It’s day one of the 2019 federal election campaign and Quebec’s ban on religious symbols in the public sector was squarely in the sights of party leaders.
But neither Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau nor Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer said the federal government should do anything to stop the ban – known as Bill 21 – that bars religious symbols from certain segments of the public sector in Quebec.
This includes barring public school teachers from wearing religious headscarves, such as hijabs and turbans.
Trudeau stopped short of saying the feds should try to overturn the ban, but he did say he was “deeply opposed” to Bill 21.
“I don’t think that in a free society we should be legitimizing or allowing discrimination against anyone,” Trudeau said Wednesday while kicking-off the Liberals 2019 election campaign.
“I’m very pleased that Quebecers themselves have chosen to contest this bill in court (and) to stand up and defend the Charter and Rights and Freedoms.”
Trudeau added that he’s been watching Bill 21 “very closely” and considering any potential federal action. Still, he said, now is not the time to take action.
“At this time, I feel it would be counterproductive for the federal government to engage in this process,” he said.
Scheer, meanwhile, said a Conservative government would not intervene in Bill 21 and that it would be inappropriate for the federal government to implement a similar ban.
He also said that he respects the ongoing court challenge to the bill, adding that it will be the courts that ultimately decide whether the law should be allowed to go on.
“I’ve made my views on Bill 21 known,” Scheer said in Ottawa Wednesday before heading off to Quebec to start the campaign.
“It’s not something that our government would, our party would, ever consider at the federal level.”
Scheer also said Conservatives will “always stand up for the rights of Canadians and the rights for expression and the rights of freedom of religion.”
Scheer did not, however, respond directly to questions when asked if he believes Bill 21 infringes on peoples’ religious freedom. He instead reiterated that a Conservative government would not implement such a bill at the federal level.
Singh calls law ‘divisive’
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was also asked about Bill 21 on the campaign-trail Wednesday.
Responding to a question from Global News about how the NDP plans to make inroads in Quebec – a province where Singh would likely be barred from being a teacher because he wears a turban – the NDP leader said it would be challenging.
“I think about a lot of the people that I meet in Montreal, a lot of young women that I’ve met who love science and love teaching and want to become a teacher, and now because of this bill (they) can’t,” Singh said.
“It saddens me,” he said.
Singh also called Bill 21 “divisive” and “hurtful,” adding that he hopes his presence in Quebec as a Sikh man with long hair, a turban and a beard throughout the campaign will show Quebecers that he is prepared to defend their right to protect their identity – including French language rights.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May has said in the past that she opposes Bill 21 and that the party also opposes the bill.
There have, however, been concerns raised about whether May would or could force Green Party candidates to oppose the bill.
May responded to these claims saying the Green Party is very different from other federal parties and that no mechanism exists for her to compel party members or MPs to vote a certain way.
She has, however, said that respect for diversity is among the core beliefs that she expects Green Party candidates to adhere to.
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