Whereas all people who wear religious symbols, including turbans, hijabs, kippahs, crucifixes and other articles of clothing that represent expressions of their faith, are welcome to serve the Ontario public; and
Whereas discrimination based on religion is prohibited by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and
Whereas Quebec passed legislation, Bill 21, that prohibits the wearing of religious symbols and violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and
Whereas national civil rights groups including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, B’nai Brith Canada, the World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs have all opposed Bill 21; and
Whereas municipalities across Ontario including Mississauga, Brampton, the Peel regional council and Toronto have already passed motions condemning the legislation;
Therefore the Legislative Assembly calls on the government of Ontario to communicate its opposition to Bill 21 by formally requesting the Quebec government immediately repeal Bill 21 and by intervening in any Supreme Court challenge of Bill 21 that may be heard by the courts.
It’s addressed to the Premier, Speaker.
I want to start by thanking once again the kind folks who attended a press conference this morning as we made public the intention to debate this motion this afternoon. With me in the press gallery media studio were Omar Khamissa from the National Council of Canadian Muslims; Dr. Jaspreet Kaur, Ontario director of the World Sikh Organization of Canada; and Rabbi Julia Appel, secretary of the Toronto Board of Rabbis. They were all with me as I gave my remarks. We also were joined by Sanaa Ali-Mohammed from the board of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. I really did want to thank them once more for being there this morning, because we have a serious motion on the floor today, one that I’m hoping will be approved by all sitting members of this Legislature.
I have to say that some of the folks who joined us this morning at the press conference are also here with us in the legislative chamber today, and I appreciate that. I want to thank all of them, and everybody else in Ontario who works hard—people have worked for decades here in this province on protecting the human rights and charter rights of Ontarians—as I said, for many, many years. It’s extremely important work, and it’s unfortunate that it is work that continues to need to be done in our province.
Something different is happening in Quebec than what’s happening here in Ontario. Quebec’s ban on religious symbols, Bill 21, is, frankly, bad legislation. It’s discriminatory and it undermines religious and cultural freedoms in Canada.
I believe that we in Ontario have to continue to stand up and speak out as Canadians against any form of discrimination, prejudice, racism and intolerance. Silence is never an option. Silence on these kinds of things allows them to continue. Unless we commit to standing up against these kinds of activities and these kinds of prejudices, we will continue to experience them in our province. So, silence isn’t an option.
Our vision for Ontario is a province where all people’s talents and abilities are recognized, are welcomed, are celebrated regardless of where people were born, what they believe in, and how or if they worship.
We believe in a Canada where every child can grow up knowing that they can pursue their ambitions and achieve their dreams, free from fear and discrimination, in a country where their rights and freedoms will always, always be protected.
I believe we must send a clear and direct message that this legislation was wrong—and it is wrong—and that it really has no place whatsoever in our democracy. If this bill and its undermining of human rights and religious freedoms goes unchecked, it sets a dangerous precedent that puts the rights and freedoms of Ontarians and all Canadians at risk, which is why we’re debating this motion this afternoon. No one should have to choose between their faith and their career. We all need to work together to fight Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia wherever it happens and whenever and wherever we see it.
Affirming that Ontario values diversity and will protect the rights of people within this province, as the motion introduced by the member for Don Valley East did, is a good thing. It’s obviously a good thing. But it falls far short of what is ultimately needed. I believe we must have the courage to go further. That’s why I’m calling on the Premier to uphold the values of our province in his words and in his actions. His continued silence on this issue is indefensible. Now is the time to show leadership. Our words and our actions must reflect the values that unite us as Canadians. Let’s decide together to be a part of the solution, not a part of the silence.
I understand that there was a ministerial statement but a few moments ago that speaks to some of these issues, and I would only hope that as we go through this debate this afternoon we hear members of this Legislative Assembly not only support the motion but then turn to their Premier and ensure that the sentiment is not only one that is spoken about but the action is actually taken. There will be opportunities very shortly for the Premier to have this discussion, I believe, with the Premier of the province of Quebec. If the members of this assembly pass this motion asking the Premier to act, I would hope that they would see to it, particularly on the government side, that that action does take place.
The motion, in a nutshell, explicitly and unequivocally condemns the passage of the legislation in Quebec, Bill 21. It formally requests that the Premier of Quebec immediately repeal this discriminatory law. And it commits to intervene on behalf of Ontarians if this goes to the Supreme Court. Again, it’s not just about words and sentiment. It is about action. It is about true leadership. These things are definitely difficult issues—easy to talk about, but I think some find it hard to stand up and call out these kinds of discriminatory pieces of legislation and other acts of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism. These things plague our province, and they have for many years. Unfortunately, our current body that was supposed to be proactively dealing with some of these things in our province has been watered down by the current government. That’s the Anti-Racism Directorate. Not to say that the Liberals had done a great job in making sure that organization was able to fulfill its mandate, but nonetheless, watering it down was a step backwards.
Today, I think we have an opportunity to move forward. So I urge all members to stand in support of this motion, and if that happens, of course I urge the Premier also to act on the will of this House. This is an important opportunity to stand up for the rights and freedoms of our neighbours in Quebec and to speak out on behalf of all Ontarians and, frankly, Speaker, Canadians.
Thank you for your kind attention. I appreciate it, and I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.
Mr. Speaker, my family’s story is a reflection of an open and welcoming nation. My mother and father immigrated to this country in the late 1970s. My mother worked hard—three jobs, two jobs at a time, lifting boxes in a factory. My father drove a taxi and worked two jobs on the weekends just to give us enough to get by and his family a chance to achieve their dreams. Never was faith an obstacle in his success or my success. This is what makes Canada the greatest country in the world.
Mr. Speaker, each day this story is being written and rewritten in communities across Canada. We are fortunate to live in a country that affords people of all walks of life the opportunity to succeed, and my standing here in the House is a testament to that truth. Our country and province have afforded me opportunities right here that would only have been a dream anywhere else in the world. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I’m the first turban-wearing member of Ontario’s cabinet in Ontario’s history.
I think about the kids in my riding who look like me, who grew up like I did and who wear turbans just like I do. I have had the opportunity to talk to a countless number of youth in Brampton who have similar aspirations, goals and dreams, and I’m humbled that they look up to me as a source of inspiration. But the sad reality is that I would not have had the same opportunity to serve my country as an elected representative, teacher, police officer or public servant if laws prohibiting my right to religious expression existed here in the province of Ontario.
Our friends in Quebec have built a strong, distinct, enduring society within the framework of Canada. It is one built on a shared history, a common language and a unique culture. But our deepest-held values as Canadians are the ones that should be shared from coast to coast to coast across this great land. These are values that transcend provincial borders. They apply to new Canadians as much as they do to those who trace their heritage to before Confederation, and we must continue to draw on these shared values—freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law—because that is who we are.
We are fortunate to live in a nation that values these ideals, but freedom of religion is not simply a Canadian or Western value; it is a fundamental human right, and the free expression of this right is a hallmark of who we are as Canadians. The reality is that these values will always be stronger than anything that divides us.
One of the most wonderful things about our province and our country is that it is incredibly diverse. Here in Canada, we don’t tolerate differences; we celebrate them. We recognize and celebrate that our diversity is one of the greatest sources of our strength, that no matter the colour of your skin, which part of the world you came from or what language you speak, whether you attend mosque on a Friday, synagogue on a Saturday or church on a Sunday, every distinct element of who we are as a people comes together to form the mosaic of Canada. Religion and religious expression are not a source of conflict, but rather a point of unity in our country. In the times of tragedy and crisis, we see people of all faiths and walks of life uniting in sorrow, coming together to offer comfort to the hurt and grieving.
I will never forget the images and stories of the people united following the tragic events of January 29, where 17 innocent worshippers had their lives stolen and a community was robbed of its peace. The violence that took place that day wasn’t a reflection of Canada or who we are as a people. The days that followed showed us who we truly are. Faith communities joined together in remarkable expressions of love and care, drawing strength from each other’s beliefs, being inspired by acts of kindness to others.
Mr. Speaker, for many Canadians, religion is a central facet of their life. The very reason its free expression is guaranteed for all Canadians and is protected as a human right across the world is because it relates to the deepest and most personal essence of who we are as a people. No Canadian should be denied the right of full participation in our society on account of their beliefs. No Canadian should be asked to hide, turn off or change a central part of who they are in order to enjoy the full rights of their citizenship—which itself is a contradiction in terms.
