Protesters gather to oppose religious symbols ban, one year after Bill 21 became law
Law bans wearing of religious symbols such as a hijab or kippah by public servants in positions of authority
Dozens of people gathered outside Quebec Premier François Legault's Montreal office on Sunday to stage a sit-in, in opposition to the province's ban on religious symbols that became law one year ago.
The most controversial section of the law, known as Bill 21, bans civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols such as a hijab or kippah.
Sunday's event was organized by Justice Femme, a group that has been critical of the law, calling it discriminatory against Muslim women who wear a hijab.
"It was very important to us … to show Premier Legault what these women are facing every day, and what this bill has opened the door for: all kinds of discrimination in our society," said Hanadi Saad, who helped organize the protest.
Saad said several Muslim women have been refused work at public and private daycares after saying they would not remove their hijab, even though Bill 21 does not ban daycare workers from wearing religious symbols — and private institutions are not covered at all.
WATCH | Protesters oppose Quebec's religious symbols ban on anniversary of Bill 21:
"Those women don't want to report this to authorities, because they don't trust the government that's legalizing discrimination," Saad said.
Several civil rights groups, a teachers' union, a multi-faith coalition and the English Montreal School Board are challenging the controversial law in court.
On Sunday, a spokesperson for Legault insisted that the secularism law is moderate and has succeeded in ending the debate over religious symbols.
People gather in Montreal to mark and protest the anniversary of the passing of “Bill 21,” the Quebec religious symbols law barring public school teachers, police, crown prosecutors, and others from wearing religious symbols — like hijabs or turbans — at work. <a href="https://t.co/aicAeamUbA">pic.twitter.com/aicAeamUbA</a>—@jbernstien
'Bill 21 is part of systemic discrimination'
Organizers say they felt it was important to speak out amid the ongoing international conversation about systemic racism.
Idil Issa is the vice-president of Fondation paroles de femmes, a non-profit that aims to create inclusive spaces for racialized and Indigenous women.
She says that now is an especially important time to mobilize against systemic racism.
"Bill 21 is part of systemic discrimination," Issa said. "It prevents people who are from religious minorities from attaining certain positions and jobs."
Last week, Legault said the province is working to tackle racism in general — though he has also said repeatedly that systemic racism is not an issue in Quebec.
But Issa says Bill 21 has created a two-tiered system.
"Some people have access to full rights, others experience legalized discrimination," she said.
With files from Jaela Bernstien