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François Legault defended the decision to cancel the debate on immigration, the religious symbol law


Quebec Prime Minister François Legault said there was a risk of disappointing "social cohesion" in the province if the debate about religious symbols was allowed to linger.

Legault will ask for a closure to ratify the government's controversial secularism and immigration bill, ending the debate at the provincial National Assembly on two controversial laws.

The prime minister said on Friday that he had a mandate to act on both of these issues, which were the main board in the Avenir Québec Coalition election platform last fall.

"There is a clear opinion from Quebec that we received on October 1, eight months ago," said Legault, whose party, which was elected with 38 percent of the vote, held the majority of seats in the legislature.

Legault said the debate about religious accommodation had been going on for more than a decade in Quebec, and it was time to "turn the page."

"I think it's good for what we call vivre ensemble," he says.

The provincial winter legislative session will end Friday, but Legault pushed back the summer vacation and extended the weekend session to vote on bills.

Legault accused the opposition of deliberately delaying the debate rather than proposing "constructive" ideas about how bills could be fixed.

"When I filed a bill a few months ago, I was very clear that my intention was to adopt the bill before the end of the session and now the only thing we saw was a barrier," he said.

"That's not true," said the opposition

The CAQ government secularism law, Bill 21, will prevent public employees in positions of authority, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols.

Minority groups have voiced their concerns that they will encourage discrimination and limit employment opportunities for thousands of Quebec citizens, especially Muslim women who wear headscarves.

The bill calls for a clause though, in an attempt to block the law from being challenged on the grounds that it violates the charter rights of Quebec and Canada.

Pierre Arcand, interim leader for the official Liberal opposition, said it was "not true" to push through legislation without full debate. He estimates that the shortfall will be left blank in the coming months.

Arcand pointed out that the Mayor of Montreal Valérie Plante, as well as several trade unions and school councils, had voiced concerns about the law and how it would be enforced. It is also expected to face legal challenges.

"The debate isn't over," Arcand said. "There are many people who are not satisfied."

The bill was filed before the Quebec parliamentary commission for study only 10 days ago, on June 4.

Manon Massé, left, and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesman for Québec Solidaire, at the final press conference session on Friday, June 14. (Sylvain Roy Roussel / Radio-Canada)

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesman for Québec Solidaire, the second opposition party, said that it did not provide enough time for MPs to fully explore the consequences of the proposed law.

"No serious or credible person who knows the workings of this assembly can think that within a few days this bill will be adopted using regular procedures," he said.

Parti Québécois, which supports a strong law of secularism, also argued for more debate about the bill, in the hope of making it stronger.

Interim leader Pascal Bérubé said he still wanted a ban on religious symbols beyond teachers and including child care workers.

The proposed immigration law, Bill 9, establishes a framework for testing the value of Quebec prospective immigrants must graduate to become permanent residents.

If the bill becomes law, the government will dump a stack of 18,000 applications for the status of skilled immigrant workers in Quebec, forcing them to re-register through a new performance-based system.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said on Friday that the law was needed to better integrate new entrants and overcome labor shortages in the province.

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