'Dark day for Quebec': Religious symbols law draws criticism

The Coalition Avenir Québec's religious symbols law, Bill 21, passed late Sunday, much to the chagrin of some people in Gatineau.

Bill 21 bans some public sector workers from wearing religious symbols while on the job

Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, left, is congratulated by Quebec Premier François Legault after the passage of Bill 21 at Quebec's National Assembly on Sunday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec's controversial religious symbols law continues to draw criticism in Gatineau, with one activist calling the bill's passing over the weekend "a dark day for Quebec."

Bill 21 passed late Sunday with the Coalition Avenir Québec introducing several amendments, including provisions to ensure the law is being followed and to impose disciplinary measures if it is not.

The secularism law bars public school teachers, government lawyers, judges and police officers from wearing religious symbols while at work.

The legislation also includes rules that would require citizens receiving a public service to uncover their faces for identification or security purposes.

The new law is already facing a constitutional challenge.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a motion in Quebec Superior Court seeking an injunction, and want the law to be declared invalid. 

Linton Garner, Regional Association of West Quebecers

(Robyn Miller/CBC)

In Gatineau, the executive director of the Regional Association of West Quebecers said he woke up disappointed and worried about the application of the new law. He's particularly concerned about how the law could disproportionately target women of colour. 

This is not the environment that I've grown up in or that I've understood to be what is a just and fair society. When we start to target people because of their religious beliefs, I'm very uncomfortable with that and I hope that most Quebecers are uncomfortable with that as well.

I believe that reasonable people will think of this as an unjust law. and that reasonable people will find a way to convince the government that they need not go in this direction.

Fareed Khan, human rights and anti-racism activist

(Robyn Miller/CBC)

Fareed Khan, a human rights and anti-racism activist based in Gatineau, says the battle against the law will continue.

"It's a very dangerous step and it's a very dark day for Quebec," he said.

Khan says Quebec Premier François Legault has energized two groups of people with this move. 

He's energized one group who are the bigots and the racists who support this, but he's also energized the group of anti-racism activists and people who support human rights and support our charter rights to now go out and carry the fight forward.

This is not what secularism is. Secularism is the state basically saying we're not going to have an official state religion. What this bill does is it enshrines in law the ideology that atheism is the state religion and they're going to impose it on anybody who decides to display their faith and work in the public sector.

Suzanne Tremblay, president, Outaouais teachers' union


Suzanne Tremblay, president of the Syndicat de l'enseignement de l'Outaouais, said in French that she welcomes the grandfather clause included in the bill, which will allow teachers who already wear religious symbols at work to continue to do so.

These people were hired when this law did not exist. 

What we are denouncing from this law is those who will unfortunately no longer be able to work as teachers, who wear religious symbols and are not yet employed at a school board.

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin has come out in support of Bill 21, while the Western Québec School Board (WQSB) has come out strongly opposed.

Montreal's English public school board has already said it will not enforce the law.