Instead, Mr. Speaker, we must continue to draw on our shared values in defence of religious expression in Canada. We must not lose sight of the fact that a threat to freedom anywhere in Canada is a threat to freedom everywhere in Canada. We must keep faith with the principles and traditions that set us apart from the rest of the world. We don’t build a more tolerant and pluralistic society by removing or denying the elements of ourselves that distinguish us. We do so in maintaining those distinctions within a framework of equality and respect for all people.
Mr. Speaker, it was an honour to speak in support of this motion, and I encourage all members to do the same.
When we talk about discrimination, we’re looking at the tools that are being used to ensure that some people succeed and others don’t. That’s the reason why this motion is so powerful, because what is being made very clear today is that Bill 21 in Quebec is an attempt to use law—which is the tool—to discriminate and to make sure that certain people who practise certain faiths are no longer allowed to represent the broader public. That is discrimination. That does not have the same kind of explanation as a desire for diverse populations to join hands and come together when discriminatory policies have allowed a route for hate to take place.
With that as the backdrop, I want to stand today and acknowledge some other communities that have also come together to speak out and speak up against the discriminatory use of the law to stop religious expression within this public service.
I am so proud of Kitchener Centre and the Kitchener city council, who, on August 26, also tabled a motion to denounce Bill 21. Ms. Fauzia Mazhar, Ms. Ghazala Fauzia and Ms. Meena Waseem were in attendance on August 26, 2019, at the city council meeting for Kitchener to speak in support of the motion. That motion was tabled by Councillor Margaret Johnston, it was seconded by Councillor Deb Chapman, and it was passed unanimously. What’s important, though, again, is to not fall into the trap of thinking that what we’re talking about is a diverse community coming together. No, what we’re talking about is putting language forward that will not allow this to happen again:
“Whereas hate crimes against religious minorities are growing in Canada; and,
“Whereas the city of Kitchener fully supports every citizen’s right to choose what they wear and condemns the province of Quebec’s legislation to limit that choice; and,
“Whereas the city values religious freedom for Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of all faiths, and acknowledges the harm the province of Quebec’s Bill 21 can inflict on those who sincerely seek to follow the practices of their faith and dictates of their conscience....”
That was the resolution that was tabled. That language, just like the opposition motion that we are debating today, Mr. Speaker, talks about the impact of using the law to actually discriminate—again, very different from talking about diversity and talking about people who have been able to succeed in spite of laws, practices and norms that would not see people like me and like the member before me being able to do the job that we’re doing today. That motion was passed and was also followed by Waterloo city council. Wilmot township also joined in this call to denounce Bill 21, and again, the language is very specific.
I just want to end by saying one very simple thing: When you legislate hate, you get what you paid for. When you legislate hate, you get exactly what you paid for.
I’m going to quote my good friend Fauzia Mazhar in a CBC article following the passing of the Kitchener city council’s motion, “When there is legislated hate and discrimination, people who have even a little bit of a tendency to hate or discriminate against people who are different ... are emboldened.”
I think it’s really important for us to think about that because everybody can stand up today and say they support this motion with their words, but the real question is, will they make sure the Premier is held to account, that the Premier makes a phone call and that the Premier says, “It is not okay for you to do this. I don’t agree”? That’s what we like to call “gathering your people.” You gather your people. When the people around you do things that are problematic and you have their ear, you stand up and speak out, you gather them and you surround them with the love they need so that they know to do better.
What I hope is that, today, we see everybody in this House gather their people and support this motion, not in words but in action.
I understand that the word “religion” comes from the Latin word “religare,” which means “to tie or to bind” someone to their community. Not always, but perhaps most often, our religion, like the place that we are born and the family we are born into, is given to us.
I read an essay recently that persuasively argued that it is the commitments that choose us—my family, my country, my God—and not the ones that we choose, that give us the strength to be free.
I get to lead only one life, not many lives, so far as I know, which is one reason why my freedom is so precious to me, as yours is to you. It is how I honour what has been given to me, the one course in life that is mine to run.
Freedom understood as a capacity for significant or meaningful action thrives amid these binding loves and commitments, much more than in a universe of limitless options.
As the example of Thomas More teaches, it is what we love and will not betray that liberates us.
Because religion is often given to us and is usually in many ways intertwined with our family and community, it is deeply integrated into who we are, our self-definition, our relationships, our sense of meaning and place and our web of obligations. It is part of the context in which our life is embedded. Anything that challenges someone’s religion, in a sense, challenges that context, challenges their family and their community. This is why it seems even harsher to use a law that requires someone to separate themselves from those obligations in any way.
These fundamental freedoms of religion, conscience and expression are not the gifts of a state. They are part of our fundamental liberty as autonomous human beings, and the state cannot unjustly limit such freedoms. These are activities which are the basic forms of human liberty. These freedoms are integral to our understanding of human dignity and personhood, what we do and what we become, self-expression, self-actualization and personal responsibility.
Canadians have both the freedom from conformity to religious dogma as well as the freedom to manifest their own religious beliefs. In Canada, religious belief cannot be preferred by governments over non-belief, and non-belief, likewise, cannot be preferred over belief. All individuals should be treated equally by the state and particularly before the law, regardless of religious belief or affiliation or any non-belief. This means there is a fundamental equality of believers and non-believers. All possess the same rights and cannot be favoured or discriminated against, and this requires sometimes significant forbearance by political authorities. By virtue of these freedoms, the state is precluded from the kind of dominance that many states have exercised historically and, unfortunately, some still do. Given our peaceful recent history, we may forget how important it is that the state does not try to make people renounce their beliefs. But we do not have to look too hard to remind ourselves of the horrible nature of such state actions.
Canadians have the freedom to manifest their non-belief or, more often, their belief and to observe the tenets of their religion. As the great Canadian jurist and then-Chief Justice Dickson wrote in the Videoflicks case, “The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.” All forms of coercion, direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional, foreseeable or unforeseeable, are prohibited under section 2(a), according to the Supreme Court decision in Edwards Books.
Whether you have a religion, practise a religion, or you do not, protecting freedom of religion is an important part of ensuring that all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their beliefs or practice. Your religion and your conscience are part of you. The state should not intrude in that domain, because it cannot do so without doing violence to your core identity.
These rights and freedoms are considered essential to the functioning of a democracy. It is almost impossible to imagine how a democracy could function without these most basic rights and freedoms. And yet in Canada, they are sometimes under attack, even here. As a result of Bill 21, only some people—those whose religion or conscience requires them to dress in a certain way and with a certain garment or symbol which is religious—will have to choose between what they believe and the garment or symbol that goes with that, or a public sector job. In our culture, what we choose to wear is widely understood as a means of self-expression, of saying who we are. As the Canadian institute for Jewish affairs, or CIJA, in Quebec pointed out in its arguments against Bill 21, the secularism of the state does not rest on the appearance of any of its workers, and if it did, the state must be neutral as to how its workers dress or risk favouring non-belief, or non-demonstrative belief, over some faith that prescribes certain attire. CIJA Quebec also pointed out that there are no examples in Canada of this even being a problem.
In any event, it’s a principle of legal interpretation that if there are any infringements on any rights, which sometimes happens when rights collide or conflict, the infringement should only happen if it is necessary, and any infringement should be as minimally intrusive as possible. In this case, the infringement by the law does not appear to result from any conflict with another right, and it’s not necessary and not minimally intrusive.
Dr. Andrew Bennett, director of Cardus, pointed out on the passage of Bill 21 into law: “A state that closes off the public square to citizens who choose to openly express their religious faith is not neutral; it asserts a secular ideology with secularist principles. A genuinely neutral state facilitates open expression of both religious and non-religious belief in the public square insomuch as such expression is respectful of others and of the legitimate rule of law.”
Religious freedom is not just about protecting what’s in your head; it protects the practice of that religion through observance, action and even dress, both inside and outside a place of worship.
Many diverse groups and communities are concerned that Bill 21 will suggest that religious discrimination is sanctioned by the state, which may lead to further instances of hate speech, discrimination or aggression. I’m not going to dwell on the serious consequences of such a rise in hate speech, discrimination or aggression, or on the importance of doing everything we can to prevent such a rise, because I think we’ve all, unfortunately, lived through many samples of such incidents and the horrific consequences for those targeted and generally for our sense of collective safety and security.
Several years ago, my daughter took a course called World Religions. Learning about the religion of another community is a way to promote understanding and tolerance. A religious garment or symbol can be an invitation to dialogue about our shared or different beliefs and practices. As long as the dialogue is respectful, I believe society is strengthened by educating ourselves about others and our differences. Indeed, I would say that in doing so we often find that despite outward differences, there are a lot of commonalities.
