Peel Regional Council approved a motion on October 10 to oppose Quebec’s contentious Bill 21, which bans public workers from wearing religious symbols.

The law is widely being criticized for imposing restrictions on religious expression and excluding minorities from public service work.  

Brought forth by Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Singh Dhillon of Wards 9 and 10, the motion asked Peel Region to formally denounce Quebec’s ban on religious symbols for public sector employees.

The motion passed unanimously, with Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie telling the Council that “Bill 21 is divisive and will perpetuate exclusion, discrimination, creating class divisions and increasing systematic barriers to employment.”

In addition to condemning Bill 21, the motion encourages federal parties to challenge the bill if they form government.

The motion further supports a recent proposal by the City of Calgary to work with the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD) in addressing the harms Bill 21 would bring to Canada through a nation-wide initiative.

Present before the council were its delegates, members from the World Sikh Organization (WSO), and National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).

Sharanjeet Kaur, Vice President of WSO in Ontario, explained in her Council address that was shared with The Medium how the passing of Bill 21 in June triggered intergenerational trauma in her community. 

“When our community first heard of this bill, our parents and our grandparents started to recall the trauma of what they faced when they first arrived in Canada,” said Kaur.

“How many of our fathers and brothers were told to cut their hair and remove their turbans to gain employment. How could we possibly be turning the clock back now?”

Bill 21, an act respecting the secularity of the state, prohibits Quebec’s public sector employees from wearing religious symbols while on the job, such as the hijab, turban, and the kippah.

Introduced by the Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette, the bill mainly affects teachers, judges, police, and RCMP officers, including provincial and government-level judges and attorneys.

“Choosing between faith and employment are not choices we should have ever had to make, but our parents made them in the 1970s and 80s. And we are being forced to make them again today, on the cusp [of] 2020,” said Kaur.

Bill 21 has become a contentious election issue, as party leaders have argued over whether they would commit to challenging the law in federal court.

This year, the bill was unanimously opposed by City Councils in Calgary, Montreal, and Victoria. Similarly, the Peel Police Services Board passed a motion condemning Bill 21 in June.

Calling the bill “unconstitutional,” Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson amended the Peel motion to forward the motion to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

“Bill 21 presents terrifying constructs that are not being challenged by our leaders, by our institutions, by our neighbours, or by our friends. This normalizes a sense of distrust for people who look different,” said Kaur in her address to the council.

“This normalization then leads to the validation of intolerance. And from this we will only see the proliferation of hate. We are seeing it already. The question is when will we stand untied to stop it?”

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