Charlottetown lobbied for motion on Quebec's religious symbol prohibition
Charlottetown mayor says resolution will be voted on in March
Groups on P.E.I. are calling on Charlottetown council to pass a resolution to oppose Quebec's Bill 21, following a number of cities across the country.
Adopted in June 2019, Bill 21 prohibits the wearing of religious symbols such as hijabs, kippas, turbans and crosses by teachers and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority while at work.
Debate over the law was revived last December with news that a teacher in Chelsea, Que., had been reassigned because of her hijab.
Since then, a number of municipal governments including those in Halifax, Toronto and Winnipeg have passed motions in opposition to Bill 21 and some have made financial contributions to support the joint legal challenge to the bill being brought by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the World Sikh Organization and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
In January, BIPOC USHR sent a letter to Charlottetown city councillors and Mayor Philip Brown asking them to condemn the bill, and if possible to pledge funds to support the legal challenge.
"It really hinders the ability of Muslim women specifically to engage and to work in the ways that they want to work," said BIPOC USHR executive director Sobia Ali-Faisal.
"It really is about telling Muslim women how they can and cannot practise their own faith."
Religious freedoms in Canada as you know is a fundamental right that is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.— Zain Esseghaier
She said the bill discriminates against religious freedom, but items like a hijab are more than just a religious symbol. They provide spiritual connection, feelings of safety as well as a piece of clothing that serves a purpose.
"For a Muslim woman, the hijab is, really it's a combination of that spiritual component that comfort that comes with it, a spiritual comfort, that sense of identity that comes with it and also that it covers a part of a woman's body that she wants to keep to herself or just share with who she chooses to share it with," Ali-Faisal said.
Ali-Faisal said BIPOC USHR has sent its request to the City of Summerside as well.
'Opens the floodgates'
BIPOC USHR isn't the only group that wants to see the city condemn the legislation. Zain Esseghaier, who lives in Charlottetown and is a member of P.E.I.'s Muslim community, also sent a letter to the mayor of Charlottetown.
"Religious freedoms in Canada as you know is a fundamental right that is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," said Esseghaier.
"Basically, they passed a law that is oppressive, which opens the floodgates for other measures that governments can take to threaten and violate Canadians' fundamental rights."
Ali-Faisal said she's also worried about what Bill 21 could mean for the future. She said that's why it's important for the city and Islanders to stand with those opposed to the legislation to fight the discrimination it currently creates and prevent future discrimination.
"We don't want this legislation to be in place and we certainly don't want this to get even worse for Muslim women in Quebec," she said.
"At least the narrative around this will be Muslim woman should be allowed to practise their religion, to express their spirituality, to express their safety in whatever way they want."
Resolution to be presented March 14
Mayor Brown said last week the issue was raised at a meeting of the standing committee of strategic priorities and intergovernment co-operation, which unanimously passed a recommendation that a resolution to oppose Bill 21 be put to council.
He said council will vote on the resolution at its next regular meeting March 14.
"We're listening to individuals, to communities throughout a political period in office and we respond to it and hopefully it percolates up to the other levels of government," Brown said.
"As a community, as a municipal council we're listening to organizations and individual members of our community to get their input and their input has been clear — oppose Bill 21 in Quebec."
With files from Sheehan Desjardins and Brittany Spencer