Hamilton may support legal challenge to Quebec’s Bill 21

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Published December 15, 2021 at 7:11 pm

Hamilton’s elected leadership may consider supporting a court challenge to Quebec’s Bill 21, which has been used to force an elementary school teacher who is Muslim out of her classroom.

Three organizations — the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the World Sikh Organization of Canada and Canadian Civil Liberties — are planning a constitutional challenge to the law. Bill 21 prohibits frontline civil servants from wearing religious symbols at work, and critics say it targets religious minorities in Quebec, particularly Muslim women. Earlier this month, Fatemeh Anvari, a teacher in Chelsea, Que., who wears a hijab, was told she would no longer be allowed to teach Grade 3 pupils.

Quebec Premier François Legault told a news conference, “The school board should not have hired this person in the first place as a teacher, given Bill 21.”

Two big-city mayors, Brampton’s Patrick Brown and Calgary’s Jyoti Gondek, said Wednesday that their cities would offer support to the fight to strike down Bill 21. That does not mean the municipalities would be trying to challenge a provincial law directly, but would look for an “appropriate funding source” to chip in for a legal fund.

Brown and Brampton councillors passed a motion Wednesday calling for support for the legal challenge. Calgary could pass a similar motion pass a similar motion as early as Monday.

“We stand united in protecting racialized communities against discrimination,” Gondek wrote.

At the tailend of Wednesday’s Hamilton city council meeting, Mayor Fred Eisenberger introduced a notice of motion about the possibility of the city pitching in on the challenge. It spells out “that staff be directed to look at available means to provide support to this challenge.”

A notice of motion means the item will be on the agenda at the next available opportunity. Hamilton’s general issues committee meets next on Jan. 14, with the next full council meeting on Jan. 19.

In any event, Eisenberger’s motion reads:

“Whereas Fatemah Anvari recently lost her teaching position in the province of Quebec for being found wearing a hijab in class, and;

“Whereas, under Quebec Bill 21, frontline civil servants who display religious symbols while working can be fired or reassigned, and;

“Whereas it is noted that Bill 21 violates the basic principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and;

“Whereas this is a clear demonstration of Islamophobia and poses a threat to the freedoms of many in the province of Quebec as well as across the country, therefore, be it resolved that the City of Hamilton join the efforts of cities across Canada to mount a legal challenge to Bill 21 in the province of Quebec, and that staff be directed to look at available means to provide support to this challenge.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week, “I deeply disagree with Bill 21,” which was passed in 2019. But the federal government has held off intervening through a legal challenge.

The Trudeau-led Liberal Party of Canada has counted heavily on support across Quebec to form government, particularly after the last two federal elections ended with a hung Parliament. In the federal election on Sept. 20, the bulk of Liberals’ national 41-seat margin over the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) came from a 25-seat advantage in Quebec. The Liberals won 35 of 78 seats, with the Bloc Québécois taking 32, the CPC winning 10 and the New Democrats winning one.

Anvari has reportedly been offered a new position to work on literacy and diversity with children at the same school in Chelsea.

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