Quebec teachers, religious groups denounce government's secularism bill

Christopher Davidson
March 31, 2019

ALSO, the Quebec office of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said the CAQ government's so-called secularism bill will render Quebec Muslims and other minority communities second-class citizens.

Those who were employed by bodies as of Wednesday and wear a religious symbol will not be required to remove it, as long as they "exercise the same function within the same organization".

The groups are asking that the bill be withdrawn, but they acknowledge the battle will be hard because the government has invoked the notwithstanding clause to block possible court challenges.

The bill, which was tabled by the ruling Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) in the province's National Assembly, aims to fulfill a CAQ election promise past year.

Elementary and high school teachers; principals and assistant principals; provincially appointed judges; police officers and peace officers working primarily in Quebec; prison guards; Crown prosecutors; the Speaker of the legislature; members of provincial commissions and boards; ajudicators for tribunals and disciplinary bodies; public inquiry commissioners; arbitrators; the minister of justice and attorney general.

The Liberals, who are in opposition in Quebec now, insisted that the proposal was too extreme, while the country's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also among those who criticised the plan.

Defending the "controversial" bill, Jolin-Barrette said that he "thinks people are reasonable", adding: "I am convinced people targeted by the bill will respect the law". "What I want to do is rally the most Quebecers possible", says Legault, on the CAQ website.

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Teachers unions said they would not enforce the law, while pundits and the government's own lawyers, according to reports, anticipate a court challenge for contravening Canadians' Charter right to personal religious freedom.

The stated objective of the bill, which is entitled "An act respecting the laicity of the state" would be to "affirm religious neutrality in a manner that 'ensures a balance between the collective rights of the Quebec nation and human rights and freedoms", reported CBC News. Additionally, he said, the sweep of people captured by the bill goes much further than originally anticipated. The wearing of the turban and the Sikh articles of faith is not optional for Sikhs and a ban on these articles of faith is, in effect, a ban on Sikhs in positions of authority.

Plante said she is "very concerned" about the law.

"I remember how I felt when I was younger, when I felt I wasn't welcome", Singh told reporters in Ottawa.

Jolin-Barrette said his government is building on the legacy of Quebec's Quiet Revolution, when the first steps were taken to separate church and state.

A sign opposing religious attire is displayed during protests by groups La Meute and Storm Alliance in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada November 25, 2017.

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