MONTREAL — In a rare display of unity, Montreal city council unanimously passed a motion against Quebec's proposed secularism bill on Monday.
Mayor Valerie Plante and opposition leader Lionel Perez presented the bipartisan declaration stating that Montreal practises "open secularism" and its bylaws are neutral, regardless of the religious convictions of those who make them.
"It our duty to speak up about this bill and to bring forward the voices of people we don't hear so much, and how it'll be affecting our citizens," Plante told reporters shortly before the vote.
The mayor's primary political rival, Perez, was alongside her for the announcement and said he hopes the joint message will lead the provincial government to reconsider its plan.
"It's a message to the government of Quebec, a message to Montrealers, that here at city hall, together, we speak with one voice," Perez said. "Bill 21 doesn't represent open secularism. It does not represent Montreal or Quebec values."
Bill 21 would prohibit public servants in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards — from wearing religious symbols on the job. A grandfather clause would protect people already hired in those positions.
Plante criticized the Coalition Avenir Quebec government's use of the notwithstanding clause to override potential charter challenges, saying it only serves to short circuit debate and create more anxiety.
She said she expects to explain the impact on Montreal when she presents to a committee studying the bill in the coming weeks.
Perez questioned the provincial government's contention that there is a consensus in Quebec against religious symbols for teachers and other public servants. He said the Montreal council's declaration speaks to a different consensus: "We want to be able to be judged on our actions, our convictions and not simply on what we wear."
Perez, who wears a kippa, was emotional as he addressed council. "I'm a Quebecer as much as everyone else," the interim leader of opposition Ensemble Montreal said, tears in his eyes.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault told reporters on Sunday that his government is open to suggestions to improve the bill, but he maintained that the legislation is reasonable and that there have already been compromises, including the grandfather clause.
Plante wouldn't say what Montreal would do if the law is passed unchanged.
"I will not speculate. I've already said that I respect the right of the government to bring a law, but right now it's not a law, it's a bill," Plante said.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press