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Quebec Premier François Legault says school board wrong to hire teacher who wore hijab

Click to play video: 'Ottawa stays on the sidelines over new Bill 21 disputes in Quebec' Ottawa stays on the sidelines over new Bill 21 disputes in Quebec
WATCH: Ottawa stays on the sidelines over new Bill 21 disputes in Quebec – Dec 10, 2021

Premier François Legault says a school board in western Quebec should not have hired a teacher who wore a hijab.

Legault told reporters Friday that the province’s secularism law, Bill 21, has been in place since June 2019 and the Western Quebec School Board should have respected it when hiring the Grade 3 teacher.

Parents at Chelsea Elementary School, just north of Gatineau, Que., say they found out in a letter last week the teacher was being moved to a different job, and later some discovered it was due to her hijab, which was later confirmed by both the teacher and the school board.

Quebec’s Bill 21 prohibits the wearing of religious symbols such as hijabs, kippas and turbans by teachers and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority.

READ MORE: Quebec elementary school teacher reassigned from class over hijab due to Bill 21

Certain provisions in the legislation are subject to legal challenges, but courts have ruled it must be applied in the interim.

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For his part, Legault defended Quebec’s secularism law as reasonable and balanced.

In a statement, the Western Quebec School Board, which has previously come out firmly against Bill 21, declined to comment specifically due to confidentiality surrounding human resources issues, but confirmed the teacher was removed from her position because her appearance “does not fall within the parameters of Law 21.”

READ MORE: Quebec teacher’s removal for wearing hijab a ‘cowardly’ move, minister says

“Like all school boards and service centres, [we] must comply with provincial laws that regulate employment in the public sector,” a statement from the school board said.

“Our stance on Bill 21 has not changed, the Western Quebec School Board strongly opposes the religious symbols legislation.”

Reaction

In a statement sent to Global News on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Office said their position on the bill “has always been clear.”

“Nobody in Canada should ever lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs,” a spokesperson for the PMO said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has previously shared stories of hatred he faced for wearing a turban, slammed the school board’s decision.

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“There are no concerns about her capacity and ability to teach, no concerns about whether she’s providing good education to kids, simply because of the way she looked and the way she dressed, she is no longer able to teach those kids,” he said.

READ MORE: Anti-Islamophobia advocates want action from politicians now speaking out against Bill 21

“On a personal note, I know what that’s like — to feel like you don’t belong because of the way you look, and to not be able to do what you love because of the way you look. That’s what’s happening right now, and why this bill is so wrong.”

“It’s cowardly,” said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, who is also a Montreal-area MP. “This type of discrimination isn’t reflective of the Quebec society I want to live in.”

Member of Parliament Kyle Seeback also denounced the measure, calling it a disgraceful law that should be opposed in court.

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore. This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stood up for what’s right. Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.”

READ MORE: Bill 21 is Quebec issue, O’Toole says as some of his MPs take tougher stand

Christopher Skeete, parliamentary assistant to the minister responsible for the fight against racism at Quebec’s National Assembly, said in response to the blacklash that “we’re proud to say that we live in a secular society here in Quebec.”

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“[The measure] is something Quebecers expected [from] us and wanted us to do and what we were elected to deliver upon,” he said.

In reaction to the burst of anger around the law from politicians, Mustafa Farooq, chief executive officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), said “we’ve been fighting this from day one. It’s been resting on the backs of racialized communities and brave human rights defenders.”

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of equality with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (one of the co-plaintiffs challenging the bill in court) told Global News that “the children know what is wrong here. This situation is a horrible, harmful lesson in injustice and discrimination and the children know that.”

“I would add that secularism is about the state not coercing people to practice a particular religion,” Mendelsohn Aviv said.

“Secularism does not mean that the state should exclude, segregate or endanger people who are different, whether that’s based on religion or other.”

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Mat Schatkowsky, a parent whose child was one of the teacher’s homeroom students, said she was very engaged with the kids and showed a keen interest in promoting literacy in children.

“It’s hard to explain to our daughter why a law like this even exists,” the father said.

–with files from The Canadian Press and Rachel Gilmore, Global News

Click to play video: 'Quebec teacher removed from classroom over hijab' Quebec teacher removed from classroom over hijab
Quebec teacher removed from classroom over hijab – Dec 9, 2021
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