Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had some biting criticism for Quebec’s Bill 21 when he was asked about it during a news conference in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
The bill bans public servants in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers, judges and prison guards — from wearing religions symbols while they’re working.
WATCH: (June 19) Jagmeet Singh voices concern over Quebec’s passing of Bill 21
The prime minister’s response?
“We do not feel it is a government’s responsibility or in a government’s interest to legislate on what people should be wearing,” he said.
“We will certainly ensure that our views are well-known and continue to defend Canadians’ rights.”
Bill 21 passed with a vote of 73 to 35 in Quebec’s National Assembly on Sunday.
The legislation was passed with the support of the governing Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), as well as the Parti Québécois (PQ).
The Liberals and Québec Solidaire voted against it.
WATCH: (June 19) Teacher says she feels penalized by Bill 21
The bill fulfilled a campaign promise by Quebec Premier François Legault, who along with ministers has said that it will affirm the Quebecois nation’s way of life alongside laws such as Bill 101, the Charter of the French Language.
Before a final vote was cast on Sunday, Quebec Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette called on lawmakers to “convey the principles of state secularism with calm and respect.”
However, critics such as federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh have called the bill “deeply saddening.”
“This is a bad decision. It’s wrong, it’s hurtful, it divides a community.”
Other critics, such as the World Sikh Organization (WSO), said federal leaders should have “come out strongly” against the bill.
“I think they’ve checked the box, they’ve made their position known that they don’t like this,” spokesperson Balpreet Singh told Global News before Trudeau’s comment.
“But this should be denounced, it should be challenged.”
Liberals such as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains had spoken up on the bill, saying it “unfairly takes away” the right of all citizens to “give back to their communities through professions like education and law enforcement.”
Trudeau had previously expressed concern about the bill in March, saying that Canada and Quebec “are places where we are a secular society, we respect deeply people’s rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion.”
United Nations (UN) experts had previously written a letter to the Quebec government expressing concern about various aspects of the bill, including that public servants must provide services with their faces uncovered.
The experts said it could affect “certain religious minorities,” that it “constitutes discrimination and could lead to the violation of fundamental rights such as rights to health or education.”
— With files from Rachel Lau and The Canadian Press
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