Categories
Opinions

The religious symbol ban is backwards

Ban. Forbid. Prohibit. Most would assume these words are associated with important issues like banning plastic bags, forbidding child marriage or prohibiting smoking in certain areas. Instead, Quebec is once again caught in a useless but ever-present debate about banning religious symbols.

The incoming Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government under François Legault is attempting to follow through on their campaign promise to ban religious symbols for civil servants in positions of authority. This includes preventing teachers, police officers and judges, among others, from wearing the Muslim hijab, the Sikh turban or the Jewish kippah. This isn’t the first time Quebec politicians have tried to forbid people from wearing religious symbols. In fact, it was only a year ago that the provincial government was debating Bill 62, which would have prevented civil servants from covering their faces when accessing public services. Initially, the CAQ said government employees who didn’t comply with the ban would be choosing between having a job and wearing a religious symbol. Following criticism from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and protests from others in Quebec, the CAQ has now stated that they are willing to compromise and only apply the ban to newly hired employees, according to The Globe and Mail. Frankly, this is appalling and downright frustrating.

Our schools and teachers must be diverse in order to reflect reality. When you walk down the streets of Montreal, you inevitably come across diversity. Why should walking down Quebec school hallways be any different? Preventing people from expressing their religious beliefs is oppressive and destructive to society’s progression. Having children taught by teachers who wear the Sikh turban helps to normalize religious diversity. A police officer who wears the hijab can help enforce the idea that your religious beliefs don’t hinder your ability to do your job well.

We at The Concordian wholeheartedly reject this atrocious ban; but more importantly, we reject the rhetoric behind it. While the CAQ and the ban’s supporters insist the ban is solely intended to achieve religious neutrality, it’s important to note where the ban is coming from. Simply put, it’s coming from a place of ignorance and intolerance.

It encourages the idea that people must be one and the same, that diversity and differences weaken our society rather than strengthen it. This is hateful, wrong and offensive to many. This ban is flawed in so many ways, and is hypocritical at its core. When asked if the crucifix in the National Assembly will stay, Legault replied that it’s not a religious symbol but rather part of Quebec’s heritage. “We have a cross on our flag,” he said, according to Global News. “I think that we have to understand our past. In our past we had Protestants, Catholics, they built the values we have in Quebec. It’s part of our history.”

How can a religious symbol—the crucifix—not be religious? It’s clear to us that this ban is based on senseless intolerance rather than actual facts and concrete arguments. It seems the CAQ wants to preserve one faith: Christianity. If the ban were truly applied to all facets of public civil service, it should be applied to the National Assembly as well. That’s only fair, right?

Although Christianity certainly played a historic role in establishing Quebec, it’s wrong to single out this one belief system as superior to other religions in Quebec. This logic is a product of the abuse and erasure of Indigenous peoples and culture. It is a result of what happened when colonialism, exploitation and racism collided and created chaos for a group of people.

Quebec’s past was forcefully Christian—other faiths were trampled upon and completely disregarded. Quebec’s present, however, is a multitude of faiths, belief systems and religious identities. Its future is in the hands of many people from different backgrounds who believe in different things. Banning their religious symbols and their ability to freely express themselves is not only oppressive, it’s regressive. We at The Concordian strongly encourage our fellow citizens to stand firm in rejecting this hypocritical, backwards, oppressive ban. Let’s fight for a future where diversity is celebrated, rather than forbidden.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

Categories
News

TRAC votes to oppose Bill 62 outright

Contract negotiations for teaching and research assistants union to resume in February

About 60 members of Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) gathered to discuss the union’s priorities for the winter 2018 semester at a special general assembly on Jan. 24.

The union is in the midst of negotiating a new collective agreement with Concordia and has been working under an expired agreement since April 2016. Bi-weekly meetings between Concordia University and TRAC’s bargaining team started at the end of October and will resume for the winter semester in February. TRAC is entering potentially the most contentious part of their negotiations, dealing with issues directly related to how much teaching and research assistants will be paid.

Prior to the general assembly, TRAC’s executive committee, led by president Alexandre St-Onge-Perron, distributed a letter to members updating them on the status of negotiations and the union’s mobilization plans for the semester.
Although the topics of bargaining and mobilization were expected to take up most of the discussion time, it was the last item on the assembly agenda that garnered the most feedback and debate amongst those gathered—Bill 62.

