A group of leaders from Quebec’s English school system is expressing “deep disappointment” and speaking out against the province’s controversial secularism bill just ahead of testimony at public hearings for the proposed legislation.
The group includes the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, the Association of Directors General of the English School Boards of Quebec, the English Parents’ Committee Association (EPCA) and more.
Representing school boards, teachers, in-school and centre administrators, directors general and parents, the group maintains that Bill 21 does not reflect the values and missions of Quebec’s school system.
WATCH: Bill 21 hearings begin in Quebec City
“We maintain that our role in public education is to be open-minded, accepting and respectful,” the group stated.
“We celebrate the diversity of our province, which is also represented in our schools and centres.”
They argue that the religious symbols bill, which would prohibit public-sector employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work, contradicts the constitutional right of Quebec’s English-speaking minority.
The bill counts teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and other public servants as people in positions of authority.
“We believe that Bill 21 is divisive,” argued Russell Copeman, QESBA executive director.
“It is an unnecessary piece of legislation that can only lead to societal discrimination. The government is proposing to legislate to address a problem that does not exist.”
However, it includes a provision permitting current employees in those positions to continue wearing their religious symbols.
The bill fulfils an election promise that the Coalition Avenir Québec maintains has widespread support from across the province.
WATCH: Debate heats up at public hearings for Quebec secularism law
The group insists the province’s public school system has a “proud record of inclusion” and that it would rather work alongside the government work to address issues such as student success and increasing services in the classroom.
“The draft of this bill has already caused disbelief among parents and students,” the EPCA argued.
“When a child comes up to you asking, ‘Why is someone trying to tell me that my friend can’t be herself anymore?’ What answer should we give them?”
QESBA is expected to testify at the bill hearings Tuesday night.
WATCH: Call for calm after Montreal mayor threatened for opposing secularism bill