Manitoba

Winnipeg mayor vows to commit $20K to legal fight against Quebec's anti-religious-symbols bill

Winnipeg's mayor is committing $20,000 from discretionary funds to support the legal challenge against Quebec's Bill 21 — a law that prohibits civil service employees from wearing religious symbols at work.

Local Sikh activist commends Brian Bowman for 'putting words into action'

Simarpreet Singh says Winnipeg's mayor's $20,000 contribution to fighting Quebec's Bill 21 is 'putting words into action.' (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

A Winnipeg man who has repeatedly spoken out against Quebec's Bill 21 says Mayor Brian Bowman's financial commitment to fight the law is "putting words into action."

"We're fighting against a government that can virtually throw unlimited resources behind this legal challenge, whereas we have to fundraise on the backs of racialized minorities," said Simarpreet Singh, a volunteer with the Manitoba chapter of the World Sikh Organization. He has appeared in front of city councillors several times since the law was enacted in 2019 to gain support for the opposition.

"Because this is not a level playing field, it's great to see even $20,000 from a level of government that is standing up against Bill 21."

Winnipeg's mayor announced Tuesday he will donate $20,000 from his discretionary funds to the legal challenge against the bill —which prohibits public service employees from wearing religious symbols at work.

Community groups like the World Sikh Organization, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are leading the legal challenge against the bill.

"I'm proud to join cities across the country in challenging the legality of this regressive bill, and standing up for what is right," Bowman said in a news release Tuesday.

Original $100K goal changed due to budget restrictions

Last week, Winnipeg's city council unanimously voted to reiterate its support against the bill. The vote also included the premise that each councillor could decide for themselves if they wanted to financially support the legal challenge through their own discretionary funds.

While the original motion called for a $100,000 donation, the mayor said in early January he had a hard time finding that amount of money in the city's budget. The original motion was amended at executive policy committee to give councillors the option to donate however much they wanted.

Though the vote was unanimously in favour, some councillors spoke up about their decision not to commit tax dollars to the cause.

Two councillors, Markus Chambers (St.Norbert-Seine River) and Janice Lukes (Waverley West) said instead, they would privately donate their own money. Lukes told CBC on Tuesday she's making the private donation to the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the World Sikh Organization. 

Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) said he condemns Bill 21, but he has a hard time justifying sending money outside of the city.

"I won't be contributing to that effort while we deal with many violations of people's human rights in my ward, and the many different groups that demand to have funding from the councillor's office," said Eadie.

Mayor Brian Bowman is donating $20,000 from his discretionary funds to the legal challenge of Quebec's religious symbols law. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) made a statement in French at the meeting. In an email Tuesday, he said the bill is "a bad law," but a legal challenge would only serve to condemn the law, which is something he and other councillors have already publicly done.

Overall, Singh said he's happy councillors are starting to make financial contributions. He said he has friends who have moved out of Quebec because of the law.

"People are having to choose between their careers and their identity," said Singh.

"As someone who wears a turban, I can connect to my fellow Canadians who wear their articles of faith and that might be worried about this bill affecting them. That's why I am very passionate about fighting this bill and keep raising awareness as much as I can in Winnipeg."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a senior reporter for CBC News, based in Regina. She's a multimedia journalist who has also worked for CBC in Winnipeg and Sudbury. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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