Toronto·BRAMPTON

Brampton calls on cities across Canada to 'join the fight' against Quebec's Bill 21

The city of Brampton passed a motion Wednesday calling on cities across the country to help fund the legal battle against Bill 21 in Quebec, a week after a teacher in the province was reassigned because of her headscarf.

Local residents, organizations applaud action; Calgary's mayor to bring urgent motion in support

Brampton mayor Patrick Brown announced at a press conference on Wednesday morning that city council was introducing a motion calling on Canadian cities to donate to the legal fund fighting Bill 21 in the Quebec Court of Appeal. (CBC)

When Quebec enacted Bill 21 in March 2019, Razia Hamidi had an unfortunate decision to make.

She could continue living in the province that had just made it illegal for people like her to work in certain jobs deemed to be positions of authority in the public sector (like teaching, for example), or she could leave.

Hamidi chose to leave and a year and a half ago, resettled in Brampton, Ont. with her family.

"The climate it's created in Quebec was really something I didn't want to live through anymore, being a woman who is visibly Muslim and wears the headscarf," Hamidi said. "I feel like [Bill 21] legitimizes a lot of Islamophobia that exists in Quebec."

On Wednesday, Hamidi was happy to learn that Brampton mayor Patrick Brown had issued an appeal to 100 Canadian mayors to "join the fight" against Quebec's Bill 21.

As part of a motion carried in a special council meeting at Brampton city hall, Brown invited mayors and councils from across the country to donate to legal funds fighting Bill 21 in courts.

"Gone are the days when we can turn a blind eye to an injustice we see across municipal, provincial, and even federal boundaries," Brown wrote in a letter. "Quebecers of all faiths are our brothers and sisters. They need our help."

Razia Hamidi moved to Brampton, Ont. from Quebec shortly after the province passed Bill 21. (Submitted by Razia Hamidi)

Hamidi welcomed the mayor's motion, recalling participating in multiple Montreal organizations trying to create allyship and gather funding for the legal battle against the bill during her time in Quebec.

She says until now the burden for legal fees was on the backs of mosques, churches, synagogues, gurdwaras, and non-profit organizations like the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

By late Wednesday afternoon, the motion had already won the support of Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

In a tweet, Gondek said that she'd spoken to Brampton's mayor, agreed with his proposal and would bring an urgent motion to Calgary city council to "make a contribution for the legal challenge."

"We stand united in protecting racialized communities against discrimination," Gondek wrote.

Leaders will 'have to answer for which side of history they were on'

Bill 21 prohibits public workers in Quebec from wearing religious symbols, whether a headscarf, a turban, a kippah or a visible crucifix. The bill targets Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Christians, many of whom wear religious symbols as an expression of their identity.

How many of our fathers and brothers were told to cut their hair and remove their turbans to gain employment? How can we possibly turn the clock back now?- WSO senior vice president Sharanjeet Kaur

Hamidi says the bill "was a big factor in finally deciding to move back to Ontario with my family, not wanting to live in a province where the government is actively creating this tiered system of citizenship based on your religious identity and expression."

"I think a lot of local and municipal leaders, especially I hope our federal leaders, are going to have to answer for which side of history they were on in this period of Canada," Hamidi said, noting the bill has been in effect for two years.

Last week, a teacher in Chelsea, Que., Fatemeh Anvari, was reassigned from her job as a teacher to a position outside the classroom because she wore a headscarf.

Shortly after, Quebec's premier Francois Legault said the teacher shouldn't have been hired in the first place. That prompted backlash from communities across the country.

'Racism is expensive'

In a public letter issued Wednesday, Brown said, "A contribution from 100 municipalities across Canada is a small price to pay versus the repetitional harm that Canada will suffer and the future financial compensation that may come about if we allow this to stand."

"Racism is expensive, doing the right thing is a good investment," he added.

NCCM's executive director Mustafa Farooq, who has long been involved in the fight against Bill 21, said Brown's motion Wednesday was "nothing short of historic," and that he hopes it will prompt other cities to step up.

"I think anybody that believes in civil liberties and in the basic dignity of human beings should oppose [Bill 21]," he said. "There are many, many Quebecers who stand in opposition to this bill and will continue to stand in opposition until it's struck down."

Recently graduated B.Ed. student Amrit Kaur, centre, spoke during a news conference with members of the National Council of Canadian Muslims Mustafa Farooq, left, and Bochra Manai, right, in 2019, when plans were outlined to lawfully challenge the Quebec government's Bill 21. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

While Farooq spoke to city council at a special meeting on Wednesday, so did WSO senior vice president Sharanjeet Kaur, who noted that one of the organization's board members, Amrit Kaur, had to leave Quebec for British Columbia because she couldn't work as a teacher as someone who wore a turban.

"When our community first heard of this bill, our parents and our grandparents started to recall the trauma of what they faced when they first arrived in Canada," she told city council.

"How many of our fathers and brothers were told to cut their hair and remove their turbans to gain employment? How can we possibly turn the clock back now?"

At a special council meeting on Wednesday, Brown and city councillors unanimously passed the motion to support legal challenges against Bill 21 and provide a one-time contribution of $100,000 to joint legal challenges by NCCM, WSO, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Kaur, a resident of Brampton, commended the city for being the first municipality in Canada to pass a motion against Bill 21, first back in 2019, and then again on Wednesday.

"Choosing between our faith and employment are not choices we should have ever had to make."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ali Raza is a journalist at CBC News Toronto. Born and raised in Brampton, Ontario, Ali has worked in community newsrooms across the Greater Toronto Area covering politics, crime, breaking news, and more. Have a news tip? Send it over to ali.raza@cbc.ca

now