Asking RSB Commissioners and Director General to defy Bill 21's religious ban

Asking RSB Commissioners and Director General to defy Bill 21's religious ban

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Lindi Ross started this petition to Christopher Craig (RSB Commissioner) and

Dear Christopher Craig, fellow Riverside School Board Commissioners and Sylvain Racette, Director General RSB,
            We are writing to ask Riverside School Board to stand in solidarity with the English Montreal School Board and DEFY Bill 21 by refusing to implement its directives of disallowing teachers, principals, vice-principals to wear religious symbols. We offer the following explanations and facts to persuade RSB Commissioners to make this stand by showing how the opposite has the potential to lead to a decay in Quebec society as we know it today and create divisiveness and prejudice where none currently exist.
The demographics in Montreal where one-third of the population are immigrants and represent 87% of Quebec’s total immigration population have caused many Québécois to reflect on secularism and with their connection to their religion of which 83.5% are Catholic, and 80% identify as being of French Canadian descent. (Zubrzycki 148, 155). In Quebec society, where secularism is tangled up with national identity, it is normal that many citizens would feel worried and afraid that newcomers with new cultures would come into their society and try to change them, according to Charles Taylor, who co-wrote the Charles-Taylor Commission Report in 2008. It is understandable that the Québécois have a long-established identity as a minority within Canada, and that many fear that the society they once recognized will disappear.
However, Quebec’s premier, Francois Legault is seizing on these fears surrounding national identity by creating a law that states that a secular or neutral state requires the banning of any visible religious symbols by all of its government workers, including teachers. It is our belief and that of Charles Taylor that secularism or state neutrality does not require the banning of wearing religious symbols and that this law will come at the cost of civil rights and at the ability of the Charter of Rights and Freedom to protect citizens (Hannah 2). Stephen Burke, a commissioner, connected to the English school boards, stated that in the 340 schools he represents there are no issues about religion and passing a law to try and fix this kind of problem is like “giving medicine to a patient who isn’t sick” (Valiante 2) and we are in complete agreement with his sentiments. Banning government workers from wearing religious symbols restricts their freedom of conscience and religion as well as equal access to employment in the government area (Taylor and Bouchard 149).

Charles Taylor claimed that the reason why we see much less fear in Montreal versus the rest of Quebec is that this is where most immigrants settle and where everyone, immigrants and locals, gets the chance to mingle and get to know each other. This exposure that Montrealers experience reduces their fear of losing their Québécois culture and identity, unlike the rest of Quebec. It also reduces the belief that the banning of religious symbols by government workers is necessary for state neutrality to occur.

Banning government employees from wearing religious symbols, especially teachers, creates the risk that the less dominant groups in Quebec society will not feel accepted and create a counter-identity. This is exactly what happened in France when a law passed banning government workers from wearing any religious symbols to ensure the state’s secular beliefs were enforced. This meant that Muslim women who must wear a hijab to respect the laws of their religion could no longer work in government if they held jobs or apply for any new jobs if they wanted to observe the laws of their religion. Muslims in France started to say “Nous ne sommes pas français, nous sommes musulmans” (Riga 1). In other words, if state neutrality involves the banning of the wearing of religious symbols by government employees, those opposed to this ban strongly believe it would likely lead to a decay in Quebec society and create divisions where none currently exist as occurred in France.
We believe that state neutrality should be directed towards the actions of workers rather than their appearance as this would create equal access to all government services and jobs for users and workers (Taylor and Bouchard 148). For example, we believe a teacher should be allowed to wear a hijab as this would not interfere with her performing her work duties, but would not be allowed to wear a burka or niqab as this would interfere with the teacher’s communication with her students which is part of her work duties (Zubrzycki 155). Living successfully together in a multicultural society like Quebec can be achieved by exposing children to different religions and cultures during their early school years to learn about the differences between people, view them as typical and make them less likely to feel threatened by these differences as they get older (Taylor and Bouchard 150).

We, as Quebecers, are not threatened by immigrants and new cultures and religions because most of the people coming here basically want to be like us and enjoy the freedoms and education that Quebec offers. Change in society is expected but the change that could happen by the wearing of religious symbols by immigrants would be small and the good ideas that they bring that might cause change is valuable for everyone, and not something to be feared (Riga 3).

We ask that RSB and its commissioners stand in solidarity with the English Montreal School Board and refuse to comply with Bill-21 banning teachers, principals and vice-principals from the wearing of religious symbols.
Works Cited
Bouchard, Gerard, Taylor, Charles. Government of Quebec. "Bouchard-Taylor Commission Report." Bibliotheque et archives nationes du Quebec, 2008.
Dick, Hannah. "New Premier, Same Old Story: Quebec's Longtime Anti-Niqab Efforts." Canadian Press, 5 Oct 2018.
Riga, Andy. "'Dangerous, Appalling, Divisive, Destructive' - Charles Taylor on the CAQ's Religious Symbols Plan." The Montreal Gazette,  20 Oct 2018.
Vailante, Giuseppe. “Quebec Government Blasted on Day 1 of Hearings into Bill on Religious Neutrality.” The Canadian Press, 18 Oct 2016.
Zubrzycki, Genevieve. “Beheading the Saint: Nationalism, Religion, and Secularism in Quebec.”University of Chicago Press, 2017.

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