Montreal school board to ignore latest Quebec religious symbols law

Taxi drivers have been protesting the Quebec government's proposed reforms to the industry

Taxi drivers have been protesting the Quebec government's proposed reforms to the industry

The bill only states that people in the positions it covers "are prohibited from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions".

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said today's secularism legislation will target teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards and other public servants in what the government considers to be positions of authority.

The law won't apply to private school teachers or professors at junior colleges and universities.

This is the fourth time that Quebec has seen the introduction of a bill banning religious garb or symbols, with this being the broadest proposal to date.

The bill does offers no definition.

The bill, known by its title "An Act respecting the laicity of the State", was introduced by Minister of Immigration, Simon Jolin-Barrette. That includes a cross, kirpan, hijab, turban, kippa or anything similar.

In addition to the ban on religious symbols, the bill proposes to mandate that people in certain positions must keep their faces uncovered.

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What is important is ensuring the process of making laws is secular, not that people divest themselves of religious attire and symbols, says the Montreal mayor. However there wouldn't be a "strip search to check if the person is wearing a religious sign", he said. We fear that this ban will have a trickle-down effect into the private sector and young Sikhs who are born and raised in Quebec will find it even more hard to find jobs in the province.

The president of the biggest union of elementary and high school teachers likened the bill to "using a cannon to kill a fly", given the small number of public servants who wear religious symbols. Jolin-Barrette said the notwithstanding clause has been used more than 100 times in Quebec, and the province is within its power under the Canadian Constitution to use it in this case.

In October 2017, Quebec's previous Liberal government passed a bill banning face coverings for those receiving public services.

Where did the government compromise?

While groups of different faiths have raised objections to the legislation, most express the belief that it is targeted mainly at Muslims, whose growing numbers - and the hijab - in the Canadian province have triggered tensions. "But removing the fundamental rights and freedoms of some Quebecers will only entrench division", added Abou-Bakr.

Bill 21 is likely to be challenged in court, but the Quebec government appears to believe it has full legal authority to enact the ban.

In the face of criticism from civil rights groups and organizations representing religious minorities, the bill declares the law will have effect "notwithstanding" protections in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and "despite" protections in the provincial Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

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