Hearings begin today on Quebec's secularism bill

Renowned philosopher Charles Taylor will be among the first to speak during legislative hearings into Quebec's secularism bill that begin today in Quebec City.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government has set aside six days for public consultations on the controversial legislation, which is strongly supported by the province's francophone majority but criticized by civil rights advocates. Bill 21 seeks to prohibit some public sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Taylor, along with historian and sociologist Gerard Bouchard, wrote a widely cited report in 2008 recommending public sector employees in positions of authority such as judges, police officers and prison guards be prevented from wearing religious symbols at work.

The report served as a blueprint for Bill 21 for the government of Premier Francois Legault, which went further by adding teachers to the list of workers in positions of authority. Taylor has since reversed his position on state secularism and has described Bill 21 as discriminatory.

Bouchard, who is scheduled to address the hearings Wednesday, has criticized the decision to extend the legislation to teachers.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec and the Parti Quebecois favour restrictions on religious symbols including the hijab, kippa turban and cross, while the two other parties with seats in the legislature _ the Liberals and Quebec solidaire _ are opposed.

Fractures have begun to appear in the Liberal caucus on the issue, however, following the party's election loss in October and its poor showing among francophone voters. Potential leadership candidates have begun suggesting the Liberals should accept some additional restrictions on religious symbols.