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Westmount High students, teachers form human chain to protest CAQ religious symbols bill

WATCH ABOVE: Students and teachers at Westmount High locked arms outside their school to voice their opposition to the Coalition Avenir Quebec's religious symbols bill. Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports.

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.

“[It targets] girls who happen to wear hijabs and a handful of young boys who wear the Jewish kippah at Westmount High,” said Robert Green, a teacher at Westmount High.

READ MORE: CAQ tables controversial secularism bill, banning public employees from wearing religious symbols at work

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.

WATCH BELOW: West Island communities voice opposition to Quebec’s religious symbols bill

West Island communities voice opposition to Quebec’s religious symbols bill
West Island communities voice opposition to Quebec’s religious symbols bill

“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.

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“This is something that should offend every citizen in Quebec, that young people are having their dreams taken away by this government.”

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Bill 21, “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State,” prohibits public sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work.

READ MORE: Quebec religious symbols bill would affect students planning to be teachers, police officers

It affects teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and other public servants in what the government considers to be positions of authority.

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

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.”

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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.

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Students and teachers at Westmount High are voicing opposition to the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s religious symbols bill.
Students and teachers at Westmount High are voicing opposition to the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s religious symbols bill. Brayden Haines/Global News

“Some find that we’ve gone too far; others, not enough. We think we’ve settled perfectly in the middle,” Jolin-Barrette insisted.

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

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.

WATCH BELOW: Quebec government tables controversial religious symbols bill

Quebec government tables controversial religious symbols bill
Quebec government tables controversial religious symbols bill

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.

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“Once again, this government is claiming there is a problem that clearly does not exist,” said QESBA president Dan Lamoureux.

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Several school boards, including the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) and Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB), have declared they will refuse to implement proposed law.

READ MORE: ‘It’s a part of me’: Quebec teachers decry proposed religious symbol ban

Most recently, numerous demerged Montreal municipalities have come out against the bill.

WATCH BELOW: Quebec premier ‘very proud’ of religious symbols bill

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

“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.

READ MORE: Group of Montreal suburbs plans to defy CAQ religious symbols bill, but Beaconsfield would obey

The CAQ insists Bill 21 fulfils an election promise that it maintains has widespread support from across the province.

rachel.lau@globalnews.ca

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