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Muslim Group: Quebec Secularism Bill Creates Second-class Citizens

MONTREAL – A prominent Canadian Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization has said the Coalition Avenir de Quebec (CAQ), government’s so-called secularism bill, will render Quebec Muslims and other minority communities second-class citizens, a statement sent to read.

“The CAQ government has introduced this discriminatory legislation without engaging in any consultation whatsoever with impacted communities,” said Sarah Abou-Bakr, Quebec spokesperson for the Quebec office of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).

“If this bill becomes law, Quebec Muslims will be facing a very different set of circumstances and socio-economic prospects than those around them.  Quebec is a democratic, progressive and inclusive society; yet this bill is regressive and is squarely against these core values,” she added.

Bill 21, ‘An Act Respecting Laicity of the State’ was tabled earlier today.

The bill would ban the wearing of the niqab, hijab, kippah, and turban for public servants, including teachers, school administrators, Crown lawyers, police officers, correctional officers, and others.

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“Under the guise of secularism, this legislation is effectively a prohibition on wearing the hijab in the Quebec public service given the overwhelming number of people impacted will be Muslim women. Secularism is about the state protecting religious freedom for all Quebecers, and not coercing individual conformity to what the majority wants,” said NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee.

Muslim Group: Quebec Secularism Bill Creates Second-class Citizens - About Islam

Entrenching Division

Abou-Bakr warned that the new bill will only entrench division in a growingly diverse Quebec society.

“Quebec is understandably trying to find a way to deal with an increasingly diverse society while still protecting its distinct Francophone culture. But removing the fundamental rights and freedoms of some Quebecers will only entrench division,” she said.

“The CAQ government cannot claim to protect Quebec’s right to be different while at the same time discriminating against Quebecers who themselves are different. We will be speaking to Quebecers about how this bill fails to protect Quebec’s distinct society and jeopardizes its future as a strong and prosperous place.”

Today’s bill invoked the rarely-used ‘notwithstanding clause’ in an attempt to override future legal challenges to the legislation. But according to the NCCM, the fight to safeguard the rights of minority communities in Quebec has only just begun.

“The CAQ government’s use of the notwithstanding clause is a tacit admission that this bill would not pass constitutional muster.  The NCCM’s legal team is undertaking a careful review of the bill to determine what options exist to challenge this discriminatory legislation,” said Gardee.

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.

Two years ago, a Canadian lone gunman opened fire at a mosque in Quebec City on the evening of January 29, 2017, killing six and injuring 19.

The NCCM is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization that is a leading voice for Muslim civic engagement and the promotion of human rights.