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 This bill needs to be withdrawn immediately.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.