Oakville council opposes Quebec’s Bill 21, just not with taxpayer funds


Published February 1, 2022 at 6:02 pm

Oakville Councillors voted unanimously at a meeting on Monday night to express their opposition to the Quebec law that forbids public servants from wearing religious symbols. INSAUGA PHOTO

The Town of Oakville supports a legal challenge to Quebec’s Bill 21, but not putting taxpayer dollars on the table to help fund the fight.

Councillors voted unanimously at a meeting on Monday night to express their opposition to the Quebec law that forbids public servants from wearing religious symbols.

But a motion by Ward 7 Councillor Pavan Parmar to donate $10,000 to the legal challenge of Bill 21 failed on a 7-7 tie.

With Ward 2 councillor Ray Chisholm not in attendance, the council was deadlocked and municipal rules state that a tie vote is a loss.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton and councillors Beth Robertson, Jeff Knoll, Marc Grant, Jasvinder Sandhu, Tom Adams and Parmar all supported a donation.

Voting against a donation were councillors Cathy Duddeck, Natalia Lishchyna, Peter Longo, Sean O’Mear, Allan Elgar, Dave Gittings and Janet Haslett-Theall.

The Town’s donation would have gone to support a legal challenge to the controversial law started by the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the World Sikh Organization.

“I do not think we have any right weighing into this from a financial standpoint,” said Duddeck, who voted to support the legal challenge, but not a donation from the Town. “These are taxpayer dollars and I do not feel comfortable making a donation or providing funds from taxpayer dollars to fund this.

“We have so many causes that are so near and dear to us, we could ream off all kinds of them.”

Duddeck was more supportive of making councillors making their own personal donations.

“I think that’s where we need to land,” she said.

Before the vote, Burton said he would donate $10,000 of his own money to the legal challenge and also would match donations from any other councillor if the motion to donate failed.

“We sent a message against Bill 21 when it was adopted a couple of years ago and now Bill 21 has been used against a school teacher in Chelsea, Quebec,” said the Oakville mayor pointing to the firing of a teacher for wearing a hijab  “Our motion tonight renews our opposition to this attack on our rights and freedoms under the charter of rights and freedoms.

“If the motion for donation were to fail, I will, in any event, be making a personal donation and if it were to pass, I’ll match it personally.”

Parmar argued that all levels of government need to speak up and work together to protect human rights.

“This bill has negatively impacted thousands of Canadian families forcing relocation as we just heard, forcing a change in career and causing poor mental health,” she said. “Bill 21 is a discriminatory law and we can not allow religious freedom to be infrinched in Quebec. If we accept that, we are setting a dangerous precedent. We are putting our own communities at risk.

“Bill 21 validates and normalizes hate, specifically racism and Islamophobia and as a result we are see increased rates of hate incidents across the country.”

The issue is close to home for Sandhu.

“A little bit too close for comfort,” the Ward 7 councillor said.

Sandhu said her husband, father and father-in-law are all a “Turban Sikh.”

“None of them would have been able to get a job,” she said. “I find that hurtful.”

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