Sixteen year-old Attiya Maroof, a Muslim, was among dozens of students at Macdonald High School in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue who used their lunch hour on Friday to speak out against Bill 21.
The bill, tabled last month, would bar certain civil servants in positions of authority — including teachers — from wearing religious garb in the workplace.
The students say it would limit their career options.
“It’s just a blatant violation of our rights,” Maroof told Global News. “As a younger generation, we’re going to be affected by this.”
Maroof says the bill creates divisions and fear and unfairly targets certain groups. Right now, she’s wearing a head scarf in protest, but if she decides to wear a hijab full time, she doesn’t want to be singled out.
“I don’t want to feel unsafe and ridiculed in my own community,” she said.
Her friend, 17-year-old Amina Sultan, agrees and hates the idea of being told that she can’t wear a hijab if she wants to.
“I still want to have, like, that freedom to wear it, that right to wear it,” Sultan said, adding that her family has never forced her to wear it.
Both she and Maroof disagree with the argument that wearing religious symbols means they’re trying to push their beliefs onto others.
“If I’m wearing yellow, I’m not telling everyone that they have to wear yellow, am I?” Maroof asked. “Or if I’m wearing a pair of shoes, it doesn’t mean that I want people to wear the same thing.”
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Teachers at the school say the debate around the bill has angered some students, particularly those from religious minorities, and that some are afraid.
One of them, Chris Martin-Chang, says though some try to understand why there is support for the proposed legislation, “they also say this is not the Quebec they want. This is not the Quebec that their families have moved from a different country to live in.”
Some students, like Maroof, question whether they’d want to remain in the province.
“I would not want to be in a province where I’m being alienated from my beliefs,” Maroof said.
In the meantime, she’s keeping her fingers crossed that the bill doesn’t become law — like others.