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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole walks with Conservative Members of Parliament as he makes his way to caucus on Dec. 8 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Conservative MPs are taking a tougher stand than their leader on the removal of a Quebec teacher from her Grade 3 classroom because the hijab she wears contravenes the province’s law on state secularism.

The incident this week in Chelsea, about 16 kilometres north of Ottawa, sparked a furor among some Canadian politicians.

But Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called the situation “an issue that is best left for Quebeckers to decide” after news of the matter arose on Thursday. Asked about his message to the woman affected by the bill in this instance, Mr. O’Toole said, “This will be an important debate Quebeckers will take themselves.”

But some Tories are responding more bluntly.

Alberta MP Tim Uppal, a member of the Tories’ House of Commons leadership team whose role as minister of multiculturalism under prime minister Stephen Harper made him Canada’s first turbaned Sikh cabinet minister, took a sharper tone in a tweet.

“I can’t believe that just minutes away from Parliament, many Canadians, including myself and my children, are not allowed to work in professions of their choice, only because of the way we look,” wrote Mr. Uppal, named the Tory caucus chair of outreach in early November.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says Bill 21 is a Quebec issue while some of his MPs take tougher stand

Quebec teacher removed from classroom because she wears a hijab

Fatemeh Anvari had been teaching language arts at Chelsea Elementary School since late October. She was assigned to another role focusing on literacy and inclusion in early December, when the Western Québec School Board became aware that her presence in class violated provincial law, interim chair Wayne Daly said.

The law has been in place since June, 2019. It bars a range of public servants in authority roles, including teachers, from wearing visible religious symbols.

Some Conservatives offered their support on Twitter for a declaration by Ontario Tory MP Kyle Seeback.

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore,” Mr. Seeback wrote. “This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stood up for what’s right.”

Jamie Schmale, the MP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock and critic for Indigenous services, endorsed that statement on Twitter, with the comment “100%.” Lianne Rood, the critic for rural economic development and rural broadband strategy and MP for the Ontario riding of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, also endorsed Mr. Seeback’s comment.

Chris Warkentin, the MP for Grand Prairie-Mackenzie in Alberta, retweeted Mr. Seeback’s tweet and wrote, “If government is free to limit religious freedom it will take liberties to restrict other freedoms. I support freedom for every Canadian.”

MP Leslyn Lewis, who ranked third in last year’s Conservative leadership race, retweeted Mr. Seeback’s tweet.

Mr. O’Toole’s office did not respond on Friday to a request for comment on the remarks of his caucus members.

Federal parties have generally been cautious about denouncing the law, which is popular in Quebec. Still, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Thursday that “nobody in Canada should ever lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs.”

On Friday, a PMO spokesperson went further. “As we’ve always said, we haven’t closed the door on making representation in court in the future,” Ann-Clara Vaillancourt said in a statement.

During a press conference on Friday, Quebec Premier François Legault defended the decision to remove Ms. Anvari from the classroom, arguing that she shouldn’t have been hired, given that the secularism law was already in place. The law prohibits public sector workers in a position of authority from wearing visible religious symbols, including the hijab.

“We made the choice of secularism in Quebec. We democratically adopted Law 21,” he said. “When you adopt a law, it has to be respected. The school board shouldn’t have hired this person. I can live with the choice that we made.”

With a report from Eric Andrew-Gee in Montreal

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