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Page last updated at 03:29 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 04:29 UK

Quebec rejects removing crucifix

Quebec Premier Jean Charest - file photo
Mr Charest said the crucifix will remain in Quebec's parliament

The government of the Canadian province of Quebec has rejected a proposal to remove a crucifix from above the speaker's chair in the parliament.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said the crucifix was related to 350 years of history that could not be erased.

The proposal was made in a report into how Quebec's French-Canadian - and traditionally Roman Catholic - population can accommodate minorities.

The report was commissioned to address a perceived identity crisis in Quebec.

'Reasonable accommodation'

Quebec has struggled in recent years as the birth rate of its white, French-Canadian population has fallen and immigration - much of it from Asia and the Middle East - has increased.

Philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gerard Bouchard held months of public hearings across the province last year to hear the views of Quebecers on what they called the "reasonable accommodation" of minorities.

The crucifix is about 350 years of history in Quebec that none of are ever going to erase, and of a very strong presence, in particular of the Catholic Church
Jean Charest, Quebec Premier

Premier Charest launched the commission after a number of controversies involving immigrants and minority groups.

A YMCA in central Montreal - Quebec's largest city - was criticised for frosting windows so that Jewish students at a seminary across the street would not be able to see scantily-clad exercisers.

Most notably, the small town of Herouxville banned the stoning of women and the wearing of facial coverings despite having few minorities among its 1,300 residents.

The Bouchard-Taylor report recommends that the government take steps to ensure that immigrants embrace Western values and learn French and that francophones - about 80% of Quebec's population - help immigrants integrate.

But Premier Charest drew the line at removing the crucifix from the provincial parliament in order to emphasise the government's secular nature.

"We cannot erase our history," said Mr Charest.

"The crucifix is about 350 years of history in Quebec that none of are ever going to erase, and of a very strong presence, in particular of the Catholic Church."

The church was very influential in Quebec society until the 1960s, but its dominance has waned since then.


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