A few years ago I read Not in God’s Name, a book written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, which argues that very point and illustrates this by outlining the common foundational stories of Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions. I believe that the very nature of human understanding is limited, that we must have not only humility but also reverence in the face of the great unknowns that lie before us and that we will never completely understand.
That is why we need to act with caution and care, particularly where dignity and respect for other human beings are implicated. Our fundamental freedoms are meant to protect the dignity of each citizen in their interactions with the state by limiting where the state can act.
Thucydides said that the secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom, courage. It takes courage to live, to put ourselves out there, to declare who we are and what we believe. In Canada, most of us have—at least in the modern era—felt secure enough to manifest our differences publicly. Let’s defend the fundamental freedoms of our fellow citizens by standing up against this law. When the state threatens the rights of some, the right of all are in peril.
I urge my colleagues to support this important motion.
But it seeks to do more than just that. As a Sikh woman, I wear articles of faith. If this type of legislation was passed here, I actually wouldn’t be able to serve in our provincial Legislature.
It’s unbelievable to me that in 2019 we have governments here in the country of Canada that are enacting legislation that is so discriminatory, that is embedded in hatred and discrimination, and still we have people who refuse to speak up and stand up and call it what it is.
We have legislation that is violating our fundamental charter rights and limiting our right to practise our faith and wear our articles of faith. To our sisters and brothers in Quebec, we stand with you in solidarity to ensure that you will have that right, and we encourage this government to vote in favour with us today and to encourage the Premier to use all the time that he spends connecting at a federal level and inviting unity to take action on this issue and actually stand up and condemn this piece of legislation.
While we understand that this is going to disproportionately impact visible minorities—those from the Sikh community, the Muslim community and the Jewish community—the member from Kiiwetinoong and I were discussing earlier today that we don’t understand yet what the implications to First Nations or Indigenous communities may be, as they also have articles of faith that they wear and practise while they practise their faith.
We really do need this government to stand up and take a stand. We heard from members here today who spoke at great length about the articles of faith they wear, and the privileges they’ve been able to enjoy here in this province. They spoke about the need to stand up and call out injustice anywhere, understanding, as Dr. King Jr. did, that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere.
But yet, we haven’t seen the Premier stand up and take a stand. He has engaged in legal battles on a number of other issues—yet, silence on this one. So, we encourage this government to do more than just say nice words on international days of recognition and stand up and make ministerial statements. We encourage them to do something, because we have an opportunity to do so, and this opposition motion calls on this government to actually take the action.
Today as we look out, we see members of the Sikh faith, those that are Jewish, and Islamic brothers and sisters here with us today, wearing their articles of faith proudly here in the Legislature of Ontario. But we need to remember that our brothers and sisters in Quebec will not have that opportunity. So it is our responsibility to stand up and speak out, show leadership as a provincial Legislature here in Ontario, condemn Bill 21 and demand that it is repealed.
In the Soviet Union, the only religion allowed was communism. Had the police searched our apartment and discovered the book, my grandfather would have been imprisoned or sent to a labour camp, all for the crime of personal religious expression.
Thankfully, my family and I were able to leave the Soviet Union in search of a better and freer life, in search of a country that knows right from wrong, that protects religious freedom, that believes in free speech, and one that knows that protecting civil liberties is what separates us from places like the Soviet Union. My family found that home in Canada, and I’m proud to be Canadian.
On that note, imagine for a moment a Canadian boy, raised in Canada. He plays hockey. Imagine that this boy wants to serve his country. He wants to be a police officer and keep his community safe. But he can’t, because he fulfills a religious duty and wears a turban. Bill 21 bans him from being a police officer unless he abandons his religious duty. His turban affects no one else. It impacts no one else’s space, safety or liberty. He is Canadian, he is Sikh, but Bill 21 cuts him out of Quebec society solely for his faith.
Imagine a young woman. She and her family came to Canada, like mine, in search of freedom. She’s an A student. She has a remarkable resumé, and she dreams of becoming a pediatric nurse. But she can’t. She fulfills her religious duty and wears a hijab. She always loved and admired our diverse, integrated, multicultural and multi-faith society, but she can’t be a nurse.
Mr. Speaker, one of the things that makes Canada great is that we champion women’s rights, but Bill 21 makes it legal and mandatory to push Canadian women out of mainstream society and out of a job.
My executive assistant is an observant Hindu. My legislative assistant is a proud Catholic who wears the crucifix every day to Queen’s Park. They too would be women banned under Bill 21.
Speaker, I think of myself, being a Canadian boy of Jewish faith who wears a kippah, who dreams of becoming a member of the Legislature to serve the public, to give back to the province. Well, in Quebec, I would not be able to stand here, as I am in front of you today, for wearing my kippah. I would not be able to serve my constituents or my province. I would not be here.
Looking around this great room, I know that these Canadian experiences will resonate with many of you, because we are the most diverse Parliament in the history of our province. My friends on all sides of the House, our cultural and religious mosaic is beautiful, and the people of Ontario are served better by it.
The question I want to ask all the members of the House today is this: Who are we, as a country, under Bill 21? Are we still a beacon of hope for those fleeing religious persecution? Are we still a home for families like mine, who come to Canada for freedom and opportunity? We talk about national unity. Well, what does it mean? National unity is to count on Canadians coast to coast, province to province, to unite and speak against Bill 21.
Those of us who swore an oath to defend Canada’s values have a responsibility to speak out against this anti-Canadian law. This is bigger than any political party. This is bigger than any religious differences. This is bigger than any one province. This is an issue of Canadians banding together to stand up for Canada.
Bill 21 is more than just discrimination in law. It’s about the atmosphere that gives rise to the law. Bill 21 gives legitimacy to an environment where Canadians may not feel comfortable in everyday life. If government can discriminate against a Canadian because of their faith, then why not the private sector as well, with crucifix-wearing Christians, kippah-wearing Jews, turban-wearing Sikhs, and Muslim women who wear the hijab being cut out of mainstream society? When we cut people out of mainstream society, as Bill 21 does, we cut them out of everyday life.
Children in our schools are taught the principle of “live and let live” every day. They are taught that freedom and tolerance for people are what make Canada the best country in the world. It is why my family is here. It is why all of us are here. It is why millions of immigrants risk it all to come to Canada for the freedom that our nation is known for.
We’re all welcome in this country, and I’m not speaking for Muslims or Jews or Catholics or Sikhs. I’m speaking for Canadians, and I know that you will too. That’s why we’ll be voting in favour of the motion before the House today.
I struggle, Speaker, to understand how, in 2019, in Canada, we must debate a person’s right to freedom of expression or religion. These are rights enshrined in our charter and unassailable, at least in theory.
Yet Bill 21 is a reminder of the constant vigilance that is needed to protect these rights, especially when so many across the world are facing increased hatred and discrimination.
We must come together as Canadians, from every party and every corner of this land, to fight Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
It is shameful that this attack on individual rights comes not from some fringe group but, instead, from a Legislature similar to the one in which I now stand. It is unjust, and it should have no place in any part of Canada.
Let me be very clear: While the stated intention of this bill is secularism, its impact is racist, and it discriminates against people, in particular visible minorities and women.
The bill bans public servants, as has been said already in the House, be they police officers, judges or schoolteachers, from wearing or displaying any religious clothing, headgear or jewellery. That’s an expansive description, Speaker, and I wonder how it would even be enforced. And no one should have to choose between their career and their faith.
I’d like to read a few of the headlines and bylines that have come out since the introduction of this bill so we can better understand some of the impacts that this has on individuals in Quebec.
“The English Montreal School Board says four prospective teachers withdrew their job applications in recent weeks because they would have had to remove their religious garb.”
Another one states, “Sikh Teacher Moves From Quebec to BC After” it was “Implemented.” They had to move their home, Speaker, because of this bill.
Yet another one begins with “Teacher Says She Feels ‘Betrayed’ as Classes Start Under Quebec’s Religious Symbols Law.” Nadia Naqvi says she gets “chills” just thinking about how it will be enforced. Now because of a grandfather clause, Nadia would be allowed to continue wearing her hijab, unless she takes on a new position. Think about that, Speaker: If she is offered a promotion or wants to move into administration, she would have to turn down those opportunities if she wants to continue wearing her hijab. That is wrong, Speaker.
Even the enforcement of this bill is discriminatory. You can still wear it if you were wearing it before, but not if you are promoted? If you’re a young adult entering the workforce and display any form of religious wear, well, you’d better not plan on being a police officer, a teacher or a judge—I really want to stress this point, because it is landing on the judiciary to decide whether this bill is legal under the charter. It would prevent someone from entering the very institution that will decide the fate of this bill, Speaker.
