Crucifix in Montreals city council chambers will be removed, executive committee says – CBC News

Crucifix in Montreal\s city council chambers will be removed, executive committee says - CBC News
City Hall crucifix to be removed
Major renovations are about to get underway at City Hall. The crucifix is being removed for the work, but it will not be hung back up when that work is done, in about three years, the executive committee says. 

The crucifix is an important part of Montreal's heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said.

"The decision is a recognition of the role of secularism in the institution, and for me, there is a stark distinction between individual and institutional secularism," Plante said.

She said the city has no intention of removing the cross on Mount Royal , since the mountain is not a democratic institution.

A crucifix will also be removed from the Peter-McGill Room at City Hall, the executive committee said.

“Regarding our position, you know very well very soon, in the next few weeks, we will table a bill and this is part of the discussions we’re having right now. There are good arguments (for leaving the crucifix in place), and some arguments against,” Legault said.

Plante said the crucifix will be placed in a special museum space at City Hall that will be accessible to all Montrealers.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal issued a statement Wednesday afternoon which didn't overtly criticize the move but stressed that the crucifix is symbolic of the city's roots and "a love for all humanity."

On the same day the city of Montreal announced it will remove the crucifix that hangs in the council chamber at city hall, Quebec Premier François Legault for the first time said the provincial government may remove the crucifix from the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Last October, Plante said she did not intend to take down the crucifix from the wall of the council chambers, reigniting the debate over whether the crucifix that still hangs above the Speaker's chair in the National Assembly should be taken down. 

The CAQ government has been adamant that it will not remove the cross, saying it is a historical symbol, not a religious one, even though it represents the Christian values of the province's two colonial ancestors.

Premier François Legault has said he wants to keep the crucifix in the legislature while moving forward with plans to ban certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols.

The administration will move out of city hall on April 15 for three years while the historic building is renovated. Lavigne Lalonde said the move was a good opportunity to remove the crucifix, in keeping with the city’s secular status.

But when asked Wednesday about Montreal's decision, Legault seemed less firm on his decision to keep the crucifix. 

“What we have done today is that we have just closed this chapter of our history but with the objective of highlighting this important part of our history and also reaffirming the secular character of our institution,” she said.

"There are good arguments for and some arguments against, and right now we have a debate. We have to find a compromise," Legault said. "I accept the decision of the City of Montreal." 

In Montreal, executive-committee member Laurence Lavigne Lalonde, responsible for democracy and governance, announced the crucifix’s removal from council chamber during Wednesday’s executive-committee meeting.

Legault said the decision falls within Quebec's secularism debate, as is the discussion on whether there will be a grandfather clause allowing teachers who already wear religious symbols  to continue doing so. 

But Legault said the government has made no decision on the idea of introducing a clause in the soon-to-be tabled secularism bill allowing existing public sector employees in positions of authority to wear symbols.

The crucifix was installed in the Salon Bleu — or Blue Room — of the National Assembly in 1936. A government-commissioned report into secularism and identity issues recommended in 2008 that it be removed, but no government has done so. 

The decision comes as the provincial government of Premier François Legault is promising legislation that would forbid public servants in positions of authority to wear religious symbols. The government said it was acting in the name of state neutrality, but insists it will leave in place the crucifix hanging over the Speakers chair in the Quebec National Assembly.

Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said the National Assembly will make its own decision when it comes to its crucifix. 

Montreal city hall has decided to withdraw the crucifix that has dominated its council chambers for more than 80 years, staking out a symbolic position as the province debates the place of religion in the public sphere.

"For us, it's always been a heritage symbol, a historical symbol like the other religious symbols in the Salon Bleu," Jolin-Barrette said. 

Liberal MNA Hélène David took to Twitter, saying the National Assembly plans to discuss its crucifix in the coming days. 

The citys executive committee said Wednesday that it would take advantage of renovations at City Hall to withdraw the crucifix. It will not return when work is completed in three years.

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Montreals crucifix has hung inside the council chambers since 1937, one year after the crucifix was placed in the provincial legislature.

During an executive council meeting on Wednesday morning, city councillor Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde said the crucifix would be removed due to renovations to the building, but would not be rehung after the work is done. Renovations aimed at modernizing city hall are set to begin on the building next month.

Montreal is said to be planning to create a museum area inside City Hall where it will showcase the crucifix.

The crucifix was installed during an era that was completely different than the one we live in today, said Lavigne-Lalonde during the meeting.

The cross was hung in city hall in 1937 as a reminder to municipal politicians that their decisions should be guided by God.

I truly believe and based on all the discussion that has been done in the past, that it doesnt have to be in city council where it is a secular institution. This is a place where we make decisions and it was originally put there to support decision making, she said. I think were in a very different time now.

Given the crucifixs historical value, city officials said they would like at options such as keeping it in a museum-like portion of city hall once it reopens.

We now live in a society that has evolved and is represented by democratic institutions that must be secular, neutral and open to all citizens, said Lavigne-Lalonde.

The place of religious symbols within government has been a hotly contested one in Quebec. The Coalition Avenir Quebec provincial government has announced plans to table a bill that would ban people in positions of authority from wearing symbols such as a hijab or kippah.

The city hall decision garnered mixed reaction in Quebec City. Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who introduced the religious symbols bill, said the National Assembly would not follow suit by removing its own crucifix.

"They can do what they want about that. The National Assembly has always decided to maintain (the crucifix) and thats the position of the government because its a (historical) symbol," he said.  But just as Barrette made a strong defence of the National Assembly crucifix, the Premier Francois Legault was contradicting him.

I say we still have discussions and nothing is decided and I ask you to be patient very soon in the next few weeks, he said. We will table our full position on this issue.

FWIW, Premier @francoislegault & minister @SJB_CAQ had separate scrums at the same time in different locations at #assnat. Upstairs, Legault showed openness to possibly removing crucifix from Blue Room; yet, downstairs, Jolin-Barrette seemed firmly committed to keeping it. #polqc