MONTREAL – Furheen Ahmed feels like a second class citizen. The 29-year-old was born and bred in Montreal even graduated from the same school she teaches at today.
“To be told you’re not good enough the way you are, this is somehow making you less professional, which I don’t believe it is at all. To hear that or feel that doesn’t feel good, it’s disheartening,” said the Westmount High School teacher who wears a hijab.
Students and staff have been standing up against the proposed Charter by protesting outside the school every Friday since the beginning of September. The teacher spearheading the campaign against the controversial bill calls it a sad day for Quebec.
“We’re absolutely outraged that anyone would dare suggest that Miss Ahmed is anything less than an outstanding teacher simply because of wears on her head” said Robert Green.
And while both teachers don’t believe the bill will ever become the law, the mere fact that it has made it this far comes as a surprise.
But Ahmed isn’t going anywhere. She’s determined to fight for right to wear a religious symbol on the job.
“In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms it states that this is my right, so I won’t quit, I won’t be leaving Westmount High School; I hope not and I don’t plan on taking off my hijab,” insisted Ahmed.
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Many elected officials, hospitals and school boards on the island have already taken a strong stance against the Charter. And many constitutional experts are convinced the bill violates people’s rights.
While speaking to University students in Montreal on the same day the bill was tabled, the man behind the reasonable accommodations commission argues the charter will never stand in the court of law.
“You can limit rights, the courts do that every day, provided you can rely on a superior motive,” said Gérard Bouchard, who added that in the case of bill 101, the courts upheld the argument of a superior motive.
“It seems to be very theoretical, this idea that because the state is neutral its employees are representative of the state so they should refrain from wearing religious signs. To me, those are groundless inferences.”
The charter has faced serious criticism across Canada. Some, including NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, suggest it’s a cheap political move from the Parti Québécois.
“I’m a Quebecer. I know that Quebec values are values of inclusion and openness and it looks like Pauline Marois is stealing a page from Harper’s playbook- being as divisive as possible,” said Mulcair.
And back at Westmount High, Green questions whether Pauline Marois and her party have really thought this one through.
“It is unbelievable that the government is going down this road. And I wonder if Madame Marois is lying on a hospital bed in the emergency room, would she rather have the most qualified person treating her or the person who looks most like her culturally?”
It’s a question the teacher hopes all Quebecers will start to ask themselves.
Green also pointed out that the new name for the bill is a complete run-on sentence (Charter Affirming The Values Of Secularism And The Religious Neutrality Of The State, As Well As The Equality Of Men And Women, And The Framing Of Accommodation Requests), noting that as a teacher he would be forced to give the charter’s new name a failing grade.