Ottawa

Group seeking submissions from western Quebecers on Bill 21

If passed in its current form, Bill 21 would bar provincial civil servants including police officers, judges and public school teachers from wearing religious symbols while on the job.

Coalition Inclusion Quebec among 32 groups with standing at public hearings on proposed secularism law

Draped in a Quebec flag, Olfa Labassi addressed a crowd gathered in Gatineau on Sunday to protest Bill 21.

Organizers with a Montreal group opposed to the Quebec government's proposed secularism bill are calling for submissions from Outaouais residents as they prepare to appear at the provincial legislature for hearings later this month.

If passed in its current form, Bill 21 would bar provincial civil servants including police officers, judges and public school teachers from wearing religious symbols while on the job.

Coalition Inclusion Quebec (CIQ) is one of 32 groups with formal standing at public hearings on the bill, set to begin Tuesday at the National Assembly. The group is due to appear May 16.

Before that, CIQ plans to hold its own "parallel hearings" in Montreal on May 13, and lawyer Gregory Bordan said the group welcomes submissions from residents of western Quebec.

Some groups 'excluded'

Bordan said CIQ is taking the extra step because the government's "expedited" process is leaving residents of some regions feeling left out.

We'll do our best to be the voice of those people who will be excluded.- Gregory Bordan, Coalition Inclusion Quebec

"A lot of groups feel that they've been excluded," he said. "This is something that cannot be allowed to stand."

Bordan is urging western Quebecers to make written submissions to the group's Facebook page by May 10. The group will also accept telephone submissions.

"[None] or very few of those groups of the people most directly affected have been invited to talk, so we'll do our best to be the voice of those people who will be excluded," he said. 

Human chain

On Sunday, about 100 demonstrators with the group Droits Diversité Dialogue formed a human chain to protest Bill 21 in Gatineau. Speakers carried signs and chanted slogans such as "judge competence, not appearance."

Benoit Renaud, a candidate for Québec Solidaire in the last election, called Bill 21 a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Benoit Renaud, who ran as a candidate for Québec Solidaire in the last provincial election, says the law would cause more problems and social strife. 0:40

"In fact, we're expecting that if it's adopted, it's going to cause all kinds of problems," he said.

Speaking in French, Droits Diversité Dialogue's Olfa Labassi said the province was already secular, and Bill 21 would only separate the population into two classes. 

"We want the [Quebec Premier Francois] Legault government to step back and respect all citizens," she said.

Counter-protest

At a nearby intersection, about a dozen counter-protesters gathered with signs supporting Bill 21.

"Exercise your spirituality in private, not in public — voila," said Françoise Dumenil, summing up her views. "It's not to stop people from living their religion, but it's to respect the others and the country that welcomed them."

The government's timeline has drawn criticism from opposition parties, too, who believe pondering the most divisive issue of the last decade in Quebec politics deserves more time.

Legault has indicated he wants the bill passed by the summer, and has suggested he's willing to use his party's majority in the National Assembly to cut off debate and force a vote if necessary.

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