School board vows to disregard Quebec bill restricting religious symbols

Pablo Tucker
March 31, 2019

The Quebec government has tabled new legislation that would ban some public sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work. While the Jewish advocacy organisation B'nai Brith slammed it as "an assault on the fundamental rights and freedoms of Quebecers", the National Council of Canadians Muslims accused its authors of making Muslims "second-class citizens" and hurting Muslim women. But new public workers in "authority" positions could not wear religious symbols - they risk dismissal if they do not follow the ban.

Some key elements of Quebec's secularism bill, tabled Thursday by the Coalition Avenir Quebec government.

A grandfather clause would allow current teachers who already wear religious symbols to continue to do so.

Both measures, along with curbs on immigration, were promised by Legault during an election campaign past year, after a decade of divisive debate on secularism and religious freedom that was influenced by a similar discourse in France.

The full list of people covered by the ban in the version of the bill introduced Thursday specifically mentions police and other peace officers, as well as school principals, vice-principals and teachers.

Quebec's Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, meanwhile, has called for "calm" discussions about the proposal, inviting people "to make their comments in a respectable way".

The government counters that it won a mandate last October to introduce the legislation, which it says is supported by a majority of Quebecers.

However, because of the use of the notwithstanding clause, he sees no obvious avenues to challenge the law in the courts. "Quebec is a democratic, progressive and inclusive society; yet this bill is regressive and is squarely against these core values", said NCCM Quebec spokesperson Sarah Abou-Bakr.

The stated goal of the bill, which is entitled "An act respecting the laicity of the state" would be to "affirm religious neutrality in a manner that 'ensures a balance between the collective rights of the Quebec nation and human rights and freedoms", reported CBC News. The wearing of the turban and the Sikh articles of faith is not optional for Sikhs and a ban on these articles of faith is, in effect, a ban on Sikhs in positions of authority.

Idil Issa, vice-president of the Fondation Parole de femmes, which represents women from visible minorities, said Muslim women wearing the hijab will bear the brunt of the law's impact. "I ask everyone to be very careful and to keep in mind that we are talking about human beings", she told reporters. "And now I think of young people across Quebec who won't be able to do their dream jobs".

"I never in my journey thought I couldn't", she said.

"The government is encouraging these kinds of ideas rather trying than trying to root them out", he said.

Other reports by iNewsToday