Students and teachers at Westmount High in Montreal locked arms outside their school Wednesday morning to voice their opposition to the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ)’s religious symbols bill.
Several hundred people attended the peaceful protest in the hopes of sending the Quebec government a clear message: attacks on the fundamental rights of students will not be tolerated.
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“It means that the brilliant young girls in my class that happen to wear the hijab and the young boys who wear the Jewish kippah can never dream of one day becoming a judge, can never dream of one day becoming a police officer, can never dream of one day becoming a teacher,” he told Global News.
“This is something that should offend every citizen in Quebec, that young people are having their dreams taken away by this government.”
Bill 21, “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State,” prohibits public sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work.
It affects teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and other public servants in what the government considers to be positions of authority.
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Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who is responsible for the bill, tabled the proposed legislation last Thursday.
“Wearing religious symbols is not allowed,” Jolin-Barrette insisted, when asked what the specific criteria behind the ban would be.
“Any wearing of religious symbols is not allowed. Size doesn’t matter, how visible it is doesn’t matter. It is not allowed.”
The proposed legislation does have a provision permitting current employees in those positions to continue wearing their religious symbols, and the government said it is also proposing a motion calling for the withdrawal of the crucifix from the provincial legislature.
“Some find that we’ve gone too far; others, not enough. We think we’ve settled perfectly in the middle,” Jolin-Barrette insisted.
The bill has created much controversy over the last few months, and since its tabling, many organizations and municipalities have come out opposing the bill — referring to it as discriminatory and divisive.
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The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) said it is deeply disappointed by Bill 21, arguing it is opposed to the banning of government employees, including public school teachers and principals, from wearing religious symbols.
“Once again, this government is claiming there is a problem that clearly does not exist,” said QESBA president Dan Lamoureux.
Most recently, numerous demerged Montreal municipalities have come out against the bill.
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“It just doesn’t make sense that we can’t hire the best employee just because they’re wearing a religious symbol,” said Montreal West Mayor Beny Masella, who heads the Association of Suburban Municipalities, which represents 15 demerged on-island communities.
The CAQ insists Bill 21 fulfils an election promise that it maintains has widespread support from across the province.