Fatemeh Anvari, an elementary school teacher in Quebec, was removed from her classroom earlier this month for the “crime” of wearing a hijab at work. Bill 21 enacted into law by the provincial government of Quebec in 2019 bans those in positions of authority in the province’s public sector from wearing religious dress to work. Political leaders mainly from outside the province are vocal in criticising Bill 21 but are not prepared to act against the controversial law.
Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who hails from Quebec has not ruled out challenging Bill 21 but is afraid to initiate any steps for fear of being accused of Quebec bashing. He said he deeply disagreed with Bill 21, but it was in an area of provincial jurisdiction and was largely protected against challenges by the National Assembly.
Opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole has vowed not to take any action against the Bill while saying he was personally opposed to it. Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, has chosen to follow the path of O’Toole on the controversial law. Bill 21 was intended to prevent members of religious minorities from holding positions of authority in the province’s public sector. It is not the hijab that has been banned, but the people who wear them from holding such positions. Canada prides itself on its multiculturism, which treats every citizen equal under the law no matter where in the country he or she resides.
Quebec, one of the largest provinces in Canada, has shielded the discriminatory Bill 21 from most judicial scrutiny and the law was given Royal Assent. Premier Francois Legault of Quebec accuses critics of the law of undermining the province’s values.
The city council of Brampton in neighbouring Ontario Province has pledged $100,000 to finance any court case against Bill 21 which discriminates against minority Quebeckers and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Other municipalities have been requested to follow suit. When the Bill was first tabled in the Quebec Assembly, leaders of the three federal political parties in Canada ~ Liberal Party, Conservative Party and the NDP ~ remained silent to safeguard their vote banks in the province.
It clearly discriminates against minorities and runs counter to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Quebec School Board recruited Anvari based on her qualifications without checking her outward appearance. That was a mistake, the Board admits. There is a shortage of qualified teachers in Quebec and many people who have not completed their training have
In the past, school education was dominated by the Catholic Church which designed the provincial curriculum and priests and nuns in their habits taught children without any let or hindrance. Times have changed. Today, teachers are recruited to follow a religiously neutral curriculum designed by the State. There is no dress code for teachers. Justice Marc Andre Blanchard has described Bill 21 as “cruel and dehumanising those targeted.” In a free and democratic society, a person should not lose his or her job because of their religion.