Debate over Bill 21 heats up in Old Montreal with multiple weekend protests

Click to play video: 'Human chain against Bill 21'
Human chain against Bill 21
WATCH ABOVE: Several hundreds of people protested in Montreal and other locations in the province demanding that the government's proposed secularism bill be withdrawn. As Global's Phil Carpenter reports, that debate is only expected to heat up in the coming weeks – May 5, 2019

Protesters chose a former military installation in Old Montreal to continue the fight against the Quebec government’s proposed secularism legislation.

“It’s deplorable to me to think they’re just going to use the notwithstanding clause because it’s convenient for them,” said Ronit Yarowsky, who attended the rally wearing a kippah.

Hundreds gathered at Champ de Mars, just behind Montreal city hall, to urge the Legault government withdraw Bill 21.  Tabled in March, the legislation would prevent Quebec public servants like teachers, police officers and judges from wearing religious attire on the job.

The government wants the bill adopted by June 14.  Several lawyers were at the rally, though, say such a law would be illegal.

“The government is here disregarding the rule of law,” explained lawyer Coline Bellefleur, one of the speakers at the event.

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“[Legault is] disregarding all the safeguards that have been put in place over the years to guarantee that the majority will not be able to impose an unfair and unjust law on a minority.”

READ MORE: Montreal police make two arrests during dueling east end Bill 21 protests

Sunday’s protest follows a pro-Bill 21 march on Saturday where the groups faced off against counter-protesters — the latest example of how intense the debate around the bill has become.  Even school boards and municipalities have also spoken out against the bill, a sign of hope to protesters who say elected officials have to speak out against something they say gives a licence to be intolerant.

WATCH: CAQ government defends Bill 21 despite opposition from Montreal (April 16)

Click to play video: 'CAQ government defends Bill 21 despite opposition from Montreal'
CAQ government defends Bill 21 despite opposition from Montreal
“Such a [proposal] is giving the approval for the legitimization of discrimination and bigotry,” Canadian Muslim Forum President Samer Majzoub told Global News.
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“That is a very dangerous phenomena in a democratic society such as Quebec.

The protest Sunday comes just two days before the start of public hearings on the bill.  Various groups will be able to present their own points of view,  but just having the debate, demonstrators point out, is already dividing the population.

READ MORE: Montreal will not be exempt from Bill 21: Premier Legault

“People are being harassed, people are being targeted in the streets,” Bellefleur pointed out.

But they hope that by speaking out at events like this, more people will urge the government to change its mind.

“At some moment our government needs to wake up and listen to the people who are saying this is really a violation of our rights,” said Yarowsky.

Rally organizers say even if the law is passed, the fight will continue in the courts.

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