March 25 (UPI) -- A crucifix attached since 1937 to a wall of Montreal's City Hall council chambers will be removed, the city's executive committee announced.
The building will close for a three-year renovation in April, and the 20-inch crucifix will not return to the legislative chambers. The action comes as Canada's heavily Catholic Quebec province works to balance its religious past and secular present, and as Canada debates the issue of displays of religious faith, such as wearing a Muslim hijab while employed in government business.
The crucifix, a sculpture depicting Jesus hanging on a cross, was purchased in 1937 for $25 and installed in the council chambers at the behest of city Alderman Joseph-Emile Dubreil as a reminder to legislators of their allegiance to God, specifically a Christian being. It is similar to a crucifix hanging, since 1936, in the province's National Assembly.
The National Assembly will soon introduce legislation banning the wearing of religious symbols by any provincial employee with "coercive powers," a list which includes including police officers, prison guards and elementary school teachers.
"We were going to take the crucifix down during the renovations anyways, so we asked ourselves if we were going to put it back up, and we decided that we won't," said Montreal City Council member Laurence Lavigne Lalonde. "The context in which it was placed there no longer applies. We need to reaffirm the secular character of the chamber."
The province has seen a waning of the Catholic Church's influence since the 1960s, although examples of Christian symbolism can still be seen in many government buildings. Montreal's most prominent landmark is an illuminated cross, 101 feet in height, atop Mont Royal, the city's highest point.
The crucifix in the city's chambers is not reflective of modern Montreal, Mayor Valerie 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.
The executive committee, which announced the demise of the crucifix last week, added that a crucifix in City Hall's Peter-McGill room, the site of meetings to oversee a downtown Montreal neighborhood, will also be removed.