I cannot fathom how the government of Quebec has arrived at the conclusion that wearing a hijab affects a person’s ability to teach a subject, or a turban a person’s qualifications to be a police officer. And I even wonder whether Indigenous communities would be allowed to bring sacred eagle feathers into their offices if they held public office, like our own representative from Kiiwetinoong.
Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak. I urge the government, both as an MPP and a representative of those who live in my riding, to support this motion and take the strongest possible stand against Bill 21.
Ours is a blessed society. We live in a society in which power is ordered through the free and democratic expression of our people, upon the indelible concept of the individual and upon the liberties that are bestowed upon each and every citizen by their creator. We live in a society in which our rights and our responsible exercise of said rights is a sacred inheritance, an inheritance paid by those who came before us, in blood and treasure, through wars, through hard times and throughout global change.
Mr. Speaker, as you know, our country is an unabashed miracle in the midst of history. Our laws are drawn from both the English Magna Carta and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. Our legacy draws from both reform and revolution.
We chose a federation to reconcile the tensions between regions and people, religions and languages. We chose the sanctity of the ballot so that the reach and power of government could be limited by the people, so that power in Canada is granted to temporary leaders by the governed and not concentrated in the permanent ambitions of unaccountable government.
Today, 150 years later, our federation remains a miracle in the midst of our history. We draw from these tensions of our legacy, aged and tempered through the experience of one and a half centuries, and joined by generations of people who came to these shores to abandon places where power was abused. Our geography has been an enduring gift. Surrounded by oceans and ice and a powerful democratic neighbour to the south, we have prospered.
But today, we are not immune to global disruption. Technology is changing every aspect of our lives: how we heal our sick, how our young and young-at-heart learn, how we communicate and do commerce, and how we harness and heal the earth. It is also providing platforms for viral hate, in which social media mobs manifest in mobs on the street: mobs that act as judge, as jury, as executioner in our emerging cancel culture; mobs fuelled by emotion, dispensing with democratic logic; mobs that diminish our democracy, our Legislatures, our courts and our constitutional character. It is in this context that Bill 21 is our test.
Today’s populism, on the left and on the right, is made even more disruptive by technological change. As a friend of mine has said, “Today’s populism on the left is characterized by condescension, and on the right by anger.” We talk past each other and into our own ecosystems rather than engage each other with respect and empathy.
In Quebec, Bill 21 is a manifestation of the powerful tensions between a nation and its religions, in which a national identity feels besieged by sectarian infiltration and in which curtailing religious freedoms are offered up as a means to address those concerns. As we wrestle with who we are as a nation, as a federation, we turn to the institutions shaped by our 150-year-old democracy. Bill 21 is the modern representation of the eternal dialogue in which societies order power.
This bill will see its way through our courts, our due process, and be afforded appropriate reflection before final consideration. But I rise today to represent the view that we do not, as a country, as a federation and as a society, reconcile those kinds of tensions with laws like Bill 21, with court cases or hollow apologies.
I think of Inspector Singh Dhillon, the first RCMP officer to wear a turban and to have a beard. A trailblazer for Sikh Canadians, Inspector Dhillon knew that Sikh women and men before him faced hate and outright racism. He explained that his forefathers endured the diluting of identity, where boys were taken straight from their place of landing to remove their turbans and shave their beards. That undermined their identity and their inherent dignity. He said, “That was just so they wouldn’t be confronted by the shame and the bias and racism.”
This proud Canadian fought to uphold his right to his faith and heritage by practising his faith while concurrently defending his country, never wavering from his duty to country and his oath to Her Majesty the Queen. Faith and duty need not be incongruous from each other. La foi et le devoir ne devraient pas être incompatibles. They should coexist, complementing the strengths of our country, a nation that upholds religious freedom and stands up for the rule of law.
Speaker, I think of Jews who wear the kippah, where Orthodox men would be denied their customary requirement that their head be covered. The irony, of course, is that Quebec Jews would recall so vividly that the first Jewish parliamentarian in the British Empire was elected in Quebec in 1808 and that the Jewish community has roots of over 250 years in Quebec.
Speaker, I think of Muslim women. They too have a customary and solemn duty of religious requirement to cover their head. I worked for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who in 2014 decided to bestow honorary citizenship on Malala Yousafzai. I intended to meet her that day; however, it was regrettably cancelled due to the terrorist attack on Parliament Hill that day that was felt and reverberated across the land. We planned on honouring this innocent girl, who was targeted by the Taliban simply because of her interest in women’s empowerment and because of her objective to enrich minds through education. This heroic woman, now a citizen of this country, the youngest Nobel Prize recipient and a Muslim who wears a hijab, would be, under this bill, not able to teach in this country—an honorary citizen, a Nobel Prize laureate, a defender of human rights. Under this bill, even Malala would be denied her right to pursue her dreams of education and inspiring the next generation. For them, we unite more deeply as a country, by building a civil society, not a society of silos.
In this, Mr. Speaker, I stand as Ontario’s Minister of Education, with those voices that insist that our society is best ordered by embracing pluralism—not pluralism being used as a guise for more relativism but true pluralism in which we argue, we debate and we do so energetically; true pluralism that allows for religious freedom in the hearts of all Canadians, all Quebecers, to turn away or to turn to God, whether at home or at work; true pluralism that draws upon the benefits of our Indigenous history and the histories that our new Canadians bring with them; true pluralism that does the hard work of reconciliation in the heartbreak of Holocaust and Holodomor, genocides and pogroms, persecution and suppression; true pluralism in which Canadian schoolteachers are measured by the quality of their capacity to teach, not singled out for their faith or how they choose to express their faith; true pluralism that, when a perilous world forsakes the security of our people, our Canadian Sikhs, our Canadian Jews and our Canadian Muslims stand united to fight for our country and die for our nation; true pluralism that in our schools we bestow upon the next generation the inheritance of this history, an inheritance of an ordered liberty in which power rests with every citizen, in which government is limited by the people and not the other way around, and in which our social cohesion, ever improved by our democratic dynamism, is strengthened by the very freedoms that animate them. Because as Prime Minister Diefenbaker said many decades ago, “I am a Canadian ... free to speak without fear, free to worship ... in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom, I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” So let us speak with one voice to uphold the promise of this country, a nation of freedom, a land of opportunity and a people of diversity. This is our country: strong, united, prosperous and free.
Merci, monsieur le Président.
This bill, Bill 21, singles out people of certain faiths, limiting opportunities and ostracizing them from public spaces. It discriminates against visible minorities and women, people who are often already marginalized. It limits career opportunities and makes public spaces unwelcoming, and we should not be making our public spaces unwelcoming. We should make everybody feel that they are welcome to come to this place here in Ontario. This is the public’s Legislature. This is their House. We don’t own it as legislators ourselves, and we should be doing everything to make them feel welcome. The same applies in every single province across the country.
There’s no question that Bill 21 discriminates against certain faiths, more so than others. It singles out people that are considered to be different. Rather than celebrating the differences, it’s discriminating against them and trying to exclude them from fully participating in society. So people who wear turbans, hijabs, kippahs, who wear these visible, important signs of their faith—even crucifixes, and we should point that out. People who wear crucifixes, those of Christian faith, fall under this bill. However, there are groups within this bill who are more adversely affected and are more strongly discriminated against under this bill.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to it today because I want to point out that Windsor is the fourth most diverse city in all of Canada—the fourth most diverse. In Windsor, we welcome, encourage and celebrate diversity. I had the opportunity to speak to many of the faith groups within my community, and they all feel very, very strongly against Bill 21. It doesn’t matter which faith group you talk to; they all feel strongly against Bill 21. I’m thankful that it’s not Ontario law, but it’s a very slippery slope. When you have one province that has brought in this discriminatory legislation, then it’s much easier, unfortunately—I hate to be able to say that, but it’s much easier—for other provinces to bring it in.
In Windsor—and I know it’s across the province and the country, but I’m going to speak specifically to Windsor—we’ve seen increases in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. I appreciate the position that I’m in, as an elected official who represents people of all different faiths, to have the ability to stand up and speak out when such horrific acts take place. People are experiencing racism and xenophobia daily, right across all of our ridings in the province of Ontario and across Canada. Bill 21 just adds to the environment of hostility towards marginalized people. It emboldens people to engage in hate crimes. It emboldens people to engage in hate speech and to exclude people from our communities.
Something like this, this bill, should never, never have happened. They shouldn’t have even thought about it. We must send a strong message that we fully oppose this division and that our public spaces are open to everyone. Bill 21 claims to be about secularism, but its impacts are divisive and discriminatory.
