The only Muslim group invited to speak at hearings into Quebec’s secularism bill warned Wednesday the proposed legislation would “institutionalize discrimination.”
If passed, Bill 21 would bar Quebec civil servants in positions of authority — including public teachers, police officers and Crown prosecutors — from wearing garments like the kippa or hijab while at work.
The bill’s sponsor, Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, says it is necessary to enshrine secularism in Quebec law in order to bring an end to debates about how to accommodate religious minorities in the province.
Since the hearings began Tuesday, Jolin-Barrette has tried to portray the bill as a moderate response to the wishes of the majority of Quebecers.
But Haroun Bouazzi, speaking for the Association des Musulmans et des Arabes pour la laïcité au Québec, a group representing Muslims and Arabs who support secularism, said racialized communities will be harmed by the religious symbols ban in the public service.
“This bill is actually institutionalizing discrimination,” said Bouazzi, a well-known anti-racism activist in Montreal, following his appearance at the hearing.
The head of Quebec’s human rights commission, Philippe-André Tessier, who testified late yesterday evening, made similar remarks. The bill will force people to either change their religious practices or risk losing their job, said Tessier.
“That, in other words, is discrimination,” he said. “There aren’t 1,000 different ways to say that.”
A frosty exchange
Bouazzi’s comments at the hearing received a frosty reception from Jolin-Barrette. Bouazzi sought to challenge the minister’s claim that the CAQ government’s majority gives it the legitimacy to limit where and when religious symbols can be worn.
Shortly after the Iranian Revolution, Bouazzi said, the Islamic regime won a referendum that led to laws restricting the rights of women.
The normally placid Jolin-Barrette used up the rest of his allotted time accusing Bouazzi of comparing Quebec to Iran.
“I don’t think these comments have their place here,” the minister said.
Bouazzi denied he was making such a comparison. “I was explaining the limits of your reasoning,” he replied.
Bouazzi’s group is one of only two religious organizations that will address the committee during the six days of hearings into Bill 21.
On Tuesday evening, representatives of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs told lawmakers the bill has little support within the Jewish community.
On Wednesday, the committee heard from two educators who argued that the wearing of religious symbols harmed gender equality.
They were asked by one of the bill’s opponents, Québec Solidaire MNA Sol Zanetti, whether they had any evidence of a link between Islamic radicalization and the hijab.
“Do you need studies to show that the McDonald’s hamburger man encourages people to eat more hamburgers?” replied Nadia El-Mabrouk, a Université de Montreal computer science professor and well-known secularism advocate.
This story originally appeared on CBC