I wasn’t shocked when I heard about Bill 21, and I think that is what made it so upsetting. No, I wasn’t expecting it. And no, I don’t see Canada and see a discriminating country. Victoria is a place where I have found a community, a family and so much love not just from within my own communities, but from people of all different walks of life. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still see racism and discrimination when they occur in my everyday life. I had a conversation with someone recently who thinks that it makes the most sense if we hide our religious practices. If we keep it a secret.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the Victoria City Hall on July 11 to support the City Council in challenging the bill, and this is what I had to say.
I am a Muslim woman. I have worn my hijab since I was 9, and to me it is not just “a religious symbol” — it is a part of my identity. And you cannot separate me from my identity.
The stated aim of Bill 21 entitled, “An Act respecting the laïcité of the State,” is to affirm religious neutrality in a manner that “ensures a balance between the collective rights of the Quebec nation, and human rights and freedoms.”
Diversity is a fact. It just is. We have diversity in culture, diversity in religion, in race, in sexuality, in gender — in all the ways that make us our unique selves. Since when does “ensuring a balance” mean that we all need to look the same, speak the same and act the same. What happened to appreciating someone for who they are, not for who you want them to be? Isn’t that what religious freedom is about? Since when does creating balance equate to being identical?
The principle of laïcité is what drove the passing of a law in France in 2011, which made it illegal to hide your face in public spaces, affecting a few thousand women in France wearing the niqab and the burqa.
In 2013, before I moved to Victoria, Bill 60 was proposed in Quebec. Its aim was to limit the wearing of certain religious symbols, and to make it mandatory to have your face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service. That bill was defeated in 2014. That was 5 years ago.
In that time, Canadians have spoken, and collectively, we have made strides towards inclusion. Everyone held a sense of pride when Trudeau declared that, “Diversity is Canada’s Strength.” And we celebrate that diversity, which flows through our growing community, as more and more people gain citizenship to this beautiful country.
And now, 5 years later, Bill 21 has been created.
What have we learned in all that time?
Can we truly say we’ve changed?
Is this what we call growth?
A spokesperson for a pro-secular group in Quebec stated that he sees the law as a way to ensure a “harmonious” society, rather than a rejection of diversity. But who is he to pick and choose what I bring from my culture?
They have stated they want to “ensure that we are equal citizens.” We never considered ourselves lesser; until someone granted themselves authority over our identities.
We talk about reconciliation, but have we learned nothing from our history? There is a pattern we see time and time again, where first, they strip you of your religion, then they take away your cultural practices, and they separate you from your community.
January 29th 2017.
A dreadful mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre.
Six were killed and 6 were injured.
It was horrible and devastating, and as humans and as Muslims we mourn.
Others still live in fear.
But in my eyes, that event bares a chilling resemblance to the current political movement seen in Quebec today. That shooting was one person, and thankfully, those bullets — ran out. But to live in a country that proposes and promotes an institutional law that legalizes discrimination based on faith, it ensures a never-ending supply of ammunition that continues the suppression of not only Muslims — but also of Canadian values.
This will not just effect my generation, but will have a ripple effect in generations to come.
I am grateful to live in Victoria. I have seen a love, I have seen leadership and I have seen a Council that pushes for growth and truth. They are championing the values of an inclusive community. I especially want to thank Councilor Sharmarke Dubow, for proposing this counter argument against Bill 21.
There was a time when we could stay silent. When not speaking up was the right thing to do. That was an age when we weren’t so connected. When I didn’t have the ability to look on my phone and see the events happening across the world.
In today’s world, not speaking up in support of the people and values around you, not only says to your friends that you can’t be bothered, but it also gives power to the oppressors. I am fighting for my freedom, and the freedom of those I consider to be a part of my community, even though I’ve never even met them. I hope you can find that strength to join in empowering and amplifying these voices.
(Here Magazine and other community partners also made their stand against Bill 21, making Victoria the second city in Canada to support the challenge against the bill. Read their speeches here.)