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Charter project was legally sound: Drainville

Charter project was legally sound: DrainvilleBernard Drainville speaks at a legislature committee studying the proposed values charter January 15, 2014 in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

QUEBEC - The chief architect of Quebec's proposed values charter is insisting the former Parti Quebecois government had all the legal opinions necessary to push the project forward.

Bernard Drainville spoke out Tuesday amid allegations he lied to the public about the existence of legal opinions that supported the constitutionality of the charter.

Drainville broke his silence in an effort to contradict the Liberals' assertion that they found no such legal vetting of the secular charter, known as Bill 60, after they took power last month.

There have been calls in recent days for Drainville, the former minister in charge of democratic reforms, to resign his seat in the legislature for having allegedly misled Quebecers.

Instead, he fought back on Tuesday, conducting a series of media interviews.

He told The Canadian Press that while the charter as a whole wasn't subject to a formal legal opinion, jurists did provide a number of written opinions on various elements in the proposed law.

If it had come to fruition, the charter would have forbidden government employees from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Piecing together these various opinions and others, the Pauline Marois-led PQ government believed it was on the right track, Drainville said.

He added that new Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee's statement last week that there wasn't a legal document on the secular charter as a whole led people to believe he had lied to Quebecers.

"From the moment you're branded a liar, you say, 'that's enough,'" Drainville said of his decision to go public.

"I will tell the truth, there were ... we had legal opinions from the Justice Department," Drainville added. "We had numerous written opinions, which were added to the formal opinion we received from (law professor) Henri Brun on the charter project and they were added to all the opinions, analysis and legal advice I received before tabling the charter."

Drainville didn't want to go into specifics about which aspects were addressed in particular, but the question of state employees wearing religious symbols was "covered" by the lawyers.

The PQ wanted to forbid public sector employees from wearing visible religious symbols including hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and larger-than-average crucifixes.

One of Drainville's current colleagues was critical on Tuesday of the former PQ government's handling of the debate.

At his swearing-in ceremony at the legislature, Jean-Francois Lisee targeted Drainville and former justice minister Bertrand St-Arnaud, who was defeated in the last election.

Lisee said both men should have been clearer about the nature of the opinions they'd asked for.

"I think if we were more transparent at the time, we wouldn't be having this discussion now," Lisee said.

Among those calling for Drainville to step down is prominent historian Gerard Bouchard.

In an opinion piece published in Tuesday's La Presse, Bouchard wrote "those who engaged in shameless demagogy, either by popularizing lies, or encouraging them through complacent silence, we must ask if they really do still qualify to occupy a political office or a role in the civil service."

The co-chair of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on religious accommodations said the two members of the PQ most responsible are Marois, who has already resigned, and Drainville, who was re-elected in the April 7 provincewide vote.

"For almost a year, he has repeatedly made inflammatory and misleading statements aimed at pitting a majority of Quebecers against immigrants and minorities," Bouchard wrote.

Drainville maintained that his actions were above board.

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