Trudeau says COVID mask-wearing may change Quebecers' opinions on religious symbols

·2 min read

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday the habit of wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic might be changing Quebecers' views on the province's religious symbols ban.

He was asked about Quebec's secularism law, Bill 21, during a news conference at which he paid tribute to members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., who police said were targeted because of their faith in a deadly attack Sunday.

The prime minister repeatedly said he opposes Bill 21 but does not want to get involved in a battle that is before the courts. Asked whether he agreed with those who say the Quebec legislation fosters hatred and discrimination toward minorities, he said he does not.

"I have long expressed my disagreement with Bill 21, but I have also indicated that it is for Quebecers to challenge and defend their rights in court, which they have been doing," he said.

The law was adopted in June 2019 and prohibits public sector workers who are deemed to be in positions of authority, including teachers, police officers and judges, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans on the job.

Trudeau added that he wouldn't be surprised if, in the weeks and months to come, there is a change in attitudes about religious symbols in Quebec, "in part because for the last year, we've been spending a lot of time with masks covering our faces and receiving services from the state. And also because there is a real concern about the rise in intolerance and Islamophobia."

He said public institutions should be inclusive and not judge on the basis of religion. "That is something that is a core principle of Canadian governance, and it applies across the country," he said.

In Quebec City, Premier François Legault responded by saying that most Quebecers continue to support the secularism law.

"I think Quebecers know the difference between a mask protecting against a virus and a mask worn for religious reasons," Legault told reporters. "Mr. Trudeau should take note of what the majority of Quebecers want."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 8, 2021.

The Canadian Press