Third anniversary of Bill 21: several citizens' movements are still protesting across Quebec
On the eve of what will be the third anniversary of the implementation of the Coalition Avenir Québec's (CAQ) Bill 21 concerning the secularism of the State, demonstrations against this law, deemed discriminatory by many Quebec citizens, have been organized. This year, Gatineau echoed Montreal and marched through the streets of downtown on June 11 to protest against Bill 21, which prohibits the wearing of religious signs or symbols by certain people in the workplace. In Montreal, a similar demonstration was held on the same date against this law. Bill 21, which is specific to Quebec, states that "It applies to teachers and principals of public elementary and secondary schools, peace officers, Crown prosecutors, judges appointed by the Quebec legislature and the President and Vice-Presidents of the National Assembly. As for the religious symbol, the Quebec government defines it as "any object, including a garment, symbol, jewel, ornament, accessory or head covering, which is either worn in connection with a religious belief or conviction or which is reasonably considered to refer to a religious affiliation. Since its implementation in the governmental system on June 16, 2019, this law has caused and continues to cause a huge reaction from Quebec residents.
Led and organized by the association Droits, diversité et dialogue, the demonstration started near the Yvon A. Grégoire community center and then moved to the Maison du citoyen located on Laurier Street, passing through downtown Gatineau. Several speeches were made during the event, including one by Benoit Renaud, President of Droits, diversité et dialogue: "We are here to show that this discriminatory law does not have a consensus in Quebec, that it is not a law like any other and that we will continue to oppose it as long as the principle of equal rights is not respected again," he said. The hidden reality of this law, that it directly influences many women, in some circles more than men, was well summarized by Monia Mazigh, author and human rights activist, "It is the institutions that must be secular, not the individuals who work in them.”. Yosr Ben Jemaa, a young Muslim student and activist, concluded by explaining, "I am a Quebecer, a Muslim, a veiled woman and proud of it [...] These multiple identities, which define me and which represent many Quebec women, are threatened since the adoption of the CAQ's discriminatory law. In a context of labor shortage, climate problems and inflation, instead of having a unifying discourse, Mr. Legault relies on division and fear of the other. We are all Quebecers and it is not the CAQ that will dictate what it means to be Quebecers.”.
It should be noted that the debate on Bill 21 was recently brought to the forefront in the media following a new government campaign aimed at countering the teacher shortage that is currently rampant in Quebec. The same government that refused to hire qualified people (including several Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab), citing Bill 21, is now seeking to fill its ranks by calling on "competent people who want to work with and for young people, graduates and retirees who are committed to educational success," as mentioned by Jean-François Roberge, Minister of Education. This recruitment campaign, considered ironic by many who do not understand how a competent and qualified person can be dismissed under the pretext of wearing a religious symbol in the midst of a teacher shortage, has directly reopened the debate on the secularism of the State and its application to the teaching field.
Photo: Student activist Yosr Ben Jemaa at the demonstration on June 11, 2022.
Photo: Courtesy of Droits, diversité et dialogue
Photo: Former Cantley Mayor Steve Harris and son David protesting Quebec Bill 21 on June 11 in Gatineau. Photo: Amy Pitkethly