Montreal rally: End ban on wearing religious symbols

By Beverly Bernardo
October 21, 2019

MONTREAL — Some 300 protesters rallied here Sept. 28 despite a steady rain to demand that reactionary Law 21 be repealed. The Quebec law prohibits school teachers and many other public servants who toil in so-called positions of “authority” from wearing hijabs, yarmulkes, crosses or any other religious symbols. 

The government has already had to retreat in the face of widespread opposition to this attack on freedom to practice one’s religion. They added a “grandfather clause” that allows workers employed before the passage of the law to continue wearing religious symbols, but bars them from doing so if they change jobs. The law bans all newly hired workers from wearing them. 

A coalition of groups opposing the law announced Sept. 5 it is making 50,000 buttons that have the international stop symbol printed over “Loi 21.”  

Jennifer Alvez Nadeau, a teacher and activist in a group called The Right to Teach for All in Quebec, welcomed protesters. She introduced co-chair Bouchera Chelbi, a Muslim woman who teaches English as a second language. 

“We have examples of teachers who are very qualified, but they’re being denied jobs because they won’t give up their religious beliefs,” Chelbi said. “We have interns who are being denied internships by school boards and people who are being harassed in the streets of Montreal. We want people to know that this is happening because of Bill 21.” 

Among the rally speakers were Charles Taylor, a well-known philosophy professor emeritus at McGill University; Violaine Cousineau, a commissioner at the Montreal School Board; and a representative from the Quebec League of Rights and Freedom. 

The day before the rally the Coalition Inclusion Quebec became the fourth group to take the Quebec government to court to challenge the law. They argue that women are the main victims. 

“There is little doubt that the target of Law 21 is hijab-wearing women, and, as the numerous cases of female teachers losing their jobs or being refused a job suggest, the effect of the law is disproportionately felt by women,” the coalition writes. They join the English Montreal School Board, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in challenging Law 21. 

“The Communist League’s campaign calls for the repeal of Law 21, its sole aim is to divide working people,” Pierre-Luc Filion, Communist League candidate in Longueuil-St. Hubert, told more than 20 people at a campaign meeting after the protest. “Supporters of my campaign in the Oct. 21 federal elections, and of Steve Penner, the CL candidate in Papineau, will continue to build and join actions like the one today.”