I want to point out that on November 7 the Liberal member for Don Valley East proposed a motion that condemned any law that would restrict or limit religious freedoms, but he did not mention Bill 21, so, frankly, that motion was not good enough. It needs to name it for what it is, and call it out as discrimination and racism and xenophobia. They need to call it out for what it is.
We also need to oppose it in the courts, and intervene in any Supreme Court challenge of Bill 21 that might come forward.
I just want to take a moment to point out that the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have filed a legal challenge arguing that the law is unconstitutional, irreparably harms religious minorities, and constitutes state-sanctioned second-class citizenship.
I’d like to point out some of the other people who have joined in opposing it. We have national civil rights groups including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, B’nai Brith Canada, the World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. They have all opposed Bill 21.
Before I wrap up, Speaker, I just want to say something. I grew up in a European family. My dad’s side was European. He was from Yugoslavia—he was Slovenian—and many of my aunts wore head coverings; they wore scarves. In the Polish family down the street, the mom wore a scarf. In the Ukrainian family just on the other side of them, the mom wore a scarf. In their culture, it was called a babushka. They wore scarves, and nobody questioned it. There were no laws that said they couldn’t wear those in public spaces.
So why is it that we have a government in Quebec who believes that it’s appropriate to discriminate against Muslim women because they wear scarves, because they wear hijabs, and that that means that they are not good enough to be in our schools and to work in our public spaces?
Speaker, I’m hoping this motion passes today, but more importantly, I hope the Premier will take this to his meeting with all of the Premiers on December 2 and bring them together to strongly oppose Bill 21.
Canada and Ontario are being built on our diversity. It is what makes us stronger and united.
Mr. Speaker, I am a proud Canadian Muslim, and Ontario is my home. I’m deeply concerned that here in Ontario and in parts of Canada, we have seen an increase in Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, or any hatred playing a role in our country.
My family came to Canada in search of a better future, a safer community, and the opportunity that living in a free and democratic country provides its people. Many of us share similar stories.
I want to thank our Premier for his work in building a stronger and more prosperous Ontario, and for acting quickly to recognize the divisions in our country and working hard to unify people.
Premier Ford has already reached out to other Premiers and will be hosting an important meeting with Premiers from across Canada in Toronto next week. Last week, he met with Prime Minister Trudeau and pledged to work hard across party lines to protect what matters most to the people of Ontario by growing our economy, transforming our health care system, building important transportation links and giving our students the tools they need to succeed.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be a member of this caucus, and honoured to serve the people of Ontario under the strong leadership of our Premier—indeed, to work with all members of this Legislature.
The Premier, my colleagues and I have been very clear, and we will continue to be forceful in our stance that all Ontarians have the right to wear a turban, a hijab, a kippah or a crucifix and the right to worship peacefully as fully equal members of our community and with all the same rights and responsibilities of any other Canadian or Ontario resident.
If you wear a turban in Ontario, you can be a teacher. If you wear a hijab, you can be a judge. If you wear a kippah, you can be a police officer, and wearing a crucifix will not stop you from being a firefighter.
My grandfather came to this great province in the late 1960s in the hopes of a new beginning, in the hopes of finding a great land where everyone is respected regardless of their race or religion or the colour of their skin. I’m always horrified by the hate-motivated acts of violence and terror against faith-based groups or any group in our homeland and across the world. The memories of these heinous crimes are what motivate me each day and compel me to rise today in this House. All people who wear religious symbols, including turbans, hijabs, kippahs, crucifixes and other articles of clothing that represent expression of their faith, are welcome to serve this great province. Our Premier and this government have always stood up for the religious rights and freedoms of all Ontarians across this province. Ontario is a place that celebrates people—all people—and we respect all individuals regardless of their faith.
My grandfather would be proud of me and what I, as a Muslim Canadian, have accomplished. I am proud of my family and honoured to serve my constituents as an elected member of this Legislature. I do not hide who I am, what I believe or the values that are important to me. I am living the dream that my grandfather hoped for when he came to Canada, or, as my colleagues say, the Canadian dream.
My colleagues and I on both sides of the Legislature remain united in our opposition to any form of legislation that would restrict or deny anyone’s right to religious freedom and equality. We know that in Ontario, it is our shared responsibility to stand up for those who cannot do it on their own. We will continue to do just that.
Bill 21 is discriminatory because it will make it more difficult for religious minorities to integrate into Quebec society and it unfairly targets Muslim women. What this bill, Bill 21, is saying to all of us is, “You are not Canadian.” You are disqualified from doing a job, your job, a profession that you dearly love. It denies you a promotion and a job opportunity because of your religion—nothing else but your faith. This is discrimination. What it does is it divides and isolates people. This is wrong.
We are here and now debating this: Bill 21. We must speak with one voice and send a strong message to the Quebec government that Canada is against discrimination in any form. Freedom of expression and of religion is a basic human right. That is being violated here in Bill 21.
The people of Quebec also oppose Bill 21 and have demonstrated against it in mass anti-racism rallies. They don’t support it because it is against their fundamental rights.
When a government denies its own people job opportunities because of their religion, because of who they are, it is wrong, Mr. Speaker. We must speak out.
When the Quebec government denies opportunities for employment, not because they cannot perform the job or not because they do not meet the job requirements but, rather, because of who they are, like their religious beliefs and their identity, we must speak out loud and clear. This Bill 21 violates the human rights charter. It is unfair.
To me, Mr. Speaker, a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. What we are witnessing in Quebec is a very dangerous precedent because it violates the rights of the people of Quebec. With this law, they cannot pursue their dream job or serve the public as civil servants in the province of Quebec because of who they are or because of their religion, and this is wrong, Mr. Speaker. We have an obligation to stand up for those Canadians who are denied those opportunities to have decent employment, to raise a family and make a living.
I welcome today this government, on both sides of the aisle, to support the opposition motion and vote for this motion today.
I’m sure each one of us has a unique story that we can share in terms of where we came from and the challenges we, our parents or grandparents might have had to face along the way. I can tell you, I came to this great country and province at a young age with my mother, two older brothers and a sister. We were raised by a single mother, as unfortunately my father passed away when I was only five years old in a car accident.
There were definitely many, many challenges along the way that the family faced, mainly my mother being a single mother. Like millions of immigrant parents, she knew it was the best decision for our future. She felt Canada was the only country that could provide us with the opportunity to work hard and have a good life.
It is a reflection of the best of Canada and Ontario that today I’m standing in this House. Who would have thought that a young boy who immigrated to this great country from a small village in Punjab, India, would today be standing here as a member of provincial Parliament representing the great people of Milton?
There are countless stories like mine, and that’s what makes Canada the best country in the world. My wife and I are blessed with three beautiful children: a daughter and two sons. Like every parent, we want the best for our children. We do our best to ensure that they’re happy, healthy and are able to achieve their full potential. My two sons stopped wearing turbans at the ages of seven and 10. This was a difficult and emotional decision for our entire family. This was especially difficult for their devout grandparents. This decision was purely a family decision. Such a decision should never be one forced upon anyone by any level of government.
Mr. Speaker, I’m proud of the fact that our government believes that individuals and families are in the best position to make such personal decisions, and that governments must stay out of such a deeply personal decision.
I’m also proud to be part of a PC government led by Premier Ford. Our government is more concerned about shattering the ceiling above your head, not dictating what is on or covers your head.
The Premier is someone who values and respects everyone’s views, culture and religion, regardless of where they come from. I’ve witnessed first-hand the tremendous respect the cultural communities have for the Premier. He represents probably one of the most diverse ridings in our great province.
I’m proud of our caucus, which is one of the most diverse in the history of our province. The diversity of this great chamber is inspiring to us all.
Quebec is a great neighbour and a good friend to our province of Ontario. Good friends can and deserve to be frank with each other, Mr. Speaker. That’s why we’re saying clearly today that we do not agree with Quebec’s Bill 21. Such a bill has no place in a country like Canada.
Mr. Speaker, this is not a gesture to meddle in the affairs of another province. We are speaking today in opposition to Bill 21, as it opposes fundamental Canadian values that have built this great country.
This is not the first time that Canada has observed this kind of action from Quebec. In 2013, the Quebec Soccer Federation said that turbans were not allowed to be worn by kids during soccer matches. In fact, they told Sikh kids that they could play soccer but only in their backyards, not with official referees or on public fields in Quebec.
Let me read a quote from a letter that an MP wrote to the Quebec and Canadian soccer federations at the time: “It is incredibly unfortunate and insulting that, in a nation that prides itself on diversity, such discriminatory regulations are allowed to stand. There is no valid reason for a ban on the wearing of turbans or other religious symbols during athletic competitions....”
