Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has come out swinging against the province’s contentious bill on secularism, saying it violates the fundamental rights of certain individuals.
“I am very worried by the message we’re sending with this bill,” she said on Thursday, hours after the proposed legislation was tabled.
The Coalition Avenir Québec government’s Bill 21 would bar public sector employees in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious garb in the workplace. It also includes a grandfather clause that would allow current employees to continue wearing religious symbols.
Plante blasted the bill, arguing it sends a negative message toward newcomers and minorities in Quebec.
“This bill will not settle the debate of secularism in our society,” she said.
She also said it will impact the daily lives of Montrealers and she is worried about what repercussions it could have on attracting talent to the city.
“No citizen should live in fear and uncertainty about his job or his place in Montreal society because he chooses to practice his religion,” she said.
The proposed legislation also invokes the notwithstanding clause to prevent any legal challenges based on rights violations against it. The notwithstanding clause, however, has an expiry date — typically within five years of being invoked.
Bill 21 was a key election promise made by Quebec Premier François Legault. He maintains it has widespread support from across the province.
WATCH BELOW: Quebec Premier François Legault says he is “very proud” of the province’s secularism bill
Mitchell Brownstein, mayor of Côte Saint-Luc, said municipalities should stand by their employees. In February, the city that in Montreal’s west end adopted a resolution condemning the government’s plan.
“Whether you’re wearing a kippa or a hijab, we respect you for who you are — not the religious symbol that you might be wearing,” he said. “We’re going to stand by that and we believe municipalities should stand by that.”
Mixed reaction from Montreal groups representing teachers, police
While the government has argued there is no further room for religious accommodations, several organizations representing civil servants in Montreal have mixed reactions to the bill.
The English Montreal School Board vows it will not comply with such a ban. Quebec’s largest English-language school board said on Wednesday it supports teachers’ and staff’s right to freedom of religion.
The Fédération autonome de l’Enseignement, one of Quebec’s largest teachers’ federations, has also filed a legal challenge against the province over its attempts to track the number of teachers who wear religious symbols.
However, the Montreal Police brotherhood — the union that represents the city’s police officers — supports the bill. President Yves Francoeur said his group believes it’s important for police officers to project an image of neutrality. There are no Montreal police officers who wear religious symbols targeted by the bill.
— With files from Global News’ Rachel Lau, Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press