THE World Sikh Organization of Canada said on Monday it is deeply saddened by the passing of Bill 21 – An Act respecting the laicity of the State by the Coalition Avenir Quebec government banning the wearing of religious symbols. The bill was passed in a rare late-night vote on Sunday after the Government of Quebec invoked closure to prematurely end debate. The Government of Quebec has also invoked the notwithstanding clause, allowing it to override freedom of religion protections enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Closure was also used on Saturday to pass Bill 9, a controversial law throwing out 18,000 pending immigration applications to Quebec. Bill 9 includes the framework for a Quebec values test that would-be immigrants need to pass in order to become permanent residents.
Bill 21 restricts the wearing of ‘religious symbols’ by public servants in positions of authority such as police officers, judges, prosecutors and also school teachers and principals
In a last-minute amendment, the Quebec Government added that “inspectors” will supervise compliance with the secularism law and impose corrective measures – targeted employee can be subject to disciplinary measures for failing to comply.
Despite the amendment, according to experts, the bill’s vague definition of religious symbol as “clothing, symbol, jewelry, ornament, accessory or headgear that is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief and can reasonably be considered as referring to a religious affiliation” makes the bill difficult if not impossible to enforce.
There are approximately 15,000 Sikhs in Quebec who will be disproportionately impacted by the ban on religious clothing and symbols. Practicing Sikhs, both men and women, wear the Sikh articles of faith such as the turban at all times as part of their daily lives as reminders of the principles of equality, service and spirituality.
In May, three UN legal experts jointly sent a letter to the Canadian mission in Geneva which said that Bill 21 threatens freedoms protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
WSO President Mukhbir Singh said: “This is a very sad day for the people of Quebec and all of Canada. Quebec is the first jurisdiction in North America to impose a religious dress code. The message the CAQ Government has sent to the world this weekend is that Quebec has shut its doors to diversity and inclusion and that it will not adhere to basic international human rights norms. Stripping members of minority communities of their rights is a shocking move that will have long term repercussions for Quebec and Canada. Bill 21 was a solution to a problem that did not exist and pandered to the xenophobic tendencies of a section of the Quebec electorate.
“The WSO will work with community partners in Quebec to oppose this legislation with every means available to us. The fight against this secularism law will be a historic struggle that will have a permanent impact on human rights in Canada. We call on the people of Quebec to reject this discriminatory and divisive law.”