Hundreds gathered in Montreal’s Park Extension neighborhood on Saturday in solidarity against Quebec’s Bill 21.
The contentious legislation — which has a grandfather clause — prohibits civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work. The bill is being challenged in the courts by minority rights groups and has garnered national and international attention, including talks of potential federal interference.
“We have examples of teachers who are very qualified and they’re being denied jobs,” said Bouchera Chelbi, a Muslim Montreal teacher who has been fighting relentlessly against The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government’s legislation.
Chelbi was a part of the team of teachers who organized Saturday’s rally, hoping to convey the message that the bill has very real consequences on people’s lives.
“We have interns who are being denied internships by school boards and people who are being harassed in the streets of Montreal. We want people to know that this is happening because of Bill 21,” Chelbi said.
People from all backgrounds were present at Saturday’s protest in front of Parc metro station to demonstrate their support.
Rally attendee Sarah Khan, who is also Muslim, said she doesn’t work in education but her daughter might want to one day.
Khan said future generations should have the right to choose what to wear and what career to pursue, without having to sacrifice one for the other.
Earlier this week, the province’s largest English school board voted in favour of contesting the bill in court. Premier François Legault dismissed the challenge, calling it “nothing but a big show.” Many groups in Quebec are however still determined to get the bill repealed.
While the ban of religious symbols like the hijab only applies to teachers hired after March 28, 2019, teachers who wear religious symbols who are protected under the grandfather clause said they too are facing restrictions and discrimination in their career.
“I can’t be promoted, I can’t change my job, I can’t change my school board,” said Muslim Montreal teacher Furheen Ahmed, referencing the provisions of the bill’s grandfather clause which would force her to remove her hijab should she want to make any career move at all.
Protesters at the rally argued that the law that dictates what new teachers can and cannot wear mostly targets Muslim women, and some feel the bill has created an unsafe Islamophobic environment inside and outside the classroom.
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