Quebec's largest school board condemns religious symbols ban

Vice-chair Marie-José Mastromonaco said the board opposes teachers being held to the same standard as judges and police officers, and it wants them removed from the bill.

CSDM hopes government will be open to compromise during consultations, which start next week

Quebec's largest French-language school board wants the government to remove teachers from its religious symbols ban. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec's largest school board has come out against the province's plan to ban teachers from wearing religious symbols in the classroom, saying it runs contrary to the school board's mission and would be difficult to enforce.

The Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) outlined its position in a detailed, 24-page brief that will be presented at next month's hearings on Bill 21.

The CSDM, however, stopped short of saying it won't comply with the rules if the law is passed unchanged.

Vice-chair Marie-José Mastromonaco said the board is against teachers being held to the same standard as judges and police officers, and wants teachers to be removed from the bill.

Bouchera Chelbi, who wears a hijab, has been teaching in Montreal for a decade. Bill 21 would ban teachers from wearing religious symbols. (Submitted by Bouchera Chelbi)

"People are allowed to wear religious signs and teach. It doesn't take anything away from the profession," she told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

She said the board is hopeful the government will be open to compromise and "adopt a law that is fair and just for everyone."

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Mastromonaco said the fact that the CAQ plans to abolish school boards has no bearing on how loudly the CSDM will voice its opposition to the religious symbols ban.

The CAQ's proposed law would prohibit public workers in positions of authority from wearing a religious symbol such as a hijab or kippa — including teachers.

A grandfather clause in the bill would exempt teachers already working in the classroom.

In the brief, the board outlined reasons it believes the provisions relating to the prohibition to wear a religious sign are undesirable and moreover, would prove impossible to manage.

Resorting to civil disobedience?

Violaine Cousineau, an independent commissioner with the CSDM, went further than the rest of the commissioners, calling for civil disobedience to protest against the proposed law.

The government should provide evidence of the threat posed by the wearing of religious symbols by teachers, she said Wednesday on Radio-Canada's Gravel le matin.

"What studies is the government relying on to say that teachers are more at risk of proselytizing with our children?"

Mastromonaco said the board hasn't made a decision on whether it will resort to civil disobedience, but the door hasn't been closed on "seeing what else we can do once the law is adopted."

The English Montreal School Board, by contrast, has said outright it will not comply with the law, if passed.

The EMSB adopted a resolution in March stating "its strong opposition to any legislation that prohibits or restricts its employees from wearing religious symbols."

Hearings on Bill 21 are scheduled to begin May 7.