Protesters of Quebec Bill 21
When the bill passed earlier this year, protesters flooded the streets to express their opposition. Another protest is planned for this weekend.

“Immediate, severe, irreparable, and unacceptable prejudice.”

These are the words civil rights groups battling Quebec’s recent ban on religious symbols are using to describe the plight of those who’ve been affected by the ban. Quebec’s Bill 21, passed earlier this year, bans all public servants from wearing religious symbols. Everything from cross necklaces to Jewish kippahs to hijabs are banned for police officers, teachers, judges, and more.

Civil rights groups are arguing the bill targets Muslim women, whose religious headwear is significantly more visible than others. Hours after the bill’s passage, they put the wheels in motion to overturn a law they say forces Muslim women to choose between their religion and their career.

Said the lawsuit: “This is causing them immediate financial hardship, but also enormous uncertainty about their ability to pursue the careers they have spent years training for, as well as stress and the sense of being singled out among their peers.”

Legalizing Discrimination?

To make their point, lawyers submitted affidavits from Muslim women denied jobs and internships by Montreal school boards on account of their headscarves. This challenged the Quebec Superior Court’s decision to reject an emergency injunction filed by The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

A woman in a hijab teaching at school
Should this be illegal in Quebec?

At the time, Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau had insisted there was no evidence the law had caused irreparable harm amongst citizens. Though he agreed with the plaintiffs that the bill raises certain constitutional questions.

Yet in submitted testimony, one McGill University graduate described having to reassure two Montreal school boards she’d be willing to remove her hijab in her classroom. She was eventually forced to take a part-time position at a private school when neither got back to her. “Now, I am depressed and anxious, and I feel like a second-class citizen in my own province,” she wrote.

A second preschool and primary school teacher who wore her hijab to work for years was recently told she’d no longer have a job if she didn’t remove her hijab. Ultimately, she chose to accept a lower-paying job as a monitor at another school.

Essential for Secular Society

The lawsuit appears to have lost round one in the courts. The motion included a request for an injunction. That would have frozen parts of the law from going into effect as the courts considered the constitutionality of the bill. But a Quebec Superior Court just rejected that proposed suspension.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government has framed Bill 21 as a necessary and logical step for any secular society. “Laicity does not run against freedom of religion, and everyone will stay free to practice the religion of his or her choice,” explained Premier François Legault. “It’s an approach that respects our history, our values, and it’s an approach that respects what the majority of Quebecers want.”

And some Muslim women agree with the Premier. Montreal teacher Zahra Boukersi told the BBC that she is not comfortable with the hijab. “Religion is intimate, it’s personal. It’s between God and me. That’s how I see things.” She continued, “there are women who wear it truly by choice. But even when they do, I see it as an act of submission.”

The Debate Goes On

Proponents of the bill say that working as a public servant comes with additional responsibilities, and they point to its broad public support in the province as proof it is for the greater good.

And yet it’s hard to argue with the testimonials. Muslim women, in particular, feel they are left at a palpable disadvantage.

One thing is for sure: Canadian civil rights groups will continue their attempt to overturn the law. And nationwide protests are planned for this weekend.

Where do you fall? Is it the job of western democracy to bend to organized religion? Or, in the name of modernity and equality, should it, in fact, be the other way around?

15 comments

  1. Rev. Brien says:

    Simple answer. Ban all religion. How many wars, how many deaths worldwide have been caused by religion? Faith is kept IN YOUR HEART. It governs your actions and can give you strength in hard times. You do not need a group to justify your faith. If you need a group, then it is NOT faith but instead is BRAINWASHING. I say it again and always…ban all organized religion.

    1. Lynn Gideon says:

      Simple answer. Ban all political sides of Government. How many wars, how many deaths worldwide have been cause by governments?

      1. Stoodie Baker says:

        So you prefer anarchy to governments? Do you even know how willfully ignorant you sound?

    2. Rik Venerable says:

      Matthew 18:20
      For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

      Hence organized religious groups.

    3. Michael Cope Cope says:

      I agree. I lived in Quebec for 6 years. That’s all I cancsay about that. Why people really need a symbol to prove faith I never really understood why.
      People are funny.
      I’m a big Trump supporter. However, I don’t have to wear a red hat to show it. But I can vote in private…😎💪 Then laugh at people’s craziness on red hats….😱😱😱😱😱

  2. John A Anderson, CD, CIF Mons ON says:

    In the Canadian Armed Forces, open religious displays are not allowed, if they cannot be hidden by the uniform. You can have a cross, a pentagram, hammer, whatever, on your “dog tags”, wear a kippah under your beret, but you cannot have something visible which is not part of your uniform, when you are IN uniform. I kept my religious symbol on my dog tag chain for 18 years (when I got my dog tags). It is the open display which is the target of the law, NOT the faith of the person. There is NO requirement in the Qu’ran stating that a woman MUST wear a hijab, or a burkha; the only requirement is that they dress modestly. The interpretation is left to the individual and their culture. There is NO requirement in the bible that you MUST wear a cross to be a Christian.
    I can understand the desire of people to show their faith, and let it be known to others, but, coming from a non-Abrahamic faith, we have had to rely on slight visual and auditory cues to identify one another for centuries, as we live in a world dominated by those of other religions, who view us, at best, as a challenge to their faith, at worst, as someone to be hunted down and destroyed. If a Muslima wants to wear a hijab at home or when she isn’t working, that’s her decision, but to wear it in her place of employment, when she works in the public service as a government employee, doesn’t send an appropriate message. She could still wear something discreetly, or dress modestly. I apply the same rules to a Christian man. If he wants to wear a cross, he can wear it under his shirt, no problem, but the instant it becomes constantly visible, problem.

