Updated May 30
Subject: Opposing Quebec’s Bill 21
Dear Charlottetown City Councilors, Summerside City Councilors, and Mayors Brown and Stewart,
We, BIPOC USHR, write to ask that you support the condemnation of Quebec’s Bill 21. We ask that Charlottetown and Summerside city councils bring forward a motion to oppose Bill 21 just as many other cities across Canada, such as Halifax, Toronto, and Calgary, have, and if possible, to pledge funds to support the legal challenge against Bill 21.
In March 2019, the Quebec provincial government tabled Bill 21, which has since been made into law. This law bans public workers in position of “authority” from wearing “religious symbols,” when they are on duty and it impacts teachers, doctors, police officers, among many others. Bill 21 is currently being challenged in court. We have seen several municipal, provincial, and federal leaders across Canada denounce this law and many cities have currently placed their support behind challenging this law (See: Full List of Cities Supporting the Fight Against Bill 21).
Last month, Fatemeh Anvari, a Muslim elementary school teacher in Chelsea, Quebec, was removed from the classroom for wearing a hijab. For hijab-wearing Muslims the hijab is not a “religious symbol.” Rather it is a combination of religious faith and expression, and clothing. To demand that a hijab-wearing Muslim remove their hijab for work, would be the equivalent of asking non-Muslim women to remove their shirts to remain in the workplace. In both cases it is lewd, grotesque, and a disgusting violation of person’s bodily autonomy.
Religious freedom is a fundamental right that is protected by both the Canadian and Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To invoke the notwithstanding clause, as the Quebec government has done in order to pass this oppressive law, has opened up the possibility of other legal measures that could threaten and violate marginalized and minoritized Canadians’ fundamental rights.
However, this bill is not only an infringement on the right to religious freedom. It is also largely seen as an Islamophobic attack targeting Muslim women, specifically. Unfortunately, Quebec has a history of following in the footsteps of France in their legislating of Islamophobic and misogynistic policies against Muslim women. With a long history of Islamophobia and attempts over centuries to “de-veil” Muslim women, France has a very disturbing track record of misogynistic Islamophobia, often verging on, if not falling into, legalized sexual violence. We cannot tolerate such similar policies or mentalities in Canada.
In addition, it should be noted, that in their attempts to target and humiliate Muslim women, the Quebec government has also infringed on the rights of other religious groups as well, including Sikhs who wear the turban.
We believe that it is important for the Cities of Charlottetown and Summerside to stand up and join other cities who have stood up against this law. We hope you will introduce a motion in this regard in the next city council meeting.
Sobia Ali-Faisal, PhD
Facilitator (aka President)
BIPOC USHR Circle of Protection (aka Board)