Speaker, the MP who wrote the letter was me. I stand here again speaking out against discrimination in Quebec, now as the MPP for Milton. I will keep standing up for religious freedom in this province and in this country.
Many feel that politics in Canada has never been as divisive as it is at the moment. In response to this disturbing trend, it is more important than ever that our leaders, our provincial Legislatures and our fellow Canadians stand up for inclusivity.
I am proud of our Premier for showing leadership on the national level and making it his priority to bring our country together by working with the other Premiers and the Prime Minister. Premier Ford understands that a strong Canada is a strong Ontario, and a strong Ontario is a strong Canada.
Bill 21 is a step backwards and has repercussions right across this great nation of ours. No province, no municipality, no jurisdiction in Canada should have laws where people’s religious rights and freedoms are taken way.
This piece of legislation is very serious, and the people of Brampton have told me so. A recent report from the Peel Police Service Board says that hate-motivated crimes are on the rise in Brampton and Mississauga, two cities where visible minorities make up more than 50% of the population.
We need to make sure it is very clear to the Quebec government that Ontarians condemn this legislation. Ontarians will not stand by and watch our neighbours lose their religious freedoms. This bill needs to be withdrawn immediately.
Bill 21 affects all new hires in Quebec’s public sector, as we’ve heard earlier, such as provincial judges, teachers and prison guards, to name a few. While the current workers wearing religious symbols are allowed to keep wearing them, they will lose those protections if they want a promotion or to change a job. A Muslim woman who wears a head scarf can never be considered for a promotion. This, Mr. Speaker, is crazy. To think that anyone would have to give up their beliefs in order to pursue their career or get promoted is unjust. People who have invested in their education and worked so hard to get the job of their dreams in Quebec are being turned away because of their religious beliefs, and that should never happen. Freedom of religion is a fundamental tenet in this country. It’s protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill 21 flies in the face of the basic rights of all Canadians. We are entitled to our rights and freedoms regardless of our faith.
Let’s be honest, Mr. Speaker: This bill has nothing to do with separation of church and state. We have this—I’m going to say it—very barbaric law that says you have to choose between your job and your faith. Justice has no jurisdiction. You can’t say that one province has the absolute right to subjugate people.
What we have here is a law that was written specifically to target three groups of people: (1) Muslim women who wear the hijab; (2) Sikhs who wear a turban; and (3) Jewish men who wear a kippah or yarmulke. It is deliberately discriminatory by design. We have to stand up against that. I’ve met many Sikhs, Jews and Muslims in my community, and they agree with that as well.
Now, defenders of Bill 21 don’t want the federal government to interfere because it’s a popularity contest there, and they say it is popular in Quebec. But they don’t seem to understand the underlying responsibility of government: to ensure that the rights of its entire—entire—society are protected. Modern democracies like Canada already have legislation in place to protect minorities in situations precisely like this one. Quebec needs to respect every Canadian’s charter rights.
There are things the federal government can do, as we’re all aware. It has the constitutional power to disallow provincial legislation. They also can withhold federal funding in addition to supporting the court challenges. It is not good enough to say, “We will never enact these policies at the federal level.” It’s time to take a moral stand against this.
All I really have to do is look back into the 1960s and 1970s in the United States, where they had segregation laws. Certain states had segregation; other states didn’t have segregation. They divided states and they divided people and they isolated people. It is no different than what is happening here in Quebec.
Already we are seeing the impacts of this bill. We’ve heard the stories of teachers in Montreal who have chosen to comply with the rules and remove their religious garb in order to keep their jobs. Otherwise, they would be out of a job. We’ve also heard the story of people who didn’t comply and they have lost their jobs, or they have had to go out-of-province.
This government needs to affirm that they value diversity, that they value our religious minorities and the need to protect their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Staying silent, Mr. Speaker, is not an option. This government needs to condemn Bill 21 and formally call on the Quebec government to abandon it.
We need to be in solidarity with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which are fighting this case in court. We need to ensure that Ontario will never pursue a law such as Bill 21, a law that has no place in Ontario or anywhere in Canada.
Leah reminds me of the power of humour and of how, for millennia, Jews have used humour and wit as a weapon against hate, to the point that we can be somewhat ridiculous and actually laugh while we’re crying. Seinfeld shied away from some of the more egregious topics that face the civilized world, while Sacha Baron Cohen did the complete opposite: He went in search of the hate and made it a bit of a contest: Who’s more ridiculous, the hater or Baron Cohen’s character?
In fact, Sacha Baron Cohen gave the keynote speech at the Anti-Defamation League’s Never Is Now conference last week. He criticized some social media platforms for allowing hate-filled propaganda to purchase ads. He’s not alone, since lately we’ve seen blame directed at social media for the proliferation of hate across the world.
But let’s face it: Lies and propaganda have been a problem for humanity since the early days of civilization. Mark Twain said it best: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.”
Turbans, hijabs, kippahs, yarmulkes: These are all expressions of the wearers’ commitment to their religion and culture. It’s part of their identity.
This morning, I think that many of my colleagues here may have noticed there was a school up in the gallery, just as there often is. They were there for quite a while and were very quiet and very well behaved—I would say, about grade 5. There were several boys wearing the small turban buns—they were young—and a few girls wearing hijabs. What would they be thinking if they were listening to this debate today discussing Bill 21 in Quebec, which would prohibit the wearing of religious symbols while serving the public? What would our pages think? What would the legislative staff think if they were wearing a hijab or a turban?
We have colleagues here; we have friends; we have neighbours. It’s heartbreaking, Mr. Speaker. It’s demoralizing to expect people to choose between their job and their faith, as we’ve just so clearly heard from the member opposite.
We are here today debating the actual idea that in a developed country—Canada—any elected official at any level of government would even contemplate not allowing a Canadian resident—in all probability, someone who was even born here—to wear their identified religious cultural clothing proudly. It’s shocking. Unfortunately, for whose who have studied history and understand the depths of fear and hatred of anyone who is different, it is unremarkable.
Today’s discussion leads us to question: What exactly is our role as legislators? Certainly, it shouldn’t be to sit quietly at events where negative stereotypes might be espoused or to politely nod if our constituents visit or email us with hateful messages full of dangerous conspiracy theories.
I would hope that collectively we all try to educate Ontarians and work with the thousands of community organizations who are desperate to have our help to build bridges.
Just last week, I spoke to Abdulatif from the Muslim Association of Canada and Olive Grove Muslim school about his desire to build bridges with the Jewish community. I invited him to a Hanukkah event next month.
Mr. Speaker, it is our collective responsibility to engage in meaningful dialogue to help build those bridges and demonstrate that our colourful mosaic of differing religions and cultural practices have so much more in common than some of us may even realize.
Many of us are still reeling from the hate that was demonstrated just this past week at York University, where police and security had to escort about 100 Jews and their supporters to and from an event to support dialogue for peace. Video footage shows an angry mob of over 1,000 people, some with their faces covered, screaming, “Go back to the ovens.”
In stark contrast is the viral video, also from last week, of a man harassing a Jewish family wearing kippot, with a young child on a British subway. In the video, a woman in a hijab interjects and chastises the harassers. Two separate events, both videotaped by bystanders; two vastly differing tones and messages. It forces us to question what we can do to create better public awareness, and support—yes, even encourage—positive expressions of religion.
Experts continuously tell us that a strong sense of community, family and identity are the best indicator of a future successful, well-integrated and contributing member of society.
The reason I bring this up, Mr. Speaker, is that when this Legislature debated my anti-BDS motion to bring awareness of the hate that seeks to destroy Israel and Jewish communities around the world, a visitor was given a pass to sit in the prestigious members’ gallery to watch the procedure. This visitor laughed out loud when the slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust was mentioned. This visitor continued to be disruptive, to the point that he was escorted out of the gallery by security.
I don’t even recall any other instance of somebody being escorted out of the members’ gallery by security—just the public gallery.
Who gave this person the pass to the members’ gallery? A member from the very party that is today bringing forward this motion to support our religious minorities. Ironic, isn’t it?
But a society that is not controlled by the church is not the same thing as a society that prevents individuals from living full lives and making individual decisions about how they choose to dress. No individual should have to choose between her clothing and her ability to work in her chosen field, whether that is as an educator or a police officer or a judge or any other public servant.
As a child in Montreal, I experienced a great deal of both anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism, and I know first-hand the alienating sensation of being told over and over again that you don’t belong and can’t belong.
