Sikhs in Canada anxious over Quebec government secularism bill

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The bill, titled "An act respecting the laicity of the state", will cover teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, prosecutors and other public servants in positions of authority. The Coalition Avenir Quebec government has tabled its secularism bill today, fulfilling an election promise to ban many public sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work.

"Under the guise of secularism, this legislation is effectively a prohibition on wearing the hijab in the Quebec public service, given the overwhelming number of people impacted will be Muslim women", NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee said in a statement.

Even though there has been a massive public outcry, not only in Quebec but also nationally - and even with the English Montreal School Board, one of the largest teacher's union in Quebec, ready to file a legal challenge against it and who just yesterday announced they will not adhere to the ban, Premier of Francois Legault and his CAQ government have tabled Bill 21 today that would ban numerous provinces workers from wearing religious symbols.

The government has said it is working toward a motion to remove the crucifix that hangs above the speaker's chair in the National Assembly.

"It is unthinkable to me that in a free society we would legitimise discrimination against citizens based on their religion", Trudeau told reporters in Halifax on Thursday.

Defending the "controversial" bill, Jolin-Barrette said that he "thinks people are reasonable", adding: "I am convinced people targeted by the bill will respect the law".

But they also include provisions allowing governments to pass laws overriding those rights. She said she fears they will be stigmatized and even subjected to violence in everyday life. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said the proposal is supported by a majority of residents in the province.

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As someone already in the education system, she is protected by a grandfather clause in the bill as long as she keeps teaching within the same school board.

The previous Liberal government adopted demands for receiving public services but they were suspended after some groups argued that the restrictions violate the country's laws, providing for freedom of conscience and religion.

The bill was strongly denounced by other politicians including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a practising Sikh who wears a turban, and Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante.

The bill now goes to a legislative committee for review.

Idil Issa, vice-president of the Fondation Parole de femmes, which represents women from visible minorities, said Muslim women wearing the hijab will bear the brunt of the law's impact.

"I never in my journey thought I couldn't", she said.

Among those who would be affected are teachers, police officers and judges.

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