Several suburban Montreal mayors are joining the chorus of voices against the plan to ban religious symbols in the public service and are actively looking at ways to challenge it.

Sue Montgomery, borough mayor for Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace told CTV Montreal the borough doesn't plan to abide by the province's newly-introduced secularism bill.

"We're not going to tell anyone what to wear," Montgomery said in an email exchange.

However, Montgomery was not available to give an interview and elaborate. 

Westmount and Montreal West mayors have also voiced their intention to reject the bill.

“The part that is most concerning to me is a part where they’re touching into municipalities and telling us who we can and can’t hire,” Montreal West Mayor Beny Masella said. “They have said that it applies to certain municipal employees, in particular, they mention peace officers and municipal peace officers.”

The proposed law would ban some public sector workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.

Teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, and crown prosecutors are all included in the bill.

Plante takes softer stance

Montreal's mayor, meantime seemed to take a somewhat softer stance on Bill 21 Tuesday, than she has taken in the past.

Valerie Plante said last week she thought Bill 21 runs counter to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but on Tuesday she framed it differently.

While she still says she doesn't think the ban on teachers wearing religious symbols is right and she will address all her concerns to the government when her time comes, Plante appeared to distance herself or the city from others who stand in opposition to the bill and any impact Bill 21 may have on city employees.

“It's important in this debate in municipalities to look where we have a direct power. For example, with this power of law, bill, it doesn't tell employees what to wear, what not to wear, to receive services, so this is where it's a better law than the previous one than Article 10 of Bill 62. So I think it's important to put it into perspective that at this point, we can talk about other things people don't like about this bill but when we think about what we have direct power this bill does not go against what we think is the right direction.”

When asked for clarification, Mayor Plante's team said she is she concerned about how the bill will potentially affect city employees.

They said the bill has a limited impact on municipal employees with regards to religious symbols. Though it does affect police officers municipal court clerks, it is not clear how many employees would be targeted. They administration said it does oppose parts of the Bill 21 (Articles 2 and 9 of Annex II).

Will the City of Montreal apply this law? They say they are clear on this point: no citizen should live in fear or insecurity about their employment or fear for their place in Quebec society because of their religious beliefs.

Legal challenge considered

Despite the opposition, the CAQ is downplaying the bill’s effects.

“We’re asking you during those eight hours where you’re at work, we’re asking you to remove your religious symbols,” said Christopher Skeete, Sainte-Rose MNA. 

Lawyer Catherine McKenzie is considering a legal challenge of Bill 21, something she’s done against other bills in the past.

“There are sections of the Canadian Charter that you cannot withstand that this law probably infringes,” she said. 

“For instance, there are legislative rights, voting rights in the Canadian Charter that could be affected by this law.”

Masella feels that religious symbols have nothing to do with job-related tasks.

“Because somebody that’s wearing an overtly religious symbol, how does that diminish their competency to undertake the task that they’ve been hired to do,” he asked.