Victoria becomes the second city in Canada to support the legal challenge against Quebec’s Bill 21, a law widely criticized for legalizing religious discrimination.
“Bill 21 is a local fight because the residents of the city of Victoria have families, sisters, brothers in Quebec who won’t be able to have livelihood….Bill 21 is a local fight because it’s an attack on the Constitution,” says City Councillor Sharmarke Dubow during the Victoria City Council meeting on Thursday. Dubow led the council in a motion to condemn the bill.
In a historic move, the City of Victoria passed a motion to support the legal challenge. The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) filed the case within 24 hours when the bill became law in June.
The groups asserted that the act violates several constitutional rules. “Bill 21 bans people who wear religious symbols from holding a variety of public sector jobs, including as teachers, police officers and prosecutors. The law will most seriously curtail the freedoms of Muslim women who wear the hijab, Jews who wear the Kippa, and Sikhs who wear turbans,” states the NCCM.
Dubow says the bill creates a group of second-class citizens in Quebec because it discriminates against the religious minority who simply chooses to express their faith.
“The bill is a thinly veiled attack on religious and cultural traditions of religious minorities. It is contrary to Canadian values, which include freedom on religion and acceptable diversity,” Dubow’s motion states.
He also applauds the efforts of community partners for showing their support: “It’s great to see residents and allies coming today expressing how they feel about this bill. This new law will upend people’s livelihood. It is a textbook discrimination. It makes people make an impossible choice between their faith and their job.”
Here Magazine President Fiona Bramble, Kulea Culture Society Founder Silvia Mangue, Greater Victoria Organizing Against Racism and Hate Committee Coordinator Jane Hurtig, and other members of the community and Here Magazine’s partners speak up against and call out acts of racism.
Read their speeches.
Thank you to the Lekwungen peoples, Mayor and Council, and community members for allowing me this space and time to share my views.
My name is Fiona Bramble. I am the founder and president of Here Magazine. We are a not-for-profit organization supporting newcomers to Canada through media arts and responsive, in-place community programming and events.
My first career was as an educator in the adult ESL classroom, often the first port of call for newcomers and immigrants to Canada, and it is there that I began to bear witness to both the many strengths and struggles of immigrant and racialized communities, communities Bill 21 arguably disproportionately impacts. Now, as an ally working with newcomers and regional and national partners representing and supporting racialized communities, I see these same struggles—language, isolation, exclusion, so-called micro-aggressions, discrimination, and outright racism—take a significant psychological toll and limit full participation in civil society. Our country, our communities—with the current, obvious exception of Quebec—appear to support diversity and inclusion on the surface through policy and programming, and yet there is this disconnect.
Canada’s population growth will rely solely on immigration in just over a decade. Pluralism isn’t a choice for Canadians; the only choice is how we want to live together in this future. Our organization and our members believe that true inclusion and belonging begins with equitable representation. Bill 21 is antithesis to our mandate and anathema to a healthy and prosperous pluralistic society. Diversity can’t be invisible; it must be a constant, visible and audible participatory presence for there to be true equitable representation.
One of our Here community volunteers, a young Muslim student from Nigeria, was very keen to speak this evening. Unfortunately, she was terrified that her Permanent Resident application would be in danger if she was identified in these proceedings. This is a prime example of the culture of fear that legislation like Bills 9 and 21 propagate, and which can further limit civic participation by all community members. To call Bill 21 a “secularism bill” is to disguise a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I have read and heard criticisms about Councillor Dubow bringing this motion forward, suggesting that he “stay in his lane”, this is Quebec’s problem, not Victoria’s. To those criticisms, I say this: although our country is obviously vast geographically, and Quebec and its politics may seem a world and a language distant, Canada’s relatively small population as a whole means that where we are not connected geographically, we are connected by ideas and dialogue, institutions, beliefs and values.
To say this insidious butterfly flapping its wings in Quebec doesn’t unsettle and impact the rest of Canada, nor demand a response, is naive at best, complicit at worst. Any opportunity to denounce exclusion, racism, and hatred must be seized by members of all levels of government, institutions, and organizations, and individuals from all communities. I also hope that Mayor and Council continue to be engaged in and support others doing this difficult work in practical and meaningful ways in our community. Embedding action beyond this motion is critical.
At this point, I would like to share a few words from another member of the Here community who was unable to join us tonight.
