Should Vancouver help fight Quebec’s Bill 21?

Should the City of Vancouver help fund a legal challenge against Quebec’s controversial Bill 21, which became law in 2019 and prohibits public officials from wearing religious symbols, including turbans, hijabs, yarmulkes and skullcaps? crucifix?

That’s a question Mayor Kennedy Stewart wasn’t ready to answer on Tuesday, but advised him. Jean Swanson said she was considering drafting a motion that would ask for city funds to be directed to the legal cause.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the World Sikh Organization of Canada are leading the challenge against Bill 21, with the case currently before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

Swanson said she first wants to hear what the city’s Racial and Ethnocultural Equity Advisory Committee decides on the funding issue Thursday. The councilor acknowledged that it would be an unprecedented decision if she applied for financial support and got board approval.

“There are a lot of instances where we get together and vote on something – supporting Indian farmers, for example – but I don’t know about the money,” she said when asked if she was. there had been a previous case related to a legal battle in another province. where Vancouver Council has committed municipal funds.

“Discrimination against freedom of religion”

In 2019, the council unanimously accepted a joint motion from councilors Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung “to support diversity, equity and access for all citizens and support legal challenges against discrimination in principle. freedom of religion” as stated in Quebec’s Law 21.

Several cities across the country, including Brampton, Toronto and recently Victoria, have all voted to contribute financially to the legal challenge. Brampton and Toronto will each provide $100,000, while Victoria has pledged $9,500.

Stewart publicly condemned Bill 21, but cautioned that court decisions involving the city are made in closed meetings. He acknowledged that it was a subject within the council and that a decision will probably be made one way or the other in the week of January 25, when the council will hold its first meeting of the year.

“That’s about all I can say because of the nature behind closed doors,” the mayor said Tuesday. “I’m just probing what other cities are doing. Some have denounced the bill and are not putting funding into it, while others are.”

‘Charity starts at home’

Kirby-Yung, meanwhile, said she objects to the city contributing money to the legal challenge. While she supports the fight — as outlined in her joint motion with Dominato — Kirby-Yung noted that the majority of the board recently approved a 6.35% property tax increase and could not fund all programs. related to racial equity.

Anti-Asian hate crimes have also been on the rise since 2020.

“I would say we still have a lot of work to do here,” she said, pointing to projects in Chinatown and working around a possible land trust tied to the Hogan’s Alley Society.

“Also, we’re underfunded for a lot of the social issues that we have here in the city of Vancouver, whether it’s homelessness or addictions. I would kind of follow the script of the charity starting home and I would add our voice to the conversation, but I don’t think we should be putting what is essentially taxpayers’ money into the legal fight.”

Fatema Abdalla, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said she was encouraged by the principled support and financial support from various municipal councils in Canada.

“Legal challenges like this are quite costly and marginalized communities across [Quebec] are fighting against a province with unlimited resources,” Abdalla said.

“In order to level the playing field, much more [money] is necessary. Seeing these city councils across the country step in and fight the legal challenge to Bill 21 shows what an important battle this is. »

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