London city council denounces Quebec's secularism bill, will donate $100K to help fight it

London's city council will donate $100,000 to the legal fight against Quebec's Bill 21, the secularism law that prohibits religious symbols in provincial workplaces.

Some council members disagreed with the proposed $100,000 grant

London City Council has joined other cities in the province to fight against Quebec's Bill 21. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

London's city council will donate $100,000 to the legal fight against Quebec's Bill 21, the secularism law that prohibits religious symbols in provincial workplaces. 

The motion was put forward by London's Mayor Ed Holder, Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan, and Ward 6 Coun. Mariam Hamou. The motion has three parts:

  • Opposing the bill by upholding and reaffirming the freedoms laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • Supporting the legal challenge against the Bill.
  • A one-time grant of up to $100,000 to organizations such as National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), the World Sikh Organization, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who are leading the fight against the bill. 

"It might not be in the province of Ontario, but it affects every city in this great country of ours," Holder said Tuesday night. 

Cities such as Toronto and Brampton have also voted in favour of fighting this bill.

Reluctance to support the $100K grant

While councillors unanimously voted in favour of the first two parts of this motion, there was debate around the necessity of the $100,000 grant. The vote was 13-2, to support the grant. Ward 1 Coun. Michael van Holst and Ward 10 Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen voted against. 

"It's fine if we publicly declare that we do not support Bill 21, but providing funds to fight legal battles in other jurisdictions is not a proper use of London taxpayer money. Those funds should be spent to improve the situation here at home," said van Holst. 

Residents can make their own individual donations to their cause of choice, he added. 

Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner supported the cash donation and reminded council that while the financial component is new, London has always weighed in on issues happening throughout the country. 

"This motion sends a signal from our municipality that we need to be inclusive, people need to be who they are without the fear of reprisal," he said. 

"There's a question 'Couldn't that money be better spent to do the same things in London?' If that's the question, then we should be asking 'What should we be doing in London too?' I don't think it's mutually exclusive," he said. 

The work to fight against Islamophobia

This is the time for London to show how important the fight against Islamophobia is across the country, said Ward 3 Coun. Mohamed Salih.

"I don't want London to be the city that slows down when we have the opportunity to make it very clear that what's happening in another part of our country is unacceptable," he said. "We have the opportunity to do more than just standing in solidarity."

There are also plans to supports the Our London Family Act, and action to honour the Afzaal family, killed June 6 by a driver who police said was motivated by hate for the Islamic faith. 

"Our commitment has been to facilitate the process to ensure that the recommendations to end Islamophobia are centred on the voices of many, recognizing that the Muslim community in London is diverse," City Manager Lynne Livingstone said. 

An updated report coming forward to the strategic priorities and policy committee on Feb. 8 will outline what the city is doing.