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Crosses, Turbans, Hijabs, Kippahs & Other Religious Symbols Banned From Being Worn By Public Servants In Quebec

By Danielle Dorsey

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Last month, Quebec’s conservative-leaning government quietly passed a bill that bans certain public servants from wearing religious symbols, including headscarves, Jewish kippahs, Sikh turbans, and Christian crosses. Polls show that most Quebecers are in support of such a ban, with 63 percent saying they support a ban on judges, police officers, and prison guards wearing religious symbols and 59 percent supporting a ban that places the same restrictions on teachers.

The Atlantic reports that the legislation, titled “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State” and referred to as Bill 21, applies to new hires or those who change positions within an organization and will restrict those who hold positions of authority in public schools, courtrooms, and law enforcement agencies from wearing religious items.

The law takes inspiration from similar legislation in France, Belgium, Austria, and Denmark, which ban full-face veils in public and restrict burkini swimwear. While existing laws primarily target the Muslim community, Quebec has extended theirs to ban all religious symbols. 

Quebec Premier François Legault defended Bill 21 to CBC, saying, “It is quite similar to what we have in Belgium, in France, in Germany. So when I hear some people saying that Quebec becomes racist, do they mean that Germany, France, and Belgium are racist?”

The bill is another attempt from Quebec to distinguish themselves from the rest of Canada, which is taking steps to embrace inclusive, multicultural policies. Some Quebecers fear that this push for diversity will erase their “distinct identity” as a French-speaking province. The legislation is a step towards embracing France’s policy of complete separation of religion from public spaces. Quebec City recently removed a large cross that hung on the wall of the Parliament building for decades in an effort to comply with the new law. 

Dissenters argue that the law is another example of how xenophobia is taking root in the French-Canadian province and that people who wear such symbols already feel excluded from Quebec society. They believe the new law effectively makes it legal to deny disenfranchised groups access to government employment and makes them more vulnerable to discrimination.

Bill 21 is likely to strike fear among Quebec Muslims who have experienced higher rates of religious and racially motivated harassment and violence in recent years. The most notable incident occurred on January 2017 when a gunman opened fire inside a Quebec City mosque and killed six people while wounding 19 others.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have already filed a lawsuit to prevent the application of the new law. A judge is expected to rule on the motion later this month, but a clause in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prevents challenging the law on constitutional grounds for five years creates an additional hurdle for opponents. Some are hopeful that the national government in Ottawa will step in to prevent the law from going into effect. 

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Danielle Dorsey

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