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N.B. mayor extends welcome mat to Quebecers unhappy with religious symbols bill

Edmundston, New Brunswick Mayor Cyrille Simard is shown in a handout photo. Simard is rolling out the welcome mat for Quebecers upset with their province's move to restrict some people from wearing religious symbols.
Edmundston, New Brunswick Mayor Cyrille Simard is shown in a handout photo. Simard is rolling out the welcome mat for Quebecers upset with their province's move to restrict some people from wearing religious symbols. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

A northern New Brunswick mayor is rolling out the welcome mat for Quebecers upset with their province’s move to restrict some people from wearing religious symbols.

Cyrille Simard, the mayor of Edmundston, says there are opportunities for people who want to move to New Brunswick.

READ MORE: ‘Quebec will always be open’: Immigration minister defends religious symbols bill

“Looking at the way the situation was developing in the province of Quebec, I could identify that some individuals might find barriers in the next few years and months in accessing specific jobs,” said Simard, whose city of about 16,500 people is just 20 kilometres from the Quebec border.

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Quebec Premier ‘very proud’ of religious symbols bill
Quebec Premier ‘very proud’ of religious symbols bill

The Quebec legislation would prohibit public servants in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards — from wearing religious symbols.

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The law would also require a wide array of public servants to exercise their functions with their faces uncovered, and people who want to receive public services must also show their faces when necessary for purposes of identification or security.

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Simard said that in just a few days he has received about a dozen resumes and many emails and voicemails from people looking for more information.

“We have people working to talk to these individuals to see if the opportunities are really out there for them, and we’ll see what happens after that,” he said.

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Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, said he applauds the mayor for seeing the opportunity to extend the welcome mat.

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Quebec tables bill banning religious symbols at public jobs
Quebec tables bill banning religious symbols at public jobs

“We are facing unprecedented labour shortages in New Brunswick and over the next 10 years we’re expecting 120,000 permanent exits from our workforce. That represents about one in three New Brunswickers who are working will leave the workforce,” LeBlanc said.

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He said New Brunswick faces a shortage of qualified French and bilingual teachers, and there are many in Quebec who could fill the void.

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LeBlanc said if there are any professionals in Quebec who are feeling unwelcome, it’s an opportunity for New Brunswick to extend an invitation to move.

“In New Brunswick you’re free to wear religious symbols in whatever position you’re in. People should be welcome to express themselves as they feel comfortable,” he said.

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More than 4,600 immigrants moved to New Brunswick last year.

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Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante weighs in on Quebec’s proposed religious symbols ban
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante weighs in on Quebec’s proposed religious symbols ban

Simard is quick to say while he’s pitching the benefits of living and working in New Brunswick, he’s not bashing Quebec.

READ MORE: Quebec’s attempt to track how many teachers wear religious symbols violates rights and freedoms: FAE

“Really my message was a positive one for New Brunswick, and I don’t want to criticize what Quebec is doing, they have their own dynamic, and I respect that,” he said.

“I thought that opening the door like that would be an opportunity for these people to see the opportunities here, and they might be able to move.”

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Simard said his message to Quebecers is that New Brunswick has things to offer that you don’t find in other areas of Canada — official bilingualism being one.

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Quebec immigration minister stands by controversial secularism bill
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“There are still a lot of people in Quebec who do not understand that there are francophones outside of Quebec, and a few of the messages I got express that exactly.”

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Groups including Amnesty International have said the Quebec bill contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Women’s groups have pointed out Muslim women wearing a hijab will bear the brunt of the law’s impact, and expressed concern they could face increased stigmatization and even violence.

READ MORE: Legault stands firm on immigration, secularism in outline of CAQ priorities

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante have both spoken out against the bill.