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Canadian Muslims, Civil Liberties Groups Challenge Quebec Religious Symbols Ban

Canadian Muslims and civil liberties groups have filed a legal challenge in the Quebec Superior Court against Quebec’s Bill 21 banning public-school teachers, government lawyers, judges and police officers from wearing hijab and religious symbols, a statement by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) read.

The plaintiffs in the case include the NCCM, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and Ichrak Nourel Hak, an education student who wears hijab.

“The decision to wear hijab was mine and came from me. The decision to remove it should also come from me, not the government,” said Hak.

“This law has stripped me of my dream and sends me a clear message that I am not a valued part of Quebec society. All my years of studying, all my efforts to be among the best teachers in Quebec went up in smoke in a snap. Being a hearing-impaired woman, I had to work far more than all my colleagues to get where I am today. However, this law has just cut off my wings.”

The bill, introduced by the Coalition Avenir Québec government, passed after a marathon weekend of deliberations at Quebec’s National Assembly.

The religious symbols ban, also known as Bill 21, passed with a vote of 73-35 at around 10:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

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Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey estimated Muslims in Canada to be around 1,053,945, or about 3.2% of the population, making Islam the second largest religion in the country after Christianity.

Statistics Canada reported a 151% spike in police-reported anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2017 following the Quebec mosque attack and the RCMP says far-right extremists have become emboldened in Canada.

Canadian Muslims, Civil Liberties Groups Challenge Quebec Religious Symbols Ban - About Islam

Shameful Law

Though Muslims are the biggest group affected by the controversial bill, for banning Hijab, the bill also bans Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans, and Catholic crosses, among other symbols.

“As of last night, the Quebec government has legalized religious discrimination – and we won’t stand for it. This shameful law is a black mark on the progressive and inclusive province that we know Quebec to be,” said NCCM’s Executive Director, Mustafa Farooq.

“It will upend people’s lives and livelihoods, pushing many Muslims, Jews and Sikhs to the margins of society in an already-tense time when Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are on the rise. That is why we will be taking immediate legal action to prevent state-sanctioned second class citizenship,” he added.

“Equality and freedom of religion are universally recognized human rights, and foundational principles in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. This is why we are fighting the law in court, and why we stand with those who oppose it,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Equality Director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The new bill was already affecting the Muslim community negatively after a Montreal Muslim women’s organization report in May said there had been a sharp increase in Islamophobic incidents after the bill was tabled.

Several Muslim women have told CBC Montreal about being spat upon, harassed or denied public services in recent weeks.