EMSB commissioners unite to fight pending legislation on religious neutrality

Click to play video: 'EMSB gearing up to fight potential religious symbol ban' EMSB gearing up to fight potential religious symbol ban
WATCH: The English Montreal School Board is united on fighting a potential ban on religious symbols for teachers. As Anne Leclair reports, the EMSB commissioners are dead set against Quebec government's religious neutrality plans – Nov 29, 2018

Just one day after Global News reported on the legal action taken by the chair Angela Mancini and former vice-chair Sylvia Lo Bianco of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) against their own ethics commissioners, both women were a no-show at the board’s council meeting on Wednesday.

But despite the allegations of ethics violations and infighting between commissioners, the council is building a united front to fight the Quebec government’s plans to ban religious symbols for all state employees in positions of power, including teachers.

“There’s no question we are against this because we’ve proven it over time,” said EMSB commissioner James Kromida during the meeting. “Is any government ever going to listen to us?”

READ MORE: Infighting escalates with legal action at English Montreal School Board

The majority of commissioners are outraged over Premier François Legault’s plans to move ahead with the religious symbols ban for teachers.

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Former teacher and EMSB commissioner Mordechai Antal proposed a resolution to reiterate support for the staff members’ constitutional right to religious freedom. A similar resolution was adopted by the council in August 2013.

Despite the recent infighting and division among council members, they managed to set aside their differences and built a consensus around the need to send a clear message against the pending legislation to enforce so-called religious neutrality.

“They like to attest that they’re talking about religious freedom and the difference between a cultural item like the cross in the National Assembly or the cross on the Quebec flag,” Antal said, while wearing a blue kippa made of Quebec’s Fleur de Lys flag. “I’m wearing a cultural symbol and I wonder how Mr. Legault would react to that?”

READ MORE: François Legault stands firm on religious symbol ban, eliminating school boards in inaugural address

Many never expected to revisit the same controversial issue six years after fighting the Parti Quebecois’ charter of values. There’s already a consensus among council members that the board will not participate in targeting employees who wear their religion on their sleeves, or on their heads.

“We have staff members who wear kippas, we have staff members who wear hijabs and we have staff members who wear religious symbols,” said EMSB spokesperson Mike Cohen. “Are we supposed to fire these people? Is that what Mr. Legault is saying?”

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The majority of commissioners voted to send the proposed resolution to the school board’s human resources committee to build the strongest statement possible, in the hopes that the new government will listen.

“It’s not the business of this school board to try to enforce something that is imposed by the national assembly,” EMSB parent commissioner Andrew Ross said.

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