Justin Trudeau Is Suffering From Quebec Religious Wear Law | Financial Times
On the day that ended in June, Amrit Kauri came into force in the French-speaking province of Quebec, Canada, with Bill 21, a law that prohibits some government officials from wearing a religious symbol.
Refusing to remove the daily wearable turban, a Sikh graduate teacher immediately became unemployed in his home province. Since then, he has moved 4,500 km west of the Anglophone to Surrey, British Columbia.
"If federal politicians really don't want to see racist Canada, do something about Bill 21," said Kaur, who also works for the Canadian World Sikh Organization.
Ms Kaur's reaction underscores the depth of the bill passed by the right-wing Quebec government of Premier François Legault in Canada's stubbornly federal election campaign.
The controversy has forced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other progressive politicians to go into the subtlety of defending minority rights and attracting Quebec voters, whose votes account for just under a quarter of all Ottawa parliamentary seats.
In a late-night television briefing Monday, most national party leaders denounced the Quebec bill, but no one explicitly allowed it to be challenged in court. The closest, however, was Mr Trudeau, whose liberal mandate has been hit by the publication of black pictures of him.
Proponents of Bill 21 say it is necessary to ensure the separation of religion and state. "Secularism is not contrary to religious freedom," Mr Legault said when the legislation was enacted. “Everyone can practice their chosen religion. But we have to set rules, and we do. "
The law, which mirrors French law, receives tremendous support in Quebec, a province of Francophones that has decided to preserve its language and culture. The law has been described by the Quebec government as a natural continuation of the "quiet revolution" of the 1960s, during which Quebecers, under the control of the Catholic Church, rebelled in the political and social life in the province.
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"Quebec has a different culture and different ways of seeing individual rights," said Guy Lachapelle, professor of political science at Concordia University, who supported the 21st draft. "We've recently removed everything religiously, piece by piece. 40 years and that's the last."
This latest law is rooted in the disputed code of conduct of 2007, adopted by the village of Hérouxville (about 1,300 inhabitants), which prohibited face-wearing clothing and told immigrants, among other things, not to stonewash women or burn them alive. During the fall, a public commission investigated the rationalization of religious and cultural minorities and recommended that judges, police, and prison guards prohibit the wearing of religious badges. With Bill 21, the Legault government expanded this list of jobs to include teachers.
But the new law has confused and frustrated much of the rest of the country. Last week, Alberta's Calgary City Council endorsed a proposal condemning legislation. Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, Canada's first Muslim metropolitan area, called it "scary" and "grossly unconstitutional." So far, one case has been filed jointly by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian National Council for Muslims, and a student at the University of Quebec wearing a hijab.
"This law means second-class citizenship as a state policy," said Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the National Council of Muslims in Canada, who views it as "one of the greatest civil liberties of our generation."
With his pledge to look into the issue in this week's debate, Mr Trudeau can hope that support from ethnically diverse areas around Toronto will cement his victory, said Nanos Research interviewer Nik Nanos.
"During this week's debate, I heard Justin Trudeau thinks that by winning Ontario he can win the election and wants to use Bill 21 as their wedge," Mr Nanos said.
Robert Leckey, legal dean at McGill University in Montreal, said it would be significantly symbolic if Ottawa were to intervene. "When someone claims that provincial law goes beyond the federal lawn's boundaries and promises, it's always more convincing if the federal government cares."