim veils tried to pickpocket him at a market in Morocco and he believes it would be unthinkable to allow people in Quebec to walk around wearing such disguises.
The family's comments at the hearings were swiftly criticized on social media for being ignorant, but their daughter disagreed on Monday.
"There was nothing controversial (in their remarks),'' Pineault, who also testified at the hearing, said in an interview from her home in the Quebec City area.
"At a certain point, I thought that maybe they misunderstood what we wanted to express, that maybe they saw it as racism — it's not racism...We simply gave our opinions, but there's no racism.''
Pineault said her family is very open to other cultures and her children have friends from different backgrounds.
"My daughter is dating a black man and he's very well accepted at our house,'' she said.
Pineault said she supports the secularism charter as a way to protect women from discrimination because she believes it would enable them to feel more comfortable removing their veil in public. At the same time, she said it would provide protection to Quebecers by ensuring people do not have their faces covered in the streets.
Pineault said she also appreciates the democratic spirit of the public hearings, which allow individuals on both sides of the argument to be heard.
"Everyone has the right to express their ideas — we're in a free country,'' she said.
The Parti Quebecois government's identity charter has stirred heated debate in a province where polls suggest more than half the population supports the bill.
Bill 60, which was introduced last fall, would also forbid public employees from wearing other visible religious symbols including turbans, kippas and bigger-than-average crucifixes.
Proponents of Bill 60 say it's an important piece of legislation that would increase gender equality and shield the province from what has been described as encroaching religious fundamentalism.
Critics have called the minority PQ government's plan unnecessary and an attack on personal freedoms that violates the federal and Quebec charters of rights. They also say the PQ has introduced the bill as a way to distract the population from what they argue is the province's sputtering economy.
Opponents believe the PQ could use identity as a wedge issue in the province's next election campaign, which some observers predict could begin as early as next month.