As an academic, I have interviewed thousands of Muslim women about their decisions—and they were always their decisions—to wear the hijab. These women do not need to be saved. They have made their own decisions, and when government tells them that they cannot wear their hijab, they become all the more determined to do so.
Women who wear a hijab, as well as men and women who choose to wear turbans or kippot or any other conspicuous symbol of their faith, are not trying to coerce others into following their individual choices. That is the beauty of Canada when Canada is allowed to be Canada: that all of us can make our individual choices without coercion, and that we can feel equally that we belong.
But when a government breaks that social contract and uses the law to coerce people into acting one way or another, it destroys social trust and ultimately has the opposite effect than the one it intends. It makes it harder for the people thus marginalized to integrate and to be able to give and to receive the gifts of a productive, harmonious society.
Bill 21 discriminates against people who are already marginalized and often racialized. It serves to send them an unequivocal message that they do not belong in Quebec and are second-class citizens.
Bill 21 is an outright attack on vulnerable people. It is an official rebuke, an official “you’re not welcome here.” And worst of all, Bill 21 will further enable hate, and this in a province that saw six worshippers gunned down while they prayed in their mosque in January 2017. Surely no one in Quebec’s government wants that.
Please understand: This motion, our motion, is not about wanting to celebrate diversity. It is about acting and standing up against discrimination, bigotry and hate.
Le Québec doit reconsidérer le projet de loi 21 et son effet sur les populations déjà marginales.
The passage of Bill 21 in Quebec represents a shameful moment in our nation’s history. Bill 21 is a detrimental bill and its impact is to discriminate against people, particularly visibly racialized communities and women from said communities. Bill 21, make no mistake, breeds Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-Semitism; it breeds anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism. Bill 21 therefore is explicitly racist, and it infringes on our human rights. This is unacceptable. Families in Ontario are impacted by the environment and hostility fostered by its discriminatory principles. We cannot allow a slippery slope of this type of legislation as it will continue to erode the hard-fought-for rights of Canadians.
The law overwhelmingly affects members of religious communities, and I cannot stress enough the way that it has an impact on women from said religious communities. Women are already struggling in the workplace, making 73 cents or less per dollar, if we consider racialized women, than their male counterparts. This is yet another systemic barrier, another burden to their success in the careers of their choice.
People who observe in various faiths, including varieties of Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, must have the right and the choice to observe their faith through articles of faith of their choosing. Looking around this room, there are people on both sides of our House who would no longer be able to hold a government job in Quebec under this legislation. But beyond this House, every one of us represents constituents who would be affected by this bill, who would lose their livelihoods because of this draconian legislation. In my riding of St. Paul’s alone, there are many people who would lose their jobs under Bill 21. In fact, over a quarter of my constituents are visibly racialized, including immigrants from over 70 countries speaking more than 100 languages.
It’s important for the province of Ontario to step up and demand action from Quebec on this issue. No government, provincial or federal, should be allowed to violate fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Before all the Premiers gather here in Toronto, Ontario on December 2, it would be great for Ontario and for this Premier to make it loud and clear that he “opposes Bill 21.” Say it like it is. Call out the purple elephant in the room.
I stand firmly behind our leader’s opposition motion calling on Quebec to dismantle Bill 21. I oppose Bill 21 wholeheartedly. We need to be leaders and not bystanders. I just want to say that I truly believe the world is watching our example and is watching what the NDP’s official opposition is doing here, standing for the rights and freedoms of Ontarians, for Canadians and for everyone. Thank you.
I’m grateful to be able to represent one of the most diverse ridings in the province. Toronto Centre is home to many vibrant neighbourhoods, including Regent Park and St. James Town. Many of my constituents are Muslim and many of them are visible minorities. Some folks have been settled in Canada for generations while others are newer immigrants from Somalia, from Bangladesh, from Iraq and from so many other places across the world.
Almost daily, Muslim women come into my office wearing hijabs or niqabs. As a woman with mixed settler and Indigenous heritage, I know how much representation matters. Whether it’s here in this Legislature or across our public service, in our schools, in our public institutions. Everywhere that our children see and interact with the public service and with our leaders in our communities, they deserve to see themselves reflected because our children cannot be what they cannot see.
Ontario is not just wealthy, it’s not just white and it’s not just straight. It’s queer, it’s trans, it’s working class, it’s Black, it’s Indigenous, it’s South Asian, it’s young and it’s living with a disability.
Quebec’s Bill 21 is a direct affront to the ability of our children and of all our constituents to see themselves represented in their public institutions, to see themselves represented in the experiences and the values of our province and to see themselves represented in the public service. We get nowhere in this country if we are unable to join forces and fight Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia together.
Speaker, I want to tell this House about a constituent of mine who’s very near and dear to my heart: Fatouma. Fatouma is one of the kindest people I know. She works at the Neighbourhood Group, which is a fantastic organization in my riding. Fatouma’s specialty is making everyone feel welcome. She consistently strives to build up our community, and she does it all with so much love and joy and kindness in her heart for everyone she comes across. So many times Fatouma has brought new people into my office and helped them to find their voices in addressing the cuts that this government has made over the last year and a bit. I know that many youth in my community look up to her. She’s one of the many, many Muslim women in Regent Park who’s doing the tireless work of supporting our community and who always leads by example.
Fatouma is a Muslim woman. She wears a hijab, and while she doesn’t hold a position in the public service, she’s a role model and a true inspiration. I simply cannot imagine telling her or any other Muslim woman in my community that they would be unable to be a public servant, have a public-facing role or serve in public office like in this very Legislature.
I’m tired of witnessing the hostile environment that Quebec’s Bill 21 has created. I know that it has contributed to a hurtful discourse across this country that makes many of our constituents feel unwelcome and unsafe in our country. Now is the time to say something.
Our motion, if passed, will require this government to take a principled stand by requesting the Quebec government to immediately repeal Bill 21 and by offering to intervene at the Supreme Court in opposition to it. I urge my colleagues across the aisle to do the right thing. This province is counting on us to stand on the right side of history to challenge hate, to challenge xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Again, Speaker, I’m so grateful to be able to speak in support of this motion, and I hope I can count on the support of all of our colleagues in this House today.
I think about her mom, who described how painful it was for her to watch her daughter go through so much racism and discrimination, and how sad she was to see her daughter leave home. It’s wrong that Amrit can’t be a teacher and wear her turban, and it is outrageous to me that, in 2019, we have a bill in Canada that legislates and legitimizes discrimination.
If I choose to wear a turban, if you choose to wear a kippah or a cross or someone chooses to wear a hijab, does that mean that we should be prevented from giving back to our communities, from pursuing our dreams purely because we choose to practise our faith? Bill 21 is wrong because it judges us based on what’s on our heads and not what’s inside our hearts.
There are thousands of people like Amrit who are now being forced to choose between their faith and their dreams because of Bill 21, a bill that hurts those who are most vulnerable. It disproportionately targets religious minorities like Sikhs, Muslims and Jewish people. It disproportionately targets women, because it is women who wear hijabs. This bill divides us when we should be coming together.
Now, I can tell you with first-hand experience that we are seeing a rise of hatred across the world, in Islamophobia, in anti-Semitism, in anti-Sikh racism and other forms of racism. We are seeing a rise in rhetoric that wants to tear us apart. Bill 21 emboldens those voices. It gives a space to those who would spread hate, and that’s why it is so important that we denounce Bill 21: to send a clear message to Canada and to the world that we don’t just accept you for being different; we don’t just tolerate differences—to tolerate and to accept is a poverty of ambition. In Canada, we celebrate our differences; we honour them. We understand that our diversity does not divide us—it does not weaken us; it strengthens us—and, more than anything that our differences—your differences, your diversity—is welcome and wanted here.
As a Muslim Canadian, I am proud of our Canadian Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill 21 is not only an attack on all Canadians with religious beliefs; it is an attack on our Constitution. In the name of secularism, Bill 21 infringes on the religious beliefs and freedoms of all Canadians. That is not secularism. Discriminating against Canadians and forcing individuals to choose between one’s religious beliefs, such as wearing something that is part of one’s faith, and their ability to earn an income through their job is not secularism. How can Legislatures decide that an educator must put aside their faith in order to teach in classrooms?
Mr. Speaker, in 1807, Quebec was the first to elect an observant Jew, who kept his head covered in the legislative assembly. Quebec was also the first to grant equal rights to Jewish people. Bill 21 is a betrayal to Quebec’s own commitment to equality and an attack on all minority groups.
Every morning before proceedings, we here begin with a prayer in this House, this Ontario Legislature. As a Muslim Canadian and a member of this assembly, I am proud that we are able to do that and embrace our faith.
