Calgary council unanimously votes to condemn Quebec's 'regressive' Bill 21

Calgary city council voted unanimously to formally oppose Quebec's Bill 21, the province's secularism law which bans some civil servants from wearing religious symbols at work.

'Racism and bigotry has no jurisdiction,' says Coun. George Chahal

Coun. George Chahal said his father, who wears a turban, was among those in the audience during council's vote to condemn Quebec's Bill 21 — the province's law banning religious symbols for certain civil servants. (City of Calgary Livestream)

Calgary city council voted unanimously Monday to formally oppose Quebec's Bill 21, the province's secularism law which bars certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols at work.

"Racism and bigotry has no jurisdiction," said Coun. George Chahal while introducing the motion.

"It is our duty as elected officials to stand up for human rights."

Chahal said his father, who was seated in the audience of the council chambers, wears a turban, as did his grandfather.

He said his family has directly experienced the impacts of discriminatory policies like Quebec's law.

"We have had eggs thrown at our house, and a failed cross burning at our acreage in 1992," he said.

People hold up signs during a demonstration in Montreal on April 7 in opposition to Quebec's Bill 21. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

City council will also ask the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism to work on a nationwide initiative to oppose the bills harms.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he feels ashamed because during a recent municipal leaders' meeting, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she felt alone in her fight against the law — and he wishes he had insisted all the mayors band together to support her.

"This bill is a remarkable encroachment by a provincial government on municipal rights. It actually tells municipalities who they can and cannot hire," Nenshi said.

"This bill does not treat all faiths the same way … this was a bill that was directly designed to target one group of people, and that's Muslim women who wear the hijab … baptized Sikhs who wear the turban, and Jewish men, mostly, who wear the kippah."

Bill 21, which was passed in June, is being challenged in Quebec Superior Court by two civil rights groups.

Public school teachers, government lawyers, judges, prison guards, wildlife officers, and police officers, among others, are impacted by the law.

It also gives the government power to ensure institutions comply and can impose sanctions if they do not. 

Calgary's resolution states that wearing religious symbols is a fundamental right, as written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Bill 21 is a step backwards. It is regressive in intent and bigoted in effect," Chahal said.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada said in an emailed statement it thanks Calgary city council for standing with the organization in solidarity.

"The situation created by Quebec's Bill 21 is a national crisis that threatens the human rights of not just minorities in Quebec but potentially individuals in other provinces as well," said WSO vice president for Alberta Tejinder Singh. 

Montreal, Victoria, B.C., and Kitchener and Brampton, Ont., city councils have passed similar motions.