THE World Sikh Organization of Canada on Wednesday said it is shocked by the silence of Canadian federal leaders over the passing of Bill 21- An Act respecting the laicity of the State by the Coalition Avenir Quebec government banning the wearing of religious symbols.
Bill 21 restricts the wearing of ‘religious symbols’ by public servants in positions of authority such as police officers, judges, prosecutors and also school teachers and principals, among others. The Government of Quebec has also invoked the notwithstanding clause, allowing it to override freedom of religion protections enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Neither Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, nor Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer have made any official statement since the passing of Bill 21 on Sunday. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted late Wednesday afternoon.
The passing of Bill 21 primarily effects members of the Sikh, Muslim and Jewish communities. The law forbids the wearing of ‘religious symbols’, vaguely defined as “clothing, symbol, jewelry, ornament, accessory or headgear that is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief and can reasonably be considered as referring to a religious affiliation.”
The law will be enforced by ‘inspectors’ who will supervise compliance with the secularism law and impose corrective measures – targeted employee can be subject to disciplinary measures for failing to comply.
Legal experts have expressed fears that the law will be enforced in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, targeting racialized individuals.
While Green Party leader Elizabeth May tweeted, “Dangerous step backwards for Quebec and all of Canada. No one should have to choose between their faith and their career”, no other federal leader has made any public statement.
WSO President Mukhbir Singh said: “The passing of Bill 21 is a human rights crisis. People of certain faiths, including Sikhs, Muslims and Jews have been relegated to second class citizenship in Quebec and excluded from several fields of employment.
“The silence from our federal leaders on this issue is deafening. We are already seeing that the passage of this intolerant law is enabling discrimination, even in the private sector. It is unthinkable that in Canada today, people will be subject to ‘inspectors’ who monitor religious garb at the workplace and that a generation of Sikhs, Muslims and Jews will be excluded from working as teachers, police officers or government lawyers.
“True leadership means speaking out when human rights are violated and individuals are subjected to discrimination. We’ve seen Canada be a leader when calling out human rights abuses around the world, whether it is China or Saudi Arabia – but we haven’t seen that leadership from our Prime Minister or Opposition Leaders when it comes to our very own backyard.”