3rd anniversary of controversial Quebec Bill 21 draws Calgary scorn

·3 min read
Critics of Quebec's religious symbols law came together Thursday in Calgary to  sound the alarm on Bill 21's third anniversary. From left: Said Omar with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, Calgary city councillors Raj Dhaliwal, Jasmine Mian and Evan Spencer, and Tejinder Singh Sidhu of the World Sikh Organization of Canada. (Nick Brizuela/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Critics of Quebec's religious symbols law came together Thursday in Calgary to sound the alarm on Bill 21's third anniversary. From left: Said Omar with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, Calgary city councillors Raj Dhaliwal, Jasmine Mian and Evan Spencer, and Tejinder Singh Sidhu of the World Sikh Organization of Canada. (Nick Brizuela/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Some Calgary city councillors are joining national anti-racism groups to fight a bill they say normalizes racism in the province. In the province of Quebec, that is.

Bill 21, which prohibits public sector employees from wearing religious symbols such as a hijab at work, was passed three years ago, but the opposition to it is far from old news.

"If someone had told me 10 years ago that such a law would exist in Canada, I never would have believed it," Coun. Jasmine Mian told reporters Thursday.

"It's deeply troubling to see laws like this exist in Canada."

Mian and fellow councillors Raj Dhaliwal and Evan Spencer are spearheading the municipal response while joining the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the World Sikh Organization of Canada to take the message to the national stage.

Nationwide opposition

The Calgary councillors are not alone.

Mian says so far Ontario cities such as Brampton, Kingston, London, Ottawa and Toronto have joined Winnipeg and Victoria in vocal opposition to the Quebec bill.

"I donated because I believe that Bill 21 is wrong," Mian said.

"The people in Quebec should know that Calgary is with them."

The donation she's talking about is for the legal campaign against Bill 21, supported by an online fundraiser that is linked from the city's website.

Dhaliwal says it's important for everyone to push back.

"That is not Canada for me," he said.

"The Canada I came to 20, 25 years ago was a Canada that welcomed people from all walks of life. It doesn't matter what you wore on your head; what mattered was what was in your head."

Dhaliwal says the outreach he did was definitive.

"We heard from Calgarians and overwhelmingly they didn't like this bill. They opposed this bill, but they also didn't want public money to go towards that."

Awkward but needed conversation

Spencer says he gets why some Calgarians would question weighing in on a Quebec issue.

"Responding to a legal challenge in another province doesn't immediately present itself as a worthwhile endeavour, yet I assure you this is a worthy cause," he said.

"It's about protecting our collective right to freedom of expression and religion."

But he agrees, this can be an awkward conversation.

"As a white settler, former pastor and a committed Christian, this is uncomfortable yet necessary to confront. Historically, these fights have been at the expense of already marginalized communities, and I want to challenge all Calgarians to respond to this unfolding injustice in Quebec."

As president of a national advocacy group, Tejinder Singh Sidhu of Calgary says this is a much needed conversation.

"I am a dad who has to explain the morning news story to his eight-year-old son as to why [NDP Leader] Jagmeet Singh was faced with yet another altercation with racial undertones," said Sidhu, who had led the World Sikh Organization of Canada since 2020.

"Laws like Bill 21 create this kind of hate."

The funds raised will go to the three national groups for their joint legal challenge of Bill 21, Mian said.

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