Montreal

Protesters in Quebec City say Bill 21 will 'create barriers for future generations'

Around 75 people gathered in front of Quebec's National Assembly on Tuesday to voice their ongoing opposition to Bill 21, the government's proposed ban on religious symbols in the civil service.

Sit-in at Quebec's National Assembly draws small crowd under rainy skies

Groups from Quebec City and Montreal took part in the sit-in in front of Quebec's National Assembly on June 11, 2019, to voice their opposition to Bill 21. (Julia Page/CBC)

Several dozen people stood in the pouring rain outside Quebec's National Assembly on Tuesday to tell the Coalition Avenir Québec that they will continue to fight against the party's proposed ban on religious symbols in the civil service, even if Bill 21 is passed at the end of this legislative session.

The sit-in was organized by several multi-faith and human rights groups from Quebec City and Montreal.

Under a dome of umbrellas, organizers and participants said the debate over the bill has polarized the province.

Zainab Joulaibi, with the Montreal-based Muslim non-profit Bel-Agir Association, said she doesn't believe the government should be limiting the career paths of young people.

Yassir Redouan, (left), Zainab Joulaibi, Asmae Falah and Khadija Ziyadi, with the Bel-Agir Association, travelled from Montreal to take part in the protest. (Julia Page/CBC)

Joulaibi said that by removing a teacher's right to wear a religious symbol, one of Bill 21's most controversial clauses, the CAQ was "imposing barriers" on youth.

"No matter the field of studies, we don't want to be limited, because we are full-blown Quebecers," said Joulaibi.

For Asmae Falah, also with Bel-Agir, the introduction of Bill 21 has "stigmatized a population that was already facing discrimination."

"We can't accept this," said Falah. 

Watch Asmae Falah and Ehab Lotayef explain why they're against Bill 21.

Here is what two people had to say as they protested Quebec's secularism bill outside the provincial legislature Tuesday. 0:54

Public hearings held 'for show'

Ehab Lotayef, of the Citizens' Rights Movement, said he is concerned Bill 21 could also set a precedent for future legislation at odds with the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Items of it are being struck down very easily by a government that has a simple majority — who knows what kind of xenophobic or racist government can come in place with a simple majority and strike down other points of the charter.''

The public hearings on Bill 21 were held "for the cameras and for the show only," Lotayef added, claiming the CAQ had "no open mind or intention to hear or to listen" to the recommendations made.

"The government didn't change its position an iota even after all it's heard — on the streets and inside the National Assembly," said Lotayef.

Ehab Lotayef, of the Citizens' Rights Movement, said the adoption of Bill 21 could set a dangerous precedent for Quebec law, because sections of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms are being struck down by the majority party. (Julia Page/CBC)

During the hearings, several religious groups criticized the CAQ for excluding them from the consultation process.

Of those invited to speak, only two represented religious groups: one Jewish, one Muslim. Two umbrella groups with inter-faith membership also took part in the hearings, out of a total of 36 speakers.

Hanadi Saad, who spoke at the hearings on behalf of of the group Justice Femme, co-organized Tuesday's sit-in.

She said that in February and March alone, 40 women who wear the hijab called the organization to report incidents of discrimination or violence, including being "spat on or pushed in the street."

"We have a government that is legitimatizing discrimination," Saad said, concerned women who want to report these kinds of events will no longer trust the justice system.

Final leg of session

Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who is sponsoring Bill 21, hopes to see it adopted before the legislature breaks for the summer, on Friday.

This means putting in extra hours to go through a clause-by-clause consideration phase of the legislative process.

The government has not ruled out invoking closure, which would allow the government to limit debate on the bill, or extend the legislative session to pass the bill.

Liberal MNA for D'Arcy-McGee, David Birnbaum, said his party intends to fight the bill "up to the very last second."

"We believe that the fullness of Quebec, its identity, its commitment to neutrality, is flouted by this law, not protected," said Birnbaum, who stepped outside the National Assembly to meet with protestors.

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