Trudeau says he will defend minority rights in face of Quebec religious-symbol law

Trudeau says he will defend minority rights in face of Quebec religious-symbol law

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added his voice Thursday to the growing opposition to Quebec’s new law prohibiting teachers, police officers and other public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Trudeau said he and his government will defend minority rights everywhere in Canada. “We do not feel that it is a government’s responsibility, or in a government’s interest, to legislate on what people should be wearing,” he said.

Commenting for the first time since the law was adopted Sunday, Trudeau did not specify what action his government would take to protect minority rights. Critics say the Quebec law unfairly targets Muslims, Sikhs and other religious minorities.

“We have a strong Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and we will certainly ensure that our views are well known and continue to defend Canadians’ rights,” he said.

A legal challenge of Bill 21 scheduled to be heard Thursday in a Montreal courtroom was pushed back to July 9 after Quebec government lawyers requested more time. The plaintiffs are seeking an immediate judicial stay on the sections of the law that restrict religious symbols at work and require that state services be given and received with the face uncovered.

Trudeau’s comments came as Quebec’s largest school board voted to delay application of the secularism law for at least a year to allow for consultations with parents, unions and other stakeholders on how to enforce it.

That move prompted a rebuke from the provincial government, which insists that the law takes effect immediately.

Premier Francois Legault told reporters in Quebec City on Thursday he is confident the school board will fall in line. “The law was adopted legitimately, and we will apply the law,” he said, noting that those who held their jobs before the bill was tabled are protected by a grandfather clause.

Opposition to the secularism law has grown since the Coalition Avenir Quebec government invoked closure to pass it.

before the end of the legislative session. On Wednesday, McGill University’s faculty of education issued a statement saying the law goes against the faculty’s inclusive values.

“Bill 21 suggests to a portion of our students that they are not welcome in public schools because of their religious cultural practices,” faculty dean Dilson E. Rassier wrote. ”McGill University’s faculty of education is a place that upholds fundamental academic freedoms and represents a richly diverse community. As such, we will continue to support our students in their pursuits to become the best teachers and educators they can be.”

In a motion passed Wednesday, the Commission scolaire de Montreal outlined plans for consultations with governing boards, parents’ committees, unions and various associations to determine what changes need to be made to board policies to respect the law.

Catherine Harel-Bourdon, the board chairwoman and an outspoken critic of the new law, told reporters Thursday it is clear the law will need to be applied, but the board is hoping the government understands the issues with application.

The board has 191 schools and nearly 17,000 employees and will need to train hundreds of managers to enforce the law and avoid having it applied unevenly in different schools, she said.

Shortly before Sunday’s vote, the government made amendments to the bill providing for inspectors to ensure the new law is applied and specifying that employees who flout the law risk disciplinary measures. The amendments led one Liberal critic to accuse the government of creating a “secularism police.”

The school board said the system puts a “tremendous burden” on managers who, according to the amendments, risk reprisals if they do not comply with the law adequately and consistently.

The English Montreal School Board voted not to implement the planned restrictions on religious symbols before the bill was even tabled, and a spokesman said Thursday the issue will likely come up for further discussion at a meeting next week.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

Quebec secularism bill

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Only 13 new COVID-19 cases confirmed by Alberta gov’t Saturday

There’s currently only two active cases in province’s central zone

Food Truck Fridays to start new Drive and Dash events next week

Events will be held in Westerner Park parking lot Thursday evenings, Friday afternoons all June

Alberta gov’t to expand mental health supports

The Government of Alberta says a $21.6-million investment will expand online resources… Continue reading

City of Red Deer encouraged residents to participate in Food Bank Ninja Challenge

The City of Red Deer is encouraging residents to participate in a… Continue reading

READER VIDEO: American White Pelicans spotted in Red Deer River

A Red Deer Advocate reader spotted a group of American White Pelicans… Continue reading

Protesters rally in Toronto against anti-black, Indigenous racism

TORONTO — Thousands of people are taking part in a rally on… Continue reading

Another COVID-19 case reported in northern New Brunswick on Saturday

CAMPBELLTON, N.B. — People from a city in northern New Brunswick lined… Continue reading

B.C. sees second day in a row with no COVID-19 deaths as schools ready to reopen

VICTORIA — British Columbia announced no new deaths from COVID-19 for the… Continue reading

UN sets pandemic voting rules for Canada’s Security Council campaign

OTTAWA — The United Nations has confirmed that the election for non-permanent… Continue reading

Police watchdog investigating death of Richmond man

RICHMOND, B.C. — British Columbia’s police watchdog has been called in to… Continue reading

COVID-19 cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a B.C. mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Tooting the importance of whistling

OK, so someone who tattles on another person is a whistleblower, and… Continue reading

Police see increase in speedy drivers on quieter streets during pandemic

Police across the country say they’ve been dealing with more complaints about loud, fast vehicles

Most Read