Justin Trudeau says he stays out of fight against Quebec Bill 21 – for now

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will not immediately intervene in Quebec’s debate on Bill 21 because he does not want the Quebec government to politically militarize federal intervention.

At a press conference in Ottawa, Trudeau offered the first clear explanation as to why his Liberal government has taken a hands-off approach to a provincial law that bars many public sector workers like teachers to wear religious clothing or symbols such as hijabs, kippahs or crucifixes.

Following an outcry in Chelsea, Quebec near Ottawa over the dismissal of elementary school teacher Fatemeh Anvari, some Liberal MPs and even her own UN Ambassador Bob Rae, were more outspoken than the first minister by criticizing what is called secularism law.

On Monday, Trudeau said he did not want to give Quebec Premier François Legault a political wedge to use against those fighting to stop the bill.

“I deeply disagree with the law,” and in the case of a dismissed teacher in Chelsea, Que., Who was taken out of class for wearing a hijab, Trudeau said “obviously there are a lot of people across the country, but also many Quebeckers who are asking themselves difficult questions that they should be asking themselves: is this bill justified or not?

But Trudeau said with an ongoing legal challenge making its way through the courts, it is “important … not to give the excuse of a fight between Ottawa and Quebec … and to make sure it is Quebecers. themselves who deeply disagree with the fact that someone can lose their job because of their religion, and not to excuse the government of Quebec that it is federal interference but just to say no , Quebecers disagree with this principle, that a young woman should be able to lose her job, a teacher who did her job very well simply because of her religion.

The main leaders of the federal political parties hesitated to directly criticize the government of the Coalition Avenir Québec, which adopted the law with the support of the Parti Québécois. Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said he will not pass such a law at the federal level and that he will not challenge a province’s right to legislate on secularism. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he understood what it was like to be treated differently on the basis of appearances, but did not condemn the law or the National Assembly for passing it.

The law, known as Bill 21, was passed by the Legislative Assembly of Quebec in June 2019, but is being challenged in court by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as that violation of the Quebec and Canadian charters guaranteeing freedom of religion and liberty. expression.

They scored a partial victory earlier this year when a Quebec Superior Court judge exempted English-language schools from its provisions – a ruling the Quebec government is appealing.

But the Legault government invoked the “notwithstanding” clause – a constitutional loophole – to exclude Bill 21 from the application of the Charter of Rights for five years.

So far, Trudeau has largely left the battle against it to Quebecers, saying his government will only be able to step in when, as expected, the case reaches the Supreme Court of Canada.

But in answering questions about why members of his caucus are louder than him, Trudeau was on the defensive.

“I have always said very clearly that I deeply disagree with Bill 21. I do not find that in a free and open society, someone should lose their job because of their religion. This is no longer a theoretical question.

He pointed to Anvari “who lost his job because of his religion”.

Trudeau said: “Quebecers are huge defenders of freedom of expression, gender equality, freedom of conscience” and are “very concerned that in a society that claims to be free and open , someone can lose their job because of their religion. “

But he said his government has not ruled out the “possibility of intervening as a federal government at some point.”

Rae, Trudeau’s envoy to the UN and former interim Liberal leader, tweeted Sunday “There is a deep and discriminatory meaning to this law. This clearly goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the Commons, the Bloc Québécois expressed its indignation at what MNA Alain Therrien described as “denigration of Quebec” not only by the Liberals, but also by the Conservatives outside Quebec. He demanded that Ottawa recognize that the law was “democratically adopted” and “does not discriminate against anyone” because it applies equally to all Quebecers.

“We are fed up with all of this,” he said.

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