Groups say Quebec bill on religious symbols violates minority rights
Groups defending the rights of minorities and women have come together to denounce Quebec's new legislation restricting the wearing of religious symbols.
Seven groups including Amnesty International and the province's main women's federation attacked the secularism bill as discriminatory at a news conference today.
France-Isabelle Langlois, Amnesty International's director for French-speaking Canada said the Coalition Avenir
Quebec bill contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The legislation tabled Thursday would prohibit public servants in positions of authority -- including teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards -- from wearing religious symbols. People currently in those jobs would be protected by a grandfather clause.
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. She said she fears they will be stigmatized and subjected to violence in everyday life.
The groups are asking that the bill be withdrawn, but they acknowledge the battle will be difficult because the government has invoked the notwithstanding clause to block possible court challenges.
School boards have also reached out to express strong objections to the bill.
“Bill 21 is unnecessary, discriminatory, and divisive,” said Noel Burke, Chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board. “The council of commissioners and the administration of the Lester B. Pearson School Board, in their entirety, are opposed to Bill 21. We are holders of the public trust and can not support a law that is abhorrent to all we believe in.”
“At a time when we are trying to focus on educational projects, improving student success and tolerance of others, a debate on the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace will detract from the core mission of our schools and centres," said Sylvain Racette, President of the Association of Directors General of English School Boards of Quebec.
"Furthermore, it also exacerbates a real issue we are currently facing, the shortage of our most precious asset, our staff," he added.
Mayor Valerie Plante, while urging Montrealers to remain calm, says she plans to hold a commission to reveal to the provincial governments the real impact this legislation would have on citizens.
"Like I said yesterday during the press conference, there are steps to be taken," Plante said Friday. "At this point, there will be a commission we will be presenting there. It's important, and we've had conversations in the past because the mayors of the metropolises of Quebec have had talks with the different ministers."
"We will be going for that commission and bring forward some of the realities that are specific to Montreal, and we definitely want to defend [ourselves] - that was my message yesterday. We want to defend all Montrealers," she added.
(With files from CTV Montreal)