No Montreal exemption for secularism bill, minister says

Quebec's immigration minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, says he welcomes the City of Montreal's input on Bill 21, but added that "the will of the Quebec government remains firm" when it comes to its most controversial provisions.

CAQ government not budging after City of Montreal comes out against Bill 21

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said he welcomes Montreal's input on Bill 21, but added he will not change course on banning some state employees from wearing religious symbols. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The minister responsible for Quebec's proposed secularism law says there will be no exemption for Montreal, a day after city council unanimously denounced Bill 21.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said he welcomes the City of Montreal's input as hearings begin on the draft legislation, but added "the will of the Quebec government remains firm" when it comes to the central provisions. 

If passed, the bill would prevent government employees in positions of authority, including police officers, teachers, principals and Crown prosecutors, from wearing religious clothing such as turbans or hijabs while at work.

Jolin-Barrette said, on that point, the government would not budge.

"I think our bill brings Quebecers together," said Jolin-Barrette when asked if a Montreal exemption was warranted given the city is home to more religious minorities than elsewhere in the province.

He said the law will apply equally to all Quebecers.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and Opposition leader Lionel Perez said that minority rights must not be forgotten as the Quebec government moves forward with its secularism bill. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says she will reiterate the city's concerns to lawmakers in the National Assembly.

"There is time for improvement," she said on CBC Montreal's Homerun. "I am confident that the declaration yesterday did send a strong message."

Plante and Lionel Perez, interim leader of the opposition party Ensemble Montréal, said they were speaking with "one voice" against the secularism bill with their joint declaration.

But while some Montreal school boards have indicated they will not enforce the law, Plante said she does not intend to disobey Bill 21 should it pass in its current form.

"I'm going to go and fight and argue and bring all the good arguments, but no, I will not ask my police officers to go against the law," she said.

Montreal exemption lacking support in legislature

The idea of exempting Montreal from Bill 21 does not have the support of Quebec's opposition parties either — including those who are against the bill.

"We must think of all of Quebec" when passing laws, said Quebec Liberal Party MNA Hélène David, who represents the Montreal borough of LaSalle.

While Bill 21 would prevent people from receiving government services with their face covered — which was also included in the Liberals' own secularism legislation — the party is against forbidding state employees from wearing religious symbols.

Québec Solidaire secularism critic Sol Zanetti said the Coalition Avenir Québec government must listen to Montreal's concerns.

"This is where Bill 21 will have the biggest impact," he said. He added that his party's opposition to Bill 21 extends to its application across the province.

QS recently adopted a new position on secularism issues. While in favour of a secular state, the party is opposed to any restrictions on what individuals can wear at work.

Parti Québécois interim leader Pascal Bérubé, who has said Bill 21 does not go far enough, worried about the precedent that would be set by exempting Montreal from its purview.

"Will Montreal raise its hand each time and say the law does not apply here? No, laicity is for all of Quebec."


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