The Bill 21 debate

Quebec’s secularism law ( Bill 21) was introduced by the Coalition Avenir Québec, the ruling party in Quebec. In short, this law prevents state workers that are in a position of authority from wearing religious symbols at work. To pass this law, the government had to use the notwithstanding clause on section 2a of the Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms. Thus, the government omitted the part of the charter that mentioned the freedom of religion of every Canadian.

This law has sparked a real controversy both in Quebec and the rest of Canada. At the national assembly, this law was strongly supported by the Parti Québécois, while Quebec Solidaire and the Liberal Party of Quebec strongly denounced it. We remember that the Parti Québécois tried to pass a similar law in 2012 with its own charter of secularism, so it is not surprising that this political party is in favor of such a law. Many protests have taken place to demonstrate the dissatisfaction of some people with the establishment of a law that omits religious freedoms of individuals. In Montreal, Mayor Valérie Plante expressed her opposition to this law and her concerns about the impact that a law of this kind could have on minorities. The EMSB School Board filed a lawsuit on the provincial government for gender discrimination, as it appears to be disproportionately targeting veiled Muslim women. This law cannot be challenged on the fact that it violates the religious freedoms of Canadians (as noted above, the government made use of the notwithstanding clause on Article 2a) but it can be disputed however on the point of this law promoting a gender bias.

In Quebec, it’s more than 66% of the population that is in favour of banning religious signs for state workers. This feeling is not only present in the the province of Quebec. Even though the cities of Calgary and Toronto voted a motion to reject Bill 21, a Léger Poll revealed that 34% of Albertans et 42% of Ontarians are in favour of this ban.

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