Today I am proud to be a part of the Ontario NDP, because we are bringing this motion forward to make sure that this never happens in Ontario, as people are facing in Quebec. Upholding our religious freedom is enshrined in our Constitution. I cannot imagine a time when people in Ontario will have to make a choice like they are facing right now in Quebec, and I hope that we never do that in Ontario. That is why it is important that we must pass this motion. I hope the government will join us in this motion.
Ici, ce que l’on fait en Ontario—c’est vraiment au travers de la motion de ma chef—c’est de montrer le côté positif de la diversité, de démontrer qu’on peut vivre dans une communauté laïque, dans son ensemble, tout en respectant le fait que les gens partout au Canada et partout dans les pays libres ont non seulement le droit d’expression, mais ont également le droit de religion. Donc, si quelqu’un veut pratiquer une foi, quelle que soit la foi en question, nous sommes tous libres de le faire, et ça n’empêche pas le gouvernement du Québec de gérer comme un gouvernement laïc.
Il y a une différence entre ce que le gouvernement fait et le type de politiques qu’il veut mettre de l’avant et la liberté des gens, des Québécois et des Québécoises, d’exprimer leur foi par des vêtements—par un bijou, par un couvre-chef, par un voile ou un crucifix, ou de n’importe quelle autre façon. De penser que quelqu’un qui a travaillé fort, qui est allé à l’université et qui a voulu devenir soit un enseignant, une enseignante, un policier ou quoi que ce soit, se retrouve tout d’un coup avec tous ses rêves qui s’envolent à cause d’un projet de loi qui n’est pas inclusif, qui n’est pas positif envers la diversité.
Bien, nous, comme néo-démocrates, on veut envoyer un message de positivité, un message que tu peux porter un turban, un voile, une kippa ou un crucifix et être excellent dans n’importe quoi : être le meilleur pompier, être la meilleure policière, être la meilleure infirmière ou éducatrice de la petite enfance ou professeure. Que les deux ne sont pas reliés—bien au contraire, que par la diversité, on a beaucoup à apprendre, et beaucoup de positif dans la communauté va sortir de ça.
Donc, ma chef, Mme Andrea Horwath, la chef néo-démocrate de l’Ontario, veut vraiment lancer l’appel à la force qui sort de ça et demander au gouvernement de M. Ford, le gouvernement conservateur, d’utiliser toutes les opportunités qui vont se présenter, que ce soit un appel à la cour ou dans les réunions qui s’en viennent, pour vraiment démontrer tout le positif que l’Ontario est capable d’avoir parce que les gens, qu’ils soient policiers ou pompiers ou autres, portent des signes religieux et que ça, ça peut ajouter. Tout en étant respectueux que, oui, le gouvernement du Québec est un gouvernement—et nous aussi, en Ontario, mais on veut quand-même être capable de faire passer notre message que tu peux être respectueux des gouvernements, mais en même temps, être respectueux des gens qui décident qu’ils veulent porter des articles de foi.
Moi, je peux vous dire que j’ai été élevée par des soeurs. Je suis allée au Séminaire Sainte-Marie, où mes professeurs—c’étaient la soeur Alice et l’abbé Paul, puis bien d’autres. Ça n’a pas fait une soeur de moi, monsieur le Président; je peux vous garantir ça. Mais je crois que j’ai quand même reçu une éducation de qualité, que ces gens-là qui m’ont enseigné étaient des bons professeurs. Oui, c’étaient des soeurs, et plusieurs portaient non seulement le crucifix mais tout l’habit, incluant le voile et tout ça. Même chose : les abbés souvent portaient l’habit au complet. Mais ça ne les a jamais empêchés d’offrir de bons services d’enseignement, vraiment.
Donc, un message positif que j’espère que nos voisins de l’est vont accueillir positivement.
Mr. Speaker, I think what you saw in today’s debate, or what you’ve seen so far today, is that although the House is in full agreement on this—let me again be very clear: We are in agreement with this motion and will obviously be voting in favour of it, as you’ve heard.
But even though we, as a House, agree on that, in the speeches that we’ve heard today there have been disagreements in certain areas, although we agree in principle on what we’re debating here today. I think that is actually a good thing for this House. The debate that we’ve had today has been a positive one, based on something that all of us would agree is not something that we would want to be debating right now in the province of Ontario. So again, I just want to congratulate all of my colleagues for that.
At the same time, Premier Ford has been equally clear that a law like this would have no place in the province of Ontario. He has said that on the record multiple times, and we will continue to make sure that that is the case here in the province of Ontario.
In a ministerial statement earlier today, I talked about the importance of learning lessons from the last federal election, and I’ve talked about it before in other speeches in the House. There are a lot of lessons that we can take from the last federal election. One of the lessons we learned, especially in a minority Parliament, is that the province of Ontario and all of us on both sides of the House have an important role to play in debates—not only in this one, but in a number of debates coming forward. We have to reach out to those members of Parliament we share responsibilities with federally.
Our caucus has made a point that we will, of course, reach out to our Conservative counterparts in Ottawa about this topic, and I expect that the members opposite would do the same thing—reach out to those members of the NDP caucus, reach out to the leader of the NDP and talk about what we debated here today so that they can come forward with a similar type of appreciation on this topic that we have debated today.
Again, just to congratulate all members of the House for what I think was a debate that highlights some of the small differences that we share on policies, but overwhelmingly highlights what is best about a parliamentary democracy and our particular form of democracy—and all the members of this House, that we can completely agree on a topic such as this, and that we will all stand in unison to make sure that we support those who sometimes have not had a voice.
My great-grandfather was a member of the Resistance in the Netherlands in the Second World War. He was also a Calvinist, Dutch Reformed, a proud member of one of his local churches. During the war, as a member of the Resistance, he was captured by the Nazis, by the Gestapo, in the spring of 1945. They asked him why he was so determined to aid British airmen who had bailed out over the Netherlands, why he was so determined to assist Jews who were fleeing from Nazi Germany, why he was so determined to put, frankly, his own life in danger and the lives of his kids—he had almost a dozen kids and a big Dutch family. It was because, as a strong Dutch Calvinist, my great-grandfather had a real desire to see a place where his children would be able to worship without fear, where they’d be able to express themselves, where they’d be able to speak their minds. It was because of his belief in the innate human dignity and value of each and every individual that he fought for freedom.
He was captured at the jailhouse in Assen in April 1945, and he was going to be executed on the 13th of April, 1945, but the Resistance broke him and 30 other members of the Resistance who were locked up by the Gestapo—they broke them out that night, the night before they were going to be executed.
His story is part of my history, because when the Canadians came and liberated the Netherlands, my grandfather—my grandparents on both sides—decided to move to Canada because they believed in freedom, and they believed in the freedom to express themselves, and they believed in the freedom to worship.
So, it’s because of the sacrifice that armed forces across the world and that the Canadian Armed Forces in the Netherlands made that my family is here.
My family’s history is one that has been informed by our faith. In my inaugural address, I spoke about the impact that my faith has had on my desire to serve. There are so few places in the world, even today, where people have the freedom to speak their mind without fear, where they have the freedom to worship the god of their choosing openly, and where they have the freedom to share their deeply held beliefs as well as their ethical values, in a free and democratic society.
Those values are ones that my great-grandfather was willing to die for. They’re ones that each and every one of us as legislators in this House and in every House of Parliament and every Legislature in the country, should be willing to stand and, yes, even die for.
It’s because of that, because of that legacy, and because of the importance of making sure that every single new Canadian who comes to this land is able to celebrate and practise their faith freely, without fear of their government or fellow man, that I will be supporting this motion, and I will be proud to do so.
I do have to say that I don’t believe this is just about not allowing a bill like Bill 21 to ever come into this chamber for debate or discussion; I think it goes further than that. I think the passionate speeches that were heard from members from both sides of the House speak to the fact that we need to do more than just have a discussion here.
We need to now ask our Premier to move forward. He has a couple of opportunities coming in the next number of days. He talks about wanting to be the unifier of our country. He talks about the fact that he’s going to be meeting with all Premiers very shortly. He will be meeting with Premier Legault on December 2.
What I would ask is that the members, particularly on the government side, go back and, as our member from Kitchener Centre said, gather your people. Talk to your Premier, and make sure that he takes this historic opportunity, in the discussions that he’s going to be having, to ask Premier Legault to withdraw Bill 21, to make sure that the rights and freedoms that are enshrined in our charter are not only enshrined in our charter for people in Ontario and the other provinces and territories but also in the province of Quebec.
That’s what needs to happen. That’s the leadership that needs to take place, and I would look to the Premier to take that leadership, as the Premier of this province.
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