Montreal

School board says it erred in hiring Chelsea, Que., teacher removed from duties because of Bill 21

The interim chair for the Western Quebec School Board says the school board made a mistake in hiring Fatemeh Anvari, the Chelsea, Que., elementary school teacher who had to be removed from her position under Quebec's secularism law because she wears a hijab. 

Board did not know teacher wore hijab when it hired her

Grade 3 students Zoe Meldrum, 9, left, and Lola Jo Advokaat, 8, right, participate in a rally against Quebec’s Bill 21, in Chelsea, Que., on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The interim chair for the Western Québec School Board says the school board made a mistake in hiring Fatemeh Anvari, the Chelsea, Que., elementary school teacher who had to be removed from her position under Quebec's secularism law because she wears a hijab. 

Wayne Daly said in an interview Tuesday that his school board was not aware Anvari taught with the hijab and somehow made a mistake in hiring her. 

Daly said the school board is against Quebec's secularism law — also known as Bill 21 — but says the board wasn't trying to make a statement. It simply did not know Anvari wore a hijab. 

"From what I see of it, we did make a mistake in hiring the teacher. But the bigger question is, did the premier make a mistake in making this law that's keeping a perfectly good teacher out of the class?" Daly said in an interview on CBC Montreal's Radio Noon

Daly said the discussion the situation provoked is important, but that he sees no real benefit to it since Anvari's class and the children's parents are unhappy about losing such a good teacher. 

"It's unfortunate for everybody that this situation arose, but the law requires us to correct it," he said. "What about all the people who have been refused to be hired because of this bill? Nobody's keeping track of those numbers."

Anvari was moved to administrative tasks within the school board instead.

What about all the people who have been refused to be hired because of this bill? Nobody's keeping track of those numbers.- Wayne Daly, interim chair of the Western Québec School Board

Speaking to reporters last Friday, Premier François Legault said Anvari's school board should not have hired her in the first place given Bill 21, which he emphasized was passed democratically in the National Assembly in June 2019. 

"I think it's a reasonable law, a balanced law," he said. "Quebec has made the choice of secularism and I think it must be respected."

'Like saying you can't wear shoes to school'

Anvari's case provoked outrage from local parents and students as well as opponents of the law across the province and country. It also prompted federal politicians to speak up against law, despite having shied away from taking a stance in the past.

The law, known as Bill 21, was passed in June 2019 and prohibits some public servants, including teachers and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

On Tuesday, parents and students in Chelsea staged a protest against Bill 21 and Anvari's removal as a teacher. 

Etta Dyer, left, and Vivian Osbourne, right, who each attend Anvari's school, were among several students attending Tuesday's rally. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Parent Amy Petkethly, who helped organize the rally, said she was not surprised by the national attention Anvari's story has received in recent days. 

"When [Bill 21] came in, the rest of Canada, a lot of Quebecers were frustrated and were against the law," she said.

"But we went on with our lives and, you know, you're busy and you take care of your family. But now there's a face to the issue." 

A young student who attended the protest, Etta Dyer, said she wanted to show her support because the law "is like saying you can't wear shoes to school."

With files from CBC Montreal's Radio Noon, Guy Quenneville, Kimberley Molina and Sabrina Jonas

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