Hampstead mayor William Steinberg joined the chorus of community leaders voicing displeasure with Bill 21.

Steinberg perhaps used the strongest words anyone has used to date.

While speaking with others from the municipal, provincial, and federal levels at Cote-St-Luc city hall on Friday, he compared the ban on religious symbols to an "ethnic cleansing."

"This is an attempt to remove those who practice minority religions, leaving only non-believers and Christians in Quebec," he said. 

Attendees, which included Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, Cote-St-Luc mayor Mitchell Brownstein, and EMSB Vice-Chairman Joe Ortona, quickly distanced themselves from the comments and refused to react when pressed by reporters.

Steinberg took to Twitter on Friday evening to clarify the remarks.

The group announced plans for a rally opposing the bill to be held on April 14. 

Housefather specifically criticized the Coalition Avenir Quebec government for saying it would invoke the Notwithstanding Clause to pass the bill, saying they should let the courts decide the bill's legality before going that far.

"In Canada and in Quebec, it is absolutely unacceptable that we would create a law that would mean a little girl or a little boy who grow up to wear a turban or a hijab or a kippa or a cross would find when they grow up they're unable to be a teacher in Quebec's public schools," said Housefather. 

Since being tabled last week, Bill 21 has come under fire from a wide range of public figures and organizations, including the Canadian Bar Association.

Montreal high school students have also held protests against the bill, calling it an attack by Quebec's majority on the rights of the minority.

While several Montreal-area cities and boroughs, including Cote-des-Neiges-NDG, Westmount and Montreal West, have said they won't abide by the bill should be it be passed into law in its present form, those gathered in Cote-St-Luc said it was too soon to discuss hypotheticals.

Bouchard adds voice to criticism

On Friday, Gerard Bouchard, co-author of a 2008 report cited as inspiration for the bill, added his voice to the criticism, saying it would be a serious mistake to prohibit teachers from wearing religious symbols.

In an article today in La Presse, the historian and sociologist questioned whether Premier Francois Legault is yielding to demagogy with his bill banning religious symbols for people deemed to be in positions of authority.

The 2008 report written by Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor following provincewide public hearings proposed banning religious symbols for public servants who wield coercive authority, such as police officers, judges and prison guards.

Bouchard says including teachers in that category, as Bill 21 does, is an unacceptable suppression of a fundamental right. He calls the government's use of the notwithstanding clause to block court challenges a perilous path.

His statement comes the same week Taylor denounced Bill 21 as clearly discriminatory and told The Canadian Press he will be fighting the legislation any way he can.

- With files from The Canadian Press