Crucifix in Montreal council chambers coming down, executive committee says – CBC News

Crucifix in Montreal council chambers coming down, executive committee says - CBC News
National Assembly might follow Montreal in removing crucifix: Legault
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.

"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.

"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.

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.

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

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

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

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 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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

"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." 

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

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

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

We live in a society that has evolved and that is represented by democratic institutions that must be secular, neutral and open, said councillor Laurence Lavigne Lalonde, who is responsible for the file.

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

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.

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

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

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

Montreals executive committee announced on Wednesday that the crucifix in city hall will be taken down during the buildings upcoming renovation.

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 might remove the crucifix from the National Assembly in Quebec City.

It is a reversal of a position the government has held for months. Legault repeatedly maintained that the crucifix, which has been affixed above the Speakers chair in the National Assembly since 1936, would stay because the government considers it a historic artifact and not a religious symbol.

Crucifixes in government buildings have been part of the debate over religious symbols in Quebec. Some argue there is a contradiction between the province forbidding public servants from wearing visible religious symbols like the hijab or kippa while keeping the crucifix in the National Assembly.

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

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, to reflect the citys secular status.

We have to understand that the crucifix was installed in a context, in an era that was completely different from the one we live in today, she said.

Mayor Valérie Plante said the removal of the cross does not imply a lack of respect for Quebecs religious heritage.

Were in a place in time where it is important to remember that our institutions are secular, she said, adding that the religious neutrality of democratic institutions was absolutely crucial.

We dont intend to take away the cross on Mount Royal. Its not a democratic institution where we make decisions, she said.

In a statement, Montreal archbishop Christian Lépine said the cross has been integral to the citys history since founder Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve erected one on Mount Royal in 1643. He noted that it was installed at city hall in 1937 to recognize our history and our roots.

While its up to elected officials to make the decision, Lépine said the crucifix remains a living symbol (that) symbolizes openness and respect toward all peoples, including toward other faith communities and religious traditions and that Montrealers can be proud of its legacy.

The crucifix was hung at the initiative of alderman Joseph-Émile Dubreuil, a member of Montreal city council from 1932-1954 and later a Liberal member of the Quebec Legislative Assembly. It was meant to remind councillors that they had sworn an oath before God, Lavigne Lalonde said.

Now we live in a society that has evolved enormously and is represented by institutions that are democratic and that must be secular, neutral and open to all citizens, she said.

When city hall, at 275 Notre-Dame St., reopens in three years, the crucifix will be displayed in a small museum in the renovated building along with other artifacts from the citys collection, Lavigne Lalonde said.

There will be a museum space where these elements can be highlighted, where we can contextualize them, and they will also be accessible to all Montrealers and other visitors, she said.

After his election in 1986, the late mayor Jean Doré abolished the prayer at the beginning of council meetings, replacing it with a moment of silence. In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the town of Saguenay could not open meetings with a prayer, saying the custom infringed on freedom of conscience and religion.

There was talk of removing the crucifix the last time Montreals city hall was renovated, in 1992, but it did not happen.

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, Lavigne Lalonde said.

Opposition Leader Lionel Perez slammed the decision, saying the city should have held public consultations first.

Perez wears a kippa and has often defended the right to wear religious symbols, but he declined to say whether he thinks the crucifix should stay or go.

In an interview with Le Devoir in 2013, he said the crucifix would eventually be taken down but there was no need to rush.

Wheres the urgency? Whats this rush to be able to make this decision? he said Wednesday, predicting it would divide Montrealers.

Plante said the decision does not affect the citys 19 boroughs, many of which already dont have a crucifix.

Dinu Bumbaru, policy director of Heritage Montreal, said the city should have requested an expert opinion from the Conseil du patrimoine de Montreal, an advisory body on heritage, before making the decision.

After saying he respects Montreals decision, Legault opened the door to removing the crucifix in the National Assembly.

Listen, everyone has to compromise, Legault said. We will look at the positions of different persons at caucus.

Asked directly if the removal of the crucifix is part of the current debate over the Coalition Avenir Québec governments secularism bill, Legault said the subject is on the table.

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 were having right now. There are good arguments (for leaving the crucifix in place), and some arguments against, Legault said.

Right now we have a debate. We have to find a compromise, same thing with the grandfather clause.

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.

I say we still have discussions, Legault said. Nothing is decided. I ask you to be patient.

But at about the same time in another part of the legislature, Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Join-Barrette said the governments position on the crucifix had not changed.

We take notice of the city of Montreals decision, Jolin-Barrette told reporters. Montreal takes its own decisions. We take our own decisions. The crucifix is there. For us it was always a heritage symbol, a historic symbol like other religious symbols in the blue room.

The 2008 Bouchard-Taylor Commission on accommodating religious minorities called on the National Assembly to take down the crucifix and move it elsewhere in the building.

The assembly flatly rejected that Bouchard-Taylor recommendation, unanimously passing a motion affirming Quebecers attachment to our religious and historic heritage represented by the (legislatures) crucifix.

Premier Maurice Duplessiss Union Nationale government installed the crucifix in 1936 to affirm its ties to the Catholic Church.

In 1976, under Parti Québécois Premier René Lévesque, the National Assembly abolished its opening prayer, replacing it with a moment of reflection.

In 1982, during renovations to the National Assembly, the crucifix was replaced with a new one that is still displayed today.

Two years ago, Quebec Citys Hôpital du Saint-Sacrement restored a crucifix it had removed from its front hall after protest by Quebec Citys archbishop and a public outcry.

In October, Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel said that despite the governments plans to bar judges from wearing religious symbols, the crucifixes still hanging in a dozen courthouses across the province should remain because they are part of Quebecs history.