'Bill 21 is grotesque': Winnipeg mayor, city council condemn Quebec religious symbols ban

A Manitoba Sikh organization that launched a campaign to start a conversation about the harmful impacts of Quebec's Bill 21 has received support from Winnipeg city councillors.

Support follows Sikh Heritage Manitoba campaign for awareness of bill's harmful impacts

Mayor Brian Bowman and city council formally condemned Bill 21 after unanimously passing a motion Thursday. (CBC)

A Manitoba Sikh organization that launched a campaign focusing on the harmful impacts of Quebec's Bill 21 has received support from Winnipeg city councillors.

On Thursday afternoon, council unanimously passed a motion condemning Bill 21.

"Bill 21 is grotesque," Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said.

"I think many Canadians not only find it offensive, but revolting, that in this day and age identifiable and visible minorities could face such discrimination in a country like Canada."

Sikh Heritage Manitoba says the religious secularism law, which forbids public employees from wearing religious symbols  — such as head coverings — on the job, "sets a dangerous precedent" by allowing provinces to override and undermine protected freedoms enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Additionally, it sends a message to minority communities that they do not belong in the social, cultural and political fabric of this country, and that is harmful," says a message from the group as part of its campaign.

The photo campaign, called Failing with Bill 21, is being conducted through Sikh Heritage Manitoba's social media channels, including Instagram and Facebook, as well as its website.

A Sikh Heritage Manitoba four-part photo series is intended to showcase the adverse impacts of Quebec's Bill 21. (Sikh Heritage Manitoba)

The four-part photo series is an alarm bell for those who have experienced discrimination as a result of their religious identity in other parts of Canada, the group says. 

Quebec's legislation, passed last June, applies to civil servants in authority positions, such as teachers, police officers, government lawyers, judges, prison guards and wildlife officers.

It also mandates having one's face uncovered to give or receive specific public services, and gives the government power to ensure institutions comply and impose sanctions if they do not.

"Let's refer to Bill 21 as 'legislated discrimination,' because that's what it is," ⁣Sikh Heritage Manitoba's campaign says.

"We hope that this project is a conversation starter and allows people to critically engage with lawmakers and discuss the real impacts of this bill on Canadians. Who decides that enough is enough?⁣"

⁣Sikh Heritage Manitoba calls Quebec's Bill 21 "legislated discrimination." (Sikh Heritage Manitoba/Facebook)

Representatives from Sikh Heritage Manitoba and World Sikh Organization of Canada spoke at city hall on Thursday morning in favour of a motion put forward by councillors Janice Lukes and Shawn Nason.

Later in the day, that motion condemning Bill 21 passed with the full support of city council. The motion also symbolically supports a constitutional challenge of the legislation.

Last week, Lukes and Nason condemned the bill as discriminatory, intolerant and dangerous, and said they would call on their fellow councillors to back the motion.

Quebec's legislation, also known as the religious secularism law, forbids civil servants in authority positions from wearing religious symbols — such as head coverings — on the job. (Sikh Heritage Manitoba)

"I think it's important as a human rights city, as home to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, that we as council put forth a united front and speak up against this bill," Lukes said at the time.

Imreet Kaur, a board member for Sikh Heritage Manitoba, said she is not worried legislation similar to Bill 21 will spread across Canada, but nevertheless, it's important to do something to be sure.

"We need to have a consensus as Canadians that this can never happen anywhere else," she said. "So a motion like this is extremely important."

The popularity of the Bloc Québécois in Monday's federal election is an indication of growing nationalism and solid backing of Bill 21, she said.

During the election campaign, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet made it clear his party would not interfere with the province's secularism law.

"It's disheartening to see that support that the general public would have for a bill like this," Kaur said.

Although the law only impacts people in Quebec, all Canadians need to stand up to discrimination and any infringements on rights, regardless of the region where it occurs, said Simarpreet Singh of the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

"We should stand up in solidarity with them to defend our Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] and to defend their rights," he said.

Several city councils across Canada, including in CalgaryEdmontonKitchenerWaterloo, Montreal, Victoria and Brampton, have also passed motions similar to the one that passed in Winnipeg.

With files from Sean Kavanagh