ST-JEROME, Que. — Immigrants in favour of the burkini would likely fail a Coalition Avenir Quebec government imposed values test and could be refused citizenship, party leader François Legault suggested Monday.
Legault has also announced he is “totally opposed,” to Montreal police officers being allowed to wear hijabs while on duty because he believes persons in authority should be neutral.
“Personally I don’t like the burkini and the message its sends on the equality of men and women,” Legault told reporters arriving for a two day party caucus meeting. “Let’s ask ourselves. Are women who wear the burkini forced to do so by their husbands or family? So I have a problem.
“There are big questions to be asked on such a piece of clothing. Does it respect the fundamental values we have in Quebec on the equality of men and women?”
Asked by a reporter what would happen to a person who had moved to Quebec and insisted on the burkini if the CAQ was in power and it had set up its values test, Legault was clear:
“They don’t get citizenship, that’s all.”
It is CAQ policy to require new immigrants to pass a test on Quebec’s language, and cultural values, after a three-year probationary period. If they don’t pass after two tries, they would be asked to return to their country of origin or to another province in Canada.
The burkini – a piece of clothing which covers the entire body and head leaving only the face, hands and feet visible – became an issue in France but it found its way into the CAQ discourse last week when CAQ caucus chairperson, Nathalie Roy, said she wants it banned outright.
Roy later backpedalled saying such a ban would probably be impossible to get through the courts.
Roy, in fact, went beyond the CAQ’s official line on religious accommodations. The CAQ’s view is that only persons in authority such as judges, correctional officers, and police officers plus elementary and high school teachers should not be allowed to wear religious symbols.
Legault insisted he still has confidence in Roy.
“We said we had a malaise, a malaise with the burkini, but we don’t want to ban it,” Legault said. “What we want to ban are religious symbols for people in authority.”
He insisted the controversy is not hurting the party image because most people in Quebec – francophone and anglophones – believe in the equality of men and women
“There’s a difference between having a malaise, not liking the burkini, and banning it,” he said. ” So what were saying is we don’t like the burkini, we don’t like the burka, but what we want to ban are religious symbols for people in authority.”
Legault also took a stand on another controversy: the idea of allowing Montreal police officers to wear the hijab, a policy also recently adopted by the RCMP.
Legault opposed the idea.
“Imagine if tomorrow morning a police officer wearing a hijab addresses a citizen who is of Jewish faith,” Legault said. “I think a police officers has a duty to be neutral.”
Arriving moments earlier, Roy tried to put the burkini issue behind her by saying she spoke from the heart. She cautiously rallied to the CAQ’s official line that such a ban would not likely hold up in the courts but she still sounded off.
“I don’t accept that people who dare question these symbols of submission and oppression of women get ridiculed or called racists,” Roy said. “I remind you that in other countries women are beaten or killed for refusing to wear such symbols of submission.”
“This said, I said we wouldn’t do a law, that it’s extremely difficult to create a law. Am I clear?”
The exchanges kicked off a two day meeting of the CAQ caucus to prepare for the return of sitting of the legislature Sept. 20.
The CAQ – which has 20 MNAs in the legislature – has chosen St-Jérôme for its meeting for a reason. The riding, formerly held by Parti Québécois leader Pierre Karl Péladeau, is vacant. Péladeau resigned in May for family reasons.
Before him the riding was CAQ, held by corruption fighter Jacques Duchesneau. The CAQ is hoping to win it back.
Legault also has his eye on the 2018 general election. Arriving in the caucus room to loud applause, he gave his troops a pep talk.
“We are only two years to the gold medal,” Legault said. “We don’t want the bronze medal, we don’t want the silver medal.
“We want a clean win.”
The caucus continues Tuesday.