Quebec’s “evil” secularism law “must be fought with every legal and moral method available,” Rabbi Michael Whitman said at the launch of a renewed grassroots campaign against Quebec’s Bill 21, which was adopted by the national assembly in June.
Rabbi Whitman, the spiritual leader of the Adath synagogue in Hampstead, Que., joined representatives of faith communities and other citizens opposed to the state neutrality legislation, which prohibits certain public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work.
“The evil of this law extends far beyond those who are immediately impacted, and they are impacted in a terrible manner,” said Rabbi Whitman. “This law has given licence to incivility and it has given permission to look down upon, and cast aspersions upon, those who look different or dress differently.”
Rabbi Whitman called on all people of good will, regardless of their religion or background, to join the fight against the law.
What is forced on us is undemocratic because it depends on the majority being able to pass whatever it wants and impose it on the minority.
– Ehab Lotayef
A past president of the Montreal Board of Rabbis, he is currently a professor in McGill University’s law faculty.
He quoted his dean, Robert Leckey, who, in an article a couple of days earlier on the National Observer news website, wrote: “I’m used to telling new students that law school will be challenging. I’m not used to telling students that if their faith requires them to wear a hijab, turban or kippah, some dreams are not for them.… How do you persuade those wearing religious symbols that they have a place in the legal profession and the public life of the province?”
The “No to Bill 21” campaign kicked off at a press conference held at St. James United Church on Sept. 5. Its goal is to persuade the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government that the law is unjust and discriminatory through a groundswell of peaceful protest.
Buttons with a red line drawn through the words “Bill 21” are being distributed and the campaign hopes that 50,000 of them will be on the lapels of people by the end of September. Organizers are hoping to persuade those who favour the bill to change their minds.
A day of public action throughout the province is planned for Oct. 6, on which organizers are suggesting that opponents wear religious symbols, even if they don’t normally, or wear the symbols of other faiths.
“We want people to visibly show they are against the law,” said campaign co-ordinator Ehab Lotayef. “I am Muslim, but I choose to wear a Jewish kippah,” which he did at the launch.
He called the law undemocratic and a cynical attempt by the CAQ to play to its base.
“What is forced on us is undemocratic because it depends on the majority being able to pass whatever it wants and impose it on the minority, and if you don’t respect and protect the minorities, democracy falls apart,” he said.
This new show of public resistance comes after a legal challenge to the bill failed.
The National Coalition of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association had their request for an injunction, which would have suspended the application of the law, denied in July. They are appealing.
B’nai Brith Canada expressed its disappointment over the Quebec Superior Court ruling and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to speak out against the ban on religious symbols.
“Now that an immediate judicial solution is unavailable, we call on the prime minister to speak out in defence of all Quebecers’ religious liberties,” said Steven Slimovitch, B’nai Brith’s national legal counsel.
He said that if the application against the bill proceeds to a full judicial review, B’nai Brith would consider intervening in the litigation.