September 12, 2021

-Global News

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he hasn’t “ruled out” federal intervention to challenge Bill 21 in court.

The contentious bill, also known as Quebec’s ‘secularism bill,’ is legislation across the province that prohibits public service workers including teachers, lawyers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols while on the job.

Critics have argued that it disproportionately targets Muslim women who wear the hijab or niqab and effectively treats them and other religious minorities as second-class citizens.

“We have not taken off the table intervening at a later date because no federal government should take off the table the ability to stand up for people’s fundamental rights,” Trudeau told reporters on Sunday at an election campaign stop on Montreal’s South Shore.

His comments offer a stark contrast from his opponent, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who said shortly after that he would not challenge the bill.

“When a provincial assembly passes a bill in its own area of jurisdiction, our Constitution is based on respecting that,” O’Toole said during a campaign stop in Vancouver.

“I have a very clear commitment to respect provincial jurisdiction and respect the decisions of the democratically elected provincial assemblies across this country.”

The bill is currently being challenged in court by Quebecers as well as the English Montreal School Board. Quebec Superior Court struck down parts of the bill in April, ruling that certain sections violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said that while he has “always” opposed Bill 21, he wanted to respect the fight against the bill as one waged “in Quebec, by Quebec.”

“I think that’s exactly the way it should happen,” he said. “And it’s being fought right now.”

But the bill is having a ripple effect across the country. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi called Bill 21 “blatantly unconstitutional” on Sunday, adding that the issue could become a “real problem” for the likes of O’Toole and other party leaders who have yet to threaten action against the law.

“This is a bill that says that members of three groups: Muslim women, Sikh men who wear a turban and Orthodox Jewish men who wear a kippah have certain jobs that they cannot do,” said Nenshi.

“You have a man who wears a turban, who is a lawyer and by all accounts is a good lawyer who in Quebec could never be named a judge because of his religion. That’s discriminatory, and there’s nothing wrong with calling that out.”

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has been quick to dismiss criticism of the bill. During the English federal leaders’ debate on Sept. 9, Blanchet defended Bill 21 and Bill 96, Quebec’s language-reform law.

“Those laws are not about discrimination. They are about the values of Quebec,” he said.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has demanded an apology for what he said constitutes as an “unacceptable” attack on the province, adding that the Liberal, NDP and Green parties have an overly centralized approach that would weaken Quebec’s powers.

While Trudeau acknowledged Sunday “we’re not always going to agree on a vision of federalism” with Quebec, he said he believed his government aligned with Quebec on issues such as the environment, gun control and COVID-19 vaccination.

“I will always defend Quebecers,” he said.

“I will always say … that Quebecers are not racist and I will continue to make sure that our values – Canadian values – are clearly understood and seen as inspiration all around the world.”