Montreal

Protesters gather to oppose religious symbols ban, one year after Bill 21 became law

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 law on religious symbols.

Law bans wearing of religious symbols such as a hijab or kippah by public servants in positions of authority

A protester at a Montreal demonstration against Quebec's relgious neutrality law holds a sign that reads 'For religious neutrality, against discrimination.' (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

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:

A year after Quebec passed Bill 21, which forbid civil servants from displaying religious symbols, protesters voiced their disapproval, as issues of systemic racism gain global prominence. 2:02

|

"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.

'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.

Idil Issa is the vice president of Fondation parole de femme, a non-profit that aims to create inclusive spaces for racialized and Indigenous women.  (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC)

"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.

A woman attends a demonstration against Law 21 outside Quebec Premier Francois Legault's office in Montreal on Sunday, the one year anniversary of the controversial bill. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

With files from Jaela Bernstien

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now