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‘Absolutely unacceptable’: Protesters denounce Bill 21 at Montreal rallies

Dual rallies held in Montreal denouncing Bill 21
WATCH: Hundreds took to the streets of Montreal in dual protests to denounce the Quebec government's proposed legislation on secularism. As Global's Phil Carpenter reports, protesters say it's about fighting for inclusion.

Opposition to the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s secularism bill continues to mount, with two separate protests held in Montreal on Sunday.

A coalition of elected officials and community leaders led the charge at a “rally for religious freedom” held in Côte Saint-Luc.

Mayors, city councillors, school board commissioners, and provincial and federal government officials came together to denounce Bill 21.

If passed into law, the bill, tabled in March, would prevent certain civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.

WATCH: Bill 21 protests
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The group argues such a law would institutionalize discrimination and though they agree that state neutrality is important, they say the bill sends the wrong message.

“Neutrality means you and I and all of us are equal before the law. Our access to services and our right to participate in delivering those services is also equal. That’s what equality is. That’s what neutrality is,” explained provincial MNA David Birnbaum.

“The notion of a neutral state is one that I deeply support,” he said.

“What silliness to pretend that in order for Quebec institutions to be blind to our differences we have to hide who we are.”

READ MORE: Bloc Québécois tells Ottawa to stay out of debate over Quebec secularism bill

Tiffany Callender, executive director at the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association, says the bill is creating problems where none exist.

“Why do we need this law?” she asked. “I’ve had teachers, I’ve had professors, I’ve met police officers, I’ve met lawyers who have been of different ethnicity and do wonderful work and they do it for all of us.

“We are creating a problem not resolving one.”

WATCH: Montreal mayor stands firm on Bill 21

Montreal mayor stands firm on Bill 21
Montreal mayor stands firm on Bill 21

Birnbaum agreed, saying that while there are legitimate debates to be had on how everyone can live together, the government’s approach is wrong.

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“It’s not as easy as to pretend that we all love each other and everything is fine,” he said. “There are real issues about the francization of immigrants, making sure employers understand their obligations to be open in who they hire. These are real debates, but this is a terribly wrong answer to that debate.”

READ MORE: Quebec’s secularism bill met with opposition from Gérard Bouchard, coalition of politicians

A second protest was held at Place Emilie-Gamelin Sunday afternoon.

Organized by the Canadian Muslim Alliance, the message was much the same.

“It’s the attempt once again to take certain minorities and take their rights away,” said Charles Taylor, a Montreal philosopher who co-chaired a government-mandated commission on religious accommodation that concluded in 2008.

READ MORE: From Charles Taylor to teachers, protesters pledge to fight Quebec secularism bill

Taylor said the bill is a clear violation of human rights and that the government misunderstands the meaning of secularism.

“We never believed that secularism involved denying people’s rights,” he said. “This bill is trying to translate secularism into saying certain people can’t have certain jobs, certain careers. That’s absolutely unacceptable.”

— With files from Global’s Phil Carpenter and the Canadian Press

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