By Arya Bari
“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” - John Stewart
Shortly before the winter break, Fatemeh Anvari, a third grade elementary school teacher, was told she could no longer teach simply because she wore a hijab on the job. Parents and children of her former school in Chelsea, Quebec, continue to rally in her support, triggering a national uproar against Bill 21, the cause of her reassignment.
“Bill 21, also commonly referred to as Quebec’s secularism law, bans some public servants deemed to be positions of authority such as teachers, judges, and police officers from wearing religious symbols on the job,” stated The Globe and Mail.
Since the secularism law was passed, it has affected the population of Quebec immensely, particularly impacting Muslim and Jewish communities in the province. It seems that the recent reassignment of Ms Anvari simply gave a name and a face to the bill that has harmed so many.
While an estimated 60% of Quebecers support the discriminatory law, former senator Andre Pratte states that among many of them, the law is simply a form of assurance that religion and the well-being of the province stay separate. They view the grounds on which Bill 21 stands as secular and fair because it applies to all religions.
However, if Quebec is as secular a province as it prides itself to be, why is Easter, a celebration meant to mark the resurrection of Jesus, recognized as a statutory holiday? Would this not directly contradict the grounds on which ‘Bill 21’ stands?
It is said that the idea and the point of the secularism law is to obliterate religious impositions on Quebecers. Yet, in the same breath, the government grants its citizens a holiday on Easter, provincially acknowledging and associating itself to Christianity. Meanwhile, doing everything in the government’s power to disallow citizens from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs, kippas, and turbans.
Granting Quebec a statutory holiday on Easter, on the grounds of Bill 21, imposes more religion on the citizens of Quebec than Ms. Anvari, who wore a hijab on the job. “Ms. Anvari came to school to teach, not to advertise, much less impose, her religion,” wrote The Globe and Mail. In fact, by assuming that all positions of public authority who wear garments such as hijabs, kippas, and turbans are imposing religion on the citizens of Quebec, perhaps there is another issue to consider.
Really, it is interesting how the law was passed, seeing as it defies Canada’s Charter of Freedom and Rights. And though it is often argued that Quebec did not sign this document, Pratte says that Bill 21 contradicts eight laws in Quebec’s provincial charter as well: the right to life, the right to organize for labour purposes, the right to vote, the freedom of religion, the freedom of self-expression, and the freedom of conscience.
“Which is why you have a charter, discrimination is always supported by a great majority.” Pratte declared in an interview. He followed by stating that any Quebec citizen who faced harm from the bill would not be able to argue it in court because of the rights and freedoms that were pushed aside.
Not to mention the shortage of Quebec teachers that cannot be fulfilled because many citizens who have the right qualifications cannot apply since they wish to publicly display their religion. They cannot apply for the government positions of authority, simply because Quebecers have grown intolerant of public religious displays.
Where do we draw the line?
Among the provinces of Canada, turmoil has arisen, with many people questioning how the bill came to pass. But Quebec, a province where a great number of people are separationists and dislike the province’s union with the country, sees the uproar against the bill as a direct attack.
“They think their culture and way of life is threatened,” says Andre Pratte, the former Quebec senator.
Jagmeet Singh, a public representative of the New Democratic Party, said he would support federal intervention against Bill 21. On the other hand, the Conservative representative, Erin O'Toole, said that the issue concerned Quebec and followed by stating that he would not take federal action.
But, despite the gravity of the situation and the government’s role to defend the country’s fundamental rights, Trudeau has stated that he will take legal action “at some point.” Perhaps this is an attempt to satisfy both sides of the issue in order to preserve Liberal votes, but if the government of Canada will not fight Bill 21, who will?
It seems that political parties are selling out human rights to obtain and preserve votes.
In any case, separate from the political turmoil that has been stirred, since Ms. Anvari was reassigned from her position in her third grade classroom, ironically, she has been assigned to lead a literacy project for all students that targets inclusion and awareness of diversity.
Furthermore, it is because of these events that schools all over the country are tying green ribbons in opposition to Bill 21. To support Ms Fatemeh Anvari, who has been accused of imposing her faith on students, simply because she was wearing a hijab.
Many supporters of Bill 21 found their stance on the issue because they are against external religious impositions; it is odd, however, how quick they are to impose their own beliefs on those who choose to practise religion.
It seems that quite literally that we should all practise what we preach.