My name is Danyelle Catini. I am a newcomer to Canada, a student and a mother, among many other roles. As many newcomers to this great country, I came here hoping for a better life. I brought my talents, my skills, my experience, and my most precious contribution to this country: my kids. I want them to learn about compassion, respect, and love in the context of diversity.
Walking in the streets of Victoria, we see people from different backgrounds, with different skin colours, different religions, and they are all smiling. I think they smile because they know they are safe to be who they are. I see true diversity here in Canada. If my kids’ teachers won’t reflect this diversity, then this is a step backwards. I hope we can have Bills that bring people together, not ones setting them apart. I hope our country will continue to show the diversity of humankind in a beautifully respectful way.
Sadly, standing against and combating intolerance and racism is work that is never finished. I, Fiona Bramble, personally, and on behalf of the Here Magazine community, unequivocally denounce and reject Bill 21 and its ugly companion Bill 9 and unconditionally support Councillor Dubow’s motion that the City of Victoria support in principle the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) in their legal challenge against Bill 21 in Quebec. Thank you.
My name is Silvia Mangue Alene, I am the founder of Kulea Culture Society (KDL) an organization which purpose is to raise awareness about and reduce ethno-racial discrimination, prejudice & stereotype by engaging respect for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion through education, information, consultation, programs, conferences, crosscultural exchanges and research.
I am a first generation immigrant from, Madrid Spain, although I was born in Central West Africa, Spain was the country I first immigrated with my parents. After Spain, I lived in six different countries in Europe. Later in my life I immigrated to Canada. For the first time in my life I felt like a person, I felt that my opinion mattered, that my worked in the community mattered and that people in the community appreciated my work and my persona. Only in Canada I have felt this way.
Canada is a country that is multicultural, a country that respect the rights of the individual as shown in the Charter of rights and freedoms. Many immigrants choose to come to Canada precisely because of these freedoms. We as Canadians relish the fact that our government is a protector of our rights as individuals, and we need to speak out and protest when our government is tromping on people freedoms.
I am here to speak against Bill 21. Bill 21 is against the charter of rights and freedoms. Bill 21 discriminates against the individual freedom of religion expression. Religion for many, is a way of life, it is their identity. If the Quebec government is allowed to pass such law, we the rest of Canadian, are sending the wrong message to our fellow Canadians that are affected by this law.
The message is very clear. We don’t care. But as a Canadian I do care. I care about each individual expressing their freedoms as per our charter of rights and freedoms. I care about my fellow Canadian feeling welcome and feeling that they belong this great country. I care about a peaceful Canada.
As Canadians we should all be appalled with this law a government that boast for being democratic and respectful of the individual should be impartial and not make discriminatory laws. Personally I reject Bill 21 for the reasons stated above and support Councillor Dubow’s motion that the City of Victoria supports in principle the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) in their legal challenge against Bill 21 in Quebec. Thank you.
The Greater Victoria Organizing Against Racism and Hate Committee (OARH) is one of 36 committees across the British Columbia mandated by the BC Government to address racism and hate in our communities.
In this region, our membership includes Greater Victoria police forces, school boards, libraries, the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, the settlement community, faith-based organizations and a variety of other civil society organizations working with and for citizens of Greater Victoria.
We are here to address the motion put forward by Council Member Dubow regarding legislation in Quebec that restricts the rights of Canadian citizens.
The Greater Victoria OARH Committee recognizes the potential negative impact nation wide of any legislation that denies segments of our population access to rights and freedoms that are guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights.
The Committee believes that as elected representatives of the citizens of Victoria, it is your responsibility to be vigilant in demonstrating your support for our Constitution, the Charter and the BC Human Rights Code that exists, among other things, to:
Foster a society in British Columbia in which there are no impediments to full and free participation in the economic, social, political and cultural life of British Columbia;
Promote a climate of understanding and mutual respect where all are equal in dignity and rights;
As elected representatives, it is your role to speak out when others move to marginalize segments of the Canadian population by denying their full participation in society.
The Greater Victoria OARH Committee respectfully cautions you not to allow your silence on this issue to be interpreted as support for this bill.
Your role must be to clearly state your opposition to any legislation that is designed to restrict the rights of Canadians.
We ask you to support the resolution and the principle that the rights of all Canadians must be protected.
As outlined in your current Strategic Plan, we strongly encourage you to lead with creativity and courage.