Quebec's government Thursday unveiled a controversial secular charter banning public sector workers from wearing religious apparel -- including headscarves, turbans and yarmulkes.

It sets strict new dress codes for teachers, doctors, police officers, daycare workers, bureaucrats and other public sector workers, as well as offering guidelines for handling requests for exceptions.

The bill also requires people receiving state services "to have their faces uncovered."

The minister in charge of the issue, Bernard Drainville said at the charter's unveiling that he hoped the measure will unite Quebecers.

"We are convinced that, once it has passed, this charter will be a source of harmony and cohesion in Quebec and will allow us to become closer as citizens and to know each other better," he said.

But recent polls showed the proposal has so far divided the Canadian province's population, with Quebecers evenly split among those for and against it -- and opponents saying it discriminates against religious minorities.

Quebec's fragile minority government needs the support of a hostile opposition to pass the bill, and threatened a snap election if it fails. A date has yet to be announced for the the vote.

The proposed "Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests" is a response to growing calls by ethnic minorities for religious accommodations, Drainville has said.

The draft, unveiled with only modest amendments after three months of public consultations, says it aims to lay out "the separation of religions and state and the religious neutrality and secular nature of the state."

However that neutrality may not apply to a crucifix that has adorned the main chamber of Quebec's National Assembly since 1936, which will stay up in deference to the province's "cultural heritage," unless lawmakers choose otherwise in a separate vote.

The federal government meanwhile has vowed to fight in court against the proposed charter, which it sees as an afront to the nation's much-vaunted multiculturalism and Canadians' constitutional rights and religious freedoms.

 

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