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CanadaAs Bill 21 hearings resume, Montreal to debate police wearing religious symbols

12:22  14 may  2019
12:22  14 may  2019 Source:   cbc.ca

Quebec is divided, polarized as hearings begin on secularism bill

Quebec is divided, polarized as hearings begin on secularism bill Public hearings into Bill 21, Quebec's proposed secularism law, begin this week in Quebec City. Debate over the bill has been fierce in parts of the province, less so in others.

Marvin Rotrand wanted Montreal police to follow the lead of New York City and other jurisdictions, which have allowed officers to wear religious symbols . Councillors voted Tuesday 32-19 against the motion, debated on the same day Mayor Valérie Plante testified at Quebec's Bill 21 hearings .

The Quebec ban on religious symbols was enacted by Bill 21 , "An Act respecting the laicity of the State" (French: Loi sur la laïcité de l'État), which was tabled by the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec

As Bill 21 hearings resume, Montreal to debate police wearing religious symbols© Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press Charles Taylor, co-author of the Bouchard-Taylor report, spoke last week at the hearings into Bill 21.

On the same day representatives from Montreal are set to testify at Quebec's Bill 21 hearings, city councillors are expected to be forced into their own debate about what police should be allowed to wear on the job.

Coun. Marvin Rotrand, who represents Snowdon, tabled a motion urging Montreal to follow the lead of the RCMP, as well as cities such as Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver, in allowing police officers to wear religious clothing and symbols.

Specifically, the motion asks that city council advise the SPVM to "revise its uniform policies so as to allow qualified candidates to serve wearing hijabs, turbans, kippas and other religious coverings."

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As the National Assembly debates Bill 21 , a city councillor will urge Montreal to formally allow police officers to wear religious garments. Sondos Lamrhari, a Montreal woman who wears a hijab, made headlines last year when she said her dream was to become a police officer.

Bill 21 would prohibit civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols in the READ MORE: Debate over Bill 21 heats up in Old Montreal with multiple weekend protests. Human chain against Bill 21 . High school students hold walkout. As the hearings continued Tuesday

"I think it's important to have the debate," Rotrand said in an interview. "Montreal is where the minorities are in Quebec. It's here where the changes have to come from."

Rotrand, a longtime councillor, has for years been pressing Montreal police to adopt a more open stance toward minorities.

He sent a letter to the city's executive committee last year calling for them to make the change. Failing to get a response, he decided to force the issue.

But it's a coincidence, he said, that the motion has come up for debate on the same day the city is scheduled to present in Quebec City. Montreal was originally scheduled to testify last week.

If passed, Bill 21 would ban public workers in positions of authority, including teachers, lawyers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols.

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“Women who wear the hijab will be the first victims (of Bill 21 ) and it is therefore deplorable that The CAQ began its public hearings Tuesday on the legislation that would forbid public school teachers, police officers, court employees and other civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job.

The Quebec government’s Bill 21 , which aims to ban public workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols , has only In a statement, Montreal police communications commander Jonathan Martel said the SPVM is closely following the progress of Bill 21 but hasn't taken a position

A chance to 'make a statement'

Mayor Valérie Plante has been critical of the proposed law and, last month, council unanimously passed a motion condemning it.

But Plante has also said she would comply with the legislation.

Plante's office did not respond Monday to a request for comment about Rotrand's motion, while Opposition party Ensemble Montréal declined to comment.

As Bill 21 hearings resume, Montreal to debate police wearing religious symbols© Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Rotrand said the city has an opportunity to "make a statement" about where it stands, even if a provincial law will render it meaningless.

"We have more in common with big cities across Canada than we do with the rest of Quebec," he said, adding that the city needs to do more to make its public employees reflective of the population.

Lack of diversity

The SPVM has struggled to diversify its pool of officers. Only 7.5 per cent are visible minorities, according to its 2017 annual report — far from reflective of the city's population.

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A group of Bill 21 protesters chant outside TVA with riot police watching in Montreal on Saturday Hundreds of supporters of the bill , which would ban some government workers from wearing religious symbols The debate over Bill 21 will be played out on Montreal streets again tomorrow https

Bill 21 hearings : Montreal Mayor and English school boards are heard. READ MORE: Quebec trying to ‘limit debate ’ during secularism bill hearings — religious groups. The letter also argues the current bill does not indicate how prohibiting certain officials from wearing symbols of their religion

Montreal's police force hasn't taken a position on Bill 21. In the past, representatives from the SPVM have said the question of religious symbols is only theoretical, since no one who wears one has applied to work for the force.

The city's police union has said it's in favour of the ban.

A ban on police wearing religious symbols is consistent with the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor report into the accommodation of minorities.

The report recommended that public workers who exercise the coercive authority of the state be barred from wearing religious garb. But the authors also acknowledged that "a police force is likely to more readily gain the trust of a diversified population if it is diversified and inclusive."

As Bill 21 hearings resume, Montreal to debate police wearing religious symbols© CBC Rotrand wants the SPVM to welcome minorities who wear religious symbols.

Charles Taylor, a prominent philosopher and one of the co-authors of the report, has since backed away from that position.

In 2017, he said the political and social climate in Quebec has changed and the recommendation is no longer required to promote harmony between Quebec's majority and minority populations.

"We are still waiting for an explanation about why this is necessary," Taylor said last week, during his testimony at the Bill 21 hearings.

Read more

UN human rights observers warn Quebec about secularism bill.
High-ranking human rights monitors with the United Nations are concerned the Quebec government will violate fundamental freedoms if it moves ahead with legislation to limit where religious symbols can be worn. Three UN legal experts, known as rapporteurs, signed and sent a letter written in French last week to the Canadian mission in Geneva. They asked the diplomats to share the letter with Quebec's legislature.

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