MPs Push for Ottawa to Challenge Quebec Secularism Law

By Noé Chartier
Noé Chartier
Noé Chartier
Noé Chartier is an Epoch Times reporter based in Montreal.
December 16, 2021 Updated: December 17, 2021

Pressure is mounting on the Liberal government to challenge Quebec’s Bill 21 after a teacher wearing a hijab was removed from her classroom earlier this month.

“[Bill 21] cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged,” Salma Zahid, Liberal MP for Scarborough Centre, said in a Dec. 13 statement.

“It is time for the Government of Canada to join the legal challenge filed by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. It is time for the government to intervene.”

Fatemeh Anvari, who taught in a Chelsea elementary school, part of the Western Québec School Board, was removed from her teaching position for wearing a Muslim headscarf in the classroom and reassigned to administrative duties within the board.

Adopted in 2019, Bill 21 prohibits the display of religious symbols for public servants in positions of authority. The school board told CBC it opposes the bill and wasn’t aware Anvari wore a hijab when she was hired.

Jenna Sudds, Liberal MP for Kanata-Carleton, also condemned the bill, saying the government “cannot rule out” federal intervention.

“We cannot in good conscience stand idly by and allow this Bill to go unchallenged, for what we permit, we promote,” she said in a statement on Dec. 10.

“While provincial jurisdiction must be acknowledged, we cannot rule out the necessity of federal intervention when the fundamental rights of Canadians are challenged.”

In the House of Commons on Dec. 15, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated his position that he “strongly disagrees” with Bill 21, but he has so far taken the position to not interfere in Quebec’s affairs on the matter.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole has also taken the same position. However, some members of the Conservative caucus have been more vocal on the issue.

“We can’t let laws like that go unchallenged,” Tory MP Mark Strahl told reporters before heading into the Tories’ national caucus meeting on Dec. 15, where he said the issue would be raised.

“It’s a position that’s shared by many, many of my colleagues.”

Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan did not call directly for the government to challenge the secularism law in court, but she said in a Dec. 15 statement that the bill is “discriminatory and racist.”

“This Bill was originally meant to only affect police officers, correctional services officers, and judges. It was then extended to teachers. Who will be next?” she wrote.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who previously said he would not interfere on the issue, said this week he would support a court challenge by the federal government.

While the federal government is reluctant to support a legal challenge, some municipal politicians have decided to go forward. Municipalities such as Calgary, Toronto, and others are looking at passing motions to contribute to legal fees to support a court challenge, while many more have spoken out against the bill.

A Léger poll from September suggested 64 percent of Quebecers agree with the secularism law.

Some of the law’s more vocal supporters are also doubling-down, framing the opposition to Bill 21 as a plot against the Québécois nation.

“Justin Trudeau certainly wants to preserve his image by making believe that the challenge of Bill 21 does not fall under federal interference. It is a big joke, because the entire Canadian regime is mobilizing to dismantle this law, to put an end to it,” wrote Mathieu Bock-Côté, a pro-independence intellectual, in the province’s largest daily newspaper Journal de Montréal.

Bock-Côté said Bill 21 “carries another vision of the collective, based no longer on multiculturalism but on the nation,” and it “makes the people of Quebec, and not the Canadian Charter of Rights, the principle of reference for establishing political legitimacy.”

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

Noé Chartier is an Epoch Times reporter based in Montreal.