The Law on Secularism of the State, or Bill 21, adopted on June 16, 2019 by the Quebec government, continues to be debated beyond Quebec’s borders. The city council of Brampton, Ontario, has decided to grant $100,000 to organizations challenging Bill 21. At the same time, the mayor of Brampton called on other major Canadian cities to follow suit and provide financial assistance to organizations challenging the law, which he considers discriminatory. The debate over the application of the law resurfaced recently when a teacher in Chelsea, Outaouais, was removed from her elementary school class for wearing a headscarf.
On behalf of the Green Party of Quebec, I applaud the courage of this decision. Where some political parties see interference, I see courage. We are 2 years into the adoption of Bill 21 and it continues to create debate and concern every time we see the consequences of its application on people who wear a religious symbol. We understand that the subject is far from being unanimous even here in Quebec. The question to be asked since the adoption of Bill 21 is whether we should continue to be bystanders to a law that breaks the protection and respect accorded to religious freedom and other fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights? Should we continue to turn a blind eye to a law that ruins the careers and lives of minority people? Should we remain silent about a law that says that a woman who chooses to wear a veil cannot hold any job because she wears a hijab? The Green Party of Quebec’s answer is no! That is why we agree with Brampton City Council’s call for Canadian municipalities to contribute financially to support organizations challenging Bill 21. Like the cities of Brampton and Toronto, we support Quebecers who feel that this law infringes on their rights and who have decided to go to court to defend their rights.
To hear members of the Bloc Québécois, the Parti Québécois and Premier Legault say that Canada should not provide legal aid through the Court Challenges Program against Bill 21 is quite contradictory because on the other hand this same program has often been used by Francophone minorities outside Quebec to challenge decisions made by provincial governments. This means that this program is valid for some challenges and not for others. The Court Challenges Program is an independent government program administered by the University of Ottawa that aims to provide “financial support to individuals and groups in Canada to bring cases of national significance related to certain constitutional and quasi-constitutional official languages and human rights rights before the courts.” This is a great opportunity for individuals and organizations to work for advocacy with means. If this program can be used to challenge the protection of our beloved French language, against genderqueer or non-binary gender expression and against the abuse of Aboriginal children in residential schools, it can also be used to challenge legislation that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, religion or race.
I got into politics with the Green Party of Quebec because I was tired of watching the lack of bold political action on the environment and social justice. What is certain is that a Green government will abolish this law. We will work harder to promote living together and we will make sure that every citizen of Quebec will feel at home regardless of his or her religion, gender or race.
Deputy Leader of the Parti Québec du Québe