Hundreds, if not thousands, came out on the streets of Montreal Sunday to voice their opposition to the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s (CAQ) secularism bill.
Bill 21, if passed into law, will ban public servants in positions of authority, such as judges, police officers and teachers, from wearing religious symbols while at work.
Taran Singh, a protester at Sunday’s march, has lived in Quebec for 32 years. He says the proposed legislation is divisive and is accusing the government of sending a message of exclusion.
“It hurts,” he said, adding that Quebecers need to move away from an us-versus-them mentality.
“It used to be the francophones versus the anglophones, then it was the sovereigntists versus the federalists.”
Singh is calling on Quebecers to unite.
“We really need to live together and come together as a society and fight this divisive political discourse and unite to be able to move our society’s interests together.”
Ammara Rawallia, a 19-year-old CEGEP student who attended the protest, said she felt compelled to act.
“I am out here because I feel personally attacked for my freedom and my religious beliefs,” she said.
WATCH: MNA Simon Jolin-Barrette, who drafted Bill 21, discusses the legislation
The teen, born and raised in Quebec, says she was thinking of becoming a biology teacher. Rawallia said she came upon the proposed legislation while exploring her career options on the internet and was dumbfounded.
“I say, ‘Wow, an innocent person that wants to do something she loves cannot do it anymore because she has something on her head,'” she explained.
“I don’t understand why you would correlate passion and a job to a religious belief, if you’re not enforcing your religious beliefs on your students.”
The CAQ’s bill does include a grandfather clause that would exempt current employees who wear religious garb from the ban, but aspiring teachers such as Rawallia would have to abide by it.
She hopes to see the bill abolished.
Aymen Derbali, a survivor of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting, called the bill oppressive, especially for Muslim women.
He also noted it would go against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Quebec Premier François Legault has said he’s willing to use the notwithstanding clause should any constitutional challenge arise.
Derbali, however, did find reason to be hopeful.
“It’s a heartwarming thing,” he said about the number of people who came out to protest.
“I am very honoured to be among these people and we know that the majority of Quebecers, they are against discrimination and segregation and we are in solidarity with all the religious minorities and their rights to access jobs.”
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