Anti-racism advocates are calling on key political leaders in Canada to publicly renounce Quebec’s Bill 21 “secularism” law during this election campaign.
The law, described by the advocates as “state-sanctioned hate and bigotry against racialized religious minorities,” restricts the wearing of ‘religious symbols’ by public servants in positions of authority such as teachers, police officers, judges, and lawyers. It includes a ban on religious symbols such as crosses, hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes.
“If Justin Trudeau, Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh are sincere about supporting the fight against hate, bigotry and racism, they must stand strongly against the ethno-nationalism that is being promoted by the Quebec government through its secularism law,” Fareed Khan, founder of the group called Canadians United Against Hate, said in a press release this morning.
“It’s intolerable that all federalist party leaders have not come together to unequivocally stand against the law, and support legal challenges to defend the rights of Canadians under the Charter. They have sacrificed the human rights of certain religious communities in Quebec on the altar of political expediency, and that is unacceptable.”
The statement comes in the wake of comments by Bloc Quebecois leader Yves Francois- Blanchet, who at a media conference in Sherbrooke, Quebec described efforts to kill the bill by Quebecers as “reprehensible.”
“What is reprehensible is Mr. Blanchet’s support for Quebec’s ‘secularism’ law which is state-sanctioned hate and bigotry against racialized religious minorities,” Khan said.
“We expect politicians in overtly racist and fascist states to say such things, but to hear it from a Canadian politician is galling and demonstrates his support for racist and ethno-nationalist politics in Quebec.”
He continued: “For him to say that it was ‘reprehensible’ for Quebecers to challenge that law in court, which is their legal right, is saying ‘sit down and shut up’ to people whose rights are being trampled by the Quebec government. His comments show a total disrespect for the legal rights of Canadians living in Quebec, and is the attitude of a politician who believes in approaches used by authoritarian regimes.”
“Khan observed that following a year when Canadians came out in the tens of thousands to speak out in support of racial justice it is unbelievable that federalist party leaders are silent on the issue of Quebec’s racist secularism law,” reads the press release.
The World Sikh Organization (WSO) has also condemned Quebec’s Bill 21, saying “this xenophobic piece of legislation is in clear violation of the Canadian Charter.”
“We call on Canadians and elected officials at all levels to oppose this legislation that goes against the values and rights Sikhs hold dear,” the WSO states on its website.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) said Bill 21 harms immigrant and racialized communities in particular.
“It unfairly targets people who express their faith through what they wear. People should not be forced to make the choice between their religion, their identity and their profession. The government should not be allowed to impose their beliefs on the people of Quebec, nor should they be dictating to individuals what they can and cannot wear,” the organization states in a petition to stop the bill.
Last April, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that although the secularism law violated the basic rights of religious minorities in the province, those violations are permissible because of the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the CCLA have announced their intention to appeal the Quebec Superior Court decision regarding Bill 21 to the Quebec Court of Appeal.
“It has been almost two years of second-class citizenship for Quebecers who wear religious symbols such as the hijab, kippah, or turban. We promised that we would not stop fighting until second-class citizenship ends for all Quebecers,” said Yusuf Faqiri, NCCM director of Quebec affairs.
Fabian Dawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media