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Montreal Liberal candidate denounces Bill 21 at campaign launch

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Incumbent Mount Royal Liberal candidate Anthony Housefather speaks at the official start of his bid for re-election, in Montreal on Sept. 11. (Janice Arnold/The CJN)

On the same day that Quebec Premier François Legault warned federal politicians to stay out of any challenge to the province’s Bill 21, Anthony Housefather, the Liberal candidate in the riding of Mount Royal, called the new secularism law “unconscionable.”

At the Sept. 11 launch of his campaign, Housefather told a packed audience of supporters that it is “discriminatory” and “should not be law.”

“There has never been a study that shows wearing a hijab prevents anyone from being an effective teacher, or a kippah or turban a good police officer. In fact, the contrary has been shown,” he told a packed audience of about 400.

“That anyone has to abandon their dreams and hopes for a job is unconscionable.”

Housefather, who is seeking a second term in the highly multicultural riding, said he will also fight for the preservation of Quebec’s English school boards. The Coalition Avenir Québec government intends to do away with all school boards in the province, although it said it is taking into account the educational rights of the anglophone community.

“If there is any attempt to abolish the English boards, I will be in the forefront of the barricades against that,” Housefather vowed.

That anyone has to abandon their dreams and hopes for a job is unconscionable.
– Anthony Housefather

Housefather was chair of the House of Commons standing committee on justice and human rights.

The evening saw a parade of more than 20 speakers singing Housefather’s praises. They included representatives of the numerous ethnic and religious communities in the riding, as well as political allies and English Montreal School Board Chair Angela Mancini.

Different segments of the Jewish community were present.

Salam El-Mousawi of the Ahl-Bait Islamic centre, wearing a “Non à Loi 21” button and what appeared to be a kippah, hailed Housefather for having been among the first to come to the defence of the Muslim community when certain media falsely reported that the local mosque had barred women from working on a construction site outside it.

Former Liberal MP and cabinet minister Jacques Saada, now president of the Communauté Sépharade unifiée du Québec, acknowledged that he had been asked how he could be speaking up for Housefather when the organization’s bylaws require political neutrality.

“My answer is simple: loyalty. If we do not believe in that, then there is nothing to believe in,” he said.

Housefather worked on Saada’s successful campaign to become president of the federal Liberal party’s Quebec wing in 1991.

Aline Malka, a longtime volunteer in the Sephardic community and with Federation CJA, also enthusiastically endorsed Housefather, noting what he had done for her community as an MP and, earlier, as the mayor of Côte-St-Luc, Que. (Housefather’s chief challenger, Conservative David Tordjman, a Côte-St-Luc councillor, is Sephardic.)

Anthony Housefather, front left, listens as, from left, Jacques Saada, Lawrence Bergman and Irwin Cotler speak on his behalf, at his campaign launch in Montreal on Sept. 11. (Janice Arnold/The CJN)

Also speaking on behalf of the Jewish community were Rabbi Israeli Sirota, director of Chabad’s Jewish Russian Community Centre, and Lionel Moses, rabbi emeritus of Shaare Zion Congregation.

“The Liberal party represents the core values of all Canadians,” Rabbi Moses stressed. He cited Housefather for his activism against “racism in general and anti-Semitism in particular.

“With Michael Levitt of (the Toronto-area riding of) York Centre, Anthony has been the voice of the Jewish community,” including on issues related to Israel.

Others commending Housefather unreservedly included William Steinberg and Mitchell Brownstein, mayors, respectively, of Hampstead and Côte St-Luc. Town of Mount Royal Mayor Philippe Roy made an appearance, as well. Many councillors were also there, or sent messages.

Independent Montreal Coun. Marvin Rotrand of Snowdon and former D’Arcy McGee MNA Lawrence Bergman said they will be working on Housefather’s re-election bid.

Darlington Coun. Lionel Perez, leader of the opposition Ensemble Montréal, was introduced and a letter from D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum was read.

Housefather’s predecessor, Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister, described Housefather as “a champion of minority rights.”

On Sept. 24, Housefather and Tordjman are scheduled to take part in a debate organized by B’nai Brith Canada at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.

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