The Ontario Legislature has passed an Opposition NDP motion asking Quebec to scrap its law banning many public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols or clothing such as the Jewish kippah or the Muslim hijab.
The rare show of unity was for a non-binding motion, introduced by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath on Monday, that declares Quebec’s law unconstitutional and calls on Ontario to intervene in any future Supreme Court challenge to the legislation, known as Bill 21.
While Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives supported the NDP motion, they did not commit to raising the issue directly with the Quebec government. The Premier is scheduled to head to Quebec later this week to speak with Premier François Legault, in advance of a meeting of all provincial and territorial leaders in Toronto on Dec. 2. But he has no plans to voice Ontario’s concerns with Bill 21, Mr. Ford’s press secretary, Ivana Yelich, said.
Ontario’s condemnation follows a federal election campaign that saw party leaders of all stripes mute their responses to the bill out of fear of alienating Quebec voters, a majority of whom back the measure.
Quebec invoked the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to enact Bill 21, which bars civil servants, including teachers, police officers and judges, from wearing any religious symbols or clothing. It has been condemned for discriminating against observant Muslims, Jews and Sikhs.
Current workers are grandfathered, but must follow the law if they get a promotion or change jobs. The law faces court challenges in Quebec, including one from the English Montreal School Board.
Mr. Ford, who has spoken repeatedly about the need for national unity in recent weeks, was not in the legislature for Monday’s vote. While the Ontario Premier has not gone as far as the remarks made by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, who called Bill 21 “un-Canadian” and “dangerous” this past summer, Mr. Ford has previously said he would never bring in a similar law here.
After the vote, Ms. Horwath said Mr. Ford needs to go further, and actually commit to following the motion passed on Monday. She called Quebec’s Bill 21 a “dangerous precedent” for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms across the country.
“At the end of the day, words aren’t good enough on this,” Ms. Horwath told reporters. “Leadership’s about taking action on things like this."
Government House Leader Paul Calandra noted his colleagues who wear religious headgear such as the turban or the kippah, and said their expressions of faith “will never be an obstacle that stands in the way of succeeding in Ontario.” He also said his PC colleagues would be reaching out to their federal counterparts to discuss the issue.
But when asked earlier by reporters before Monday’s vote whether the government would actually follow the non-binding motion’s directives, he declined to answer.
Prabmeet Sarkaria, the PC government’s Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, was among many PC MPPs who spoke in support of the motion. The Sikh MPP from Brampton, west of Toronto, pointed out that he is the first turban-wearing provincial cabinet minister in Ontario’s history.
“The sad reality is that I would not have had the same opportunity to serve my country as an elected representative, teacher, police officer or public servant if laws prohibiting my right to religious expression existed here in the province of Ontario,” Mr. Sarkaria said.
The Quebec National Assembly was on a break Monday, but a spokesman for Mr. Legault said the province’s laws should not concern the Ontario Legislature.
“Everything’s been said. Law 21 was legitimately passed by the Quebec National Assembly. Quebec passes its laws. Ontario’s political parties should respect the will of Quebeckers and the National Assembly,” spokesman Ewan Sauves said.
Earlier this month, the Ontario Legislature passed a motion from Liberal MPP Michael Coteau that reaffirmed Ontario’s support for the protection of religious minorities but did not mention Bill 21 by name.
Several municipalities across Canada – including Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg – and a variety of groups, including Amnesty International, B’nai Brith Canada, the World Sikh Organization and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, have condemned Quebec’s bill.
With a report from Les Perreaux
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