    1. Casey says:

      If I may ask, what’s your religion? I’m trying to figure it from your cues and I can’t get it- non-Abrahamic is easy enough, but one that is also persecuted to the point you can’t show your faith… Celt? Sikh?

      I’m a Christian. Episcopalian, to be specific. Got my ULC card to marry a few friends of mine who are LGBT.

      I wear a cross around my neck (the same that was issued to Episcopalian troops during WW1 and WW2) but it can never be seen with my work clothes unless I choose to make it visible. It hangs low enough that with my collared work shirts it doesn’t come loose. A psychiatrist friend of mine always wears his kippah, but it’s small enough and high enough on his head that it can’t be seen.

      In the US this rule is a problem. The 1st Amendment forbids the establishment of a state religion, and the governmental preference for any religion over another. A rule like this can easily be interpreted as a rule against the Muslim faith.

      Another practical problem is what is considered a religious symbol. The obvious ones, the Star, Cross and Crescent, sure. What about a fish outline? What about a five-point star, a Thor’s Hammer, the atom?

  3. Rod Gesner says:

    a Traditional head covering is a HAT; So Are the Canadians Banning ALL Hats? Sports is the New Religion for Many; Are they Banning All Hats, Sweatshirts, Hoodies, and T shirts that Promote The Violence and sometimes Death culture of Sport? as Far as Viels and Face coverings While I have my own feelings about those that hide behind Masks; Like: Police in Balaclavas Breaking Down Doors; or Agents Provacature and Anarchists Hiding Their identity While Promoting Violence at Public Demonstrations; instead of Acting in Honorable Civil Disobedience… But People Also Wear Masks for Health Reasons Surgical masks, Masks and Veils to protect from Cold, Heat and Sun; The Muslims Developed their Cultural System in a Time and Are Where The Sun Wind and Sand Were VERY Harsh and Dangerous to say Nothing of The Tribal Bandit/warlord Slave trade Issues that put ANY woman at risk Would All contribute to a NEED to Wear masks for SURVIVAL…
    But the Reality of ANY Law; is that it only affects those that are COMPLAINED about… So Status Quo will be ignored; but the Strangers get their Appearance Called in; and Persecution will Follow..
    And that’s what They Call Justice???

  4. The Doctor says:

    Id just like to point out that to the First Pope of christianity the cross was a symbol no one was fit to wear. In his eyes it was seen to be holding oneself up as equal to The Christ. Hence why he then demanded to be crucified upside down, and the crucifix/cross was other then upside down was seen as an act of extreme arrogance.

    Understand I am not stating christianity as the one true faith or the like, just pointing out history and a long standing subject of theological debate.

    When it comes to garments I feel the only time they really need to be set aside is when one decides to take on a profession that makes one adopt a standardized uniform. If ones profession has a dress code, then imo that should be flexible within reason and be willing to compromise for the sake of personal freedom.

    I do concur that the secular culture is one that should be embraced, and people need to have some consideration of others its a tangled and two way street. I can very much understand how someone who has been abused by a person representing the faith can find trauma rising to the forefront, I also feel that as long as one isnt being pushy or ostentatious with their faith should be treated as no different then anyone else.

    Yet I can also see that when it comes to a garment, that is often associated culturally with treating women as a lower social caste, why it too could bring to the surface memories of trauma and abuse by those who have escaped from oppressive and brutal cultures and living situations.

    Police themselves suffer this because of the stigma of uniforms. Once someone has suffered at the hands of one in uniform, its a well established psychological phenomena to find the mere sight of a uniform to trigger feelings of stress and impending threat.

  5. Dan Fenning says:

    This is Canada… We have Chartered Rights, protects our religious and Spiritual beliefs from the Federal level

    Anyone who knows their Canadian rights, knows a Province CANNOT remove this right!

    1. Dan Fenning says:

      This is not the USA, where States can overrule laws from on high

    2. Ken says:

      You clearly are not aware of the ‘Notwithstanding” clause which the Quebec government has invoked. The Ontario Government had threatened to do the same a short time ago in a different matter. Other Provinces have done so in the past as has Quebec. Also no Federal party leader in the election campaign is willing to intervene because of the strong popularity in Quebec of this law. So the Province can and has done it.

  6. Jim Rothweiler says:

    So Christians have to take of their cross necklases, and, of course, all wedding rings have to be left at home, and men can’t wear black suits with white shirts because they could be perceied as Amish or Hasidic — and no more “bless you” to sneezing because the Koran commands it.

  7. Samuel Ubani says:

    Fashion Define Your self Concept and your belief.

  8. tom b says:

    While i believe that laws can prohibit face coverings, i do not believe the rest of the Muslim garb should be precluded…if there is discrimination against Muslim women, let them go to court; not pass unnecessary laws…Peace…Tom B

Leave a Comment