Quebec Premier Francois Legault defended the province’s controversial secularism bill on Thursday after yet another municipal council passed a motion this week condemning the legislation.
Toronto city councillors passed the motion at their meeting on Wednesday, making the Ontario capital the largest city yet to jump into the fray against the controversial legislation.
The motion tabled by Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam proposes a nationwide campaign to denounce what she calls “the harmful widespread impacts of Bill 21.”
It also encourages the federal government to condemn the law, which came into effect in June and “disproportionately impacts Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews,” according to a summary of the Toronto motion.
The bill prohibits public servants deemed to be in positions of authority, such as teachers, judges and police officers, from wearing religious symbols including turbans, kippas and hijabs.
“Bill 21 is a strategic attempt to stifle and limit the civic participation of individuals who choose to wear religious symbols under the guise of secularism,” the summary reads.
Legault said Thursday he’s not happy with the growing movement against Bill 21, and he’ll continue to discuss the matter with his counterparts in other provinces.
“Would they say that about Germany? About France? About all countries in Europe doing more than what we’re doing? Come on,” Legault said in Quebec City.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec government has defended the secularism law, saying it enjoys strong support among Quebecers and helps to ensure the state remains secular.
But the Toronto motion echoes similar measures passed by councillors in Calgary, Mississauga and Winnipeg in recent weeks.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called the law “grotesque.”
Legault insisted Thursday the law is not racist – it simply follows the will of Quebecers who want to live in a secular state where people in authority don’t show they are part of particular religion.
“I will repeat this, so I count on you to explain we are reasonable,” Legault told reporters.
While Bill 21 invokes the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause to shield it from charter challenges, a number of groups have filed legal challenges using other avenues.
The English Montreal School Board filed a challenge to the law last week, arguing it contravenes the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects minority language education rights. The board also claims it has a disproportionate impact on women.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Union have also filed a challenge of the law and are appealing a recent Quebec Superior Court decision that rejected their request for an immediate stay of some of the law’s provisions.
A hearing is scheduled for next month.
Asked Thursday if municipalities in other provinces should simply butt out, Legault wouldn’t respond.
“I don’t want to start a fight,” he said.
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