As The Concordian previously reported, TRAC’s executive team decided to ask their members if they want the union to take an official position on Bill 62, the province’s religious neutrality law, which has been widely derided as openly Islamophobic.

Jonathan Vallée-Payette, the chair of the assembly and a labour advisor from TRAC’s parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), reminded those gathered that, as publicly funded institutions, universities and their employees would be subject to the directives of the bill.

The primary point of concern in Bill 62 is Article 10, the notorious clause which makes it illegal for anyone to give or receive public services without showing their face. The bill also states that religious accommodation will be granted under certain rules to be determined by Quebec’s minister of justice. However, those rules have yet to be published.

This undetermined part of the bill led a judge to issue a temporary stay on Article 10 in December, which injected uncertainty into how the TRAC assembly wanted to proceed. Some members thought it better to wait until the accommodation rules had been clarified before taking an official position.

Although that proposal was considered for a moment, a forceful call to oppose the bill outright from member Cameron McIntyre garnered audible support.

“I don’t think asking for clarification is tough enough for what this bill is,” McIntyre said.

A second member followed at the microphone: “I think we should oppose this on the grounds that it is a shameful and racist practice.”

Two other members expressed similar sentiments at the microphone before the general assembly voted in favour of opposing Bill 62 outright. However, the motion did not make specific mention of discrimination as the reason for the opposition.

TRAC’s official position is now more in line with its parent union, PSAC, which released a statement in October calling the bill Islamophobic and discriminatory toward Muslim women.

Disclosure: Kenneth Gibson is a teaching assistant for the Concordia journalism department.

Photo Courtesy of Natalie Greenberg

Categories
News

Thousands gather to protest against racism

Three-hour demonstration, endorsed by 162 organizations, tackled issues surrounding Palestine and immigration

Several hundred protesters gathered in downtown Montreal on Sunday, Nov. 12 to protest against hatred and systemic racism. The demonstration began with a number of speeches from event organizers at Place Émilie-Gamelin, outside the Berri-UQAM metro station, before protesters took to the streets.

Over the next three hours, protesters travelled through the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough and down Sherbrooke Street, towards Concordia’s downtown campus.

“We are here to denounce capitalism and austerity,” cried out one of the event’s organizer using a megaphone. “We are here to show we care about non-status people being deported despite Montreal being declared a sanctuary city.”

According to the Montreal Gazette, a video emerged on social media the night before the demonstration showing an anonymous group vandalizing a statue of Sir John A. MacDonald at Place du Canada.

Although the anonymous group identified themselves as “anti-colonial anti-racists” in the video description, they denied being affiliated with the demonstration organizers.

MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister, has become a controversial figure in recent years for his role in creating the residential school system. The Assembly of First Nations chief Perry Bellegarde recently supported efforts to have MacDonald’s name removed from schools and monuments, according to the Toronto Star.

Protesters brandished signs with anti-xenophobic and anti-racist slogans. Photo by Mackenzie Lad

As they marched, protesters brandished signs with anti-xenophobic slogans on them, ranging from “Queers Against White Supremacy” and “Racism is Not Welcome Here” to “Racists Suck In Bed.” One protester held a sign reading, “If You Like Bill 62, Then Fuck You,” a reference to the controversial piece of Quebec legislation.

Passed in October, the provincial legislation bans people from giving or receiving public services while their face is covered. The bill, which will take effect sometime before July 2018, according to Global News, would require Muslim women, among others, to remove their face veils to identify themselves when boarding public transportation, and would ban public workers, such as doctors and teachers, from covering their faces at work. During a press conference on Oct. 18, Montreal’s mayor-elect Valérie Plante said that, while she agrees with the principle of the law, she believes the Quebec government should do “crucial homework to make sure that it is applicable to the realities of Montreal.”

Palestinian flags were also popular among protesters, who, throughout the march, chanted “from Montreal to Palestine, occupation is a crime.”

“I can’t believe racism is even something we have to protest,” said Julia Morian, a protestor at the event. “I’m protesting because [anti-racism] should be a very popular belief.”

One hundred and sixty-two organizations, including the Concordia Student Union and the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia, endorsed the march by signing a call to action condemning “the rise of racist hate speech in Quebec.” The call to action asked all groups that signed to denounce capitalism and austerity, oppose racism and participate in the march.

The call to action also cited recent political events, such as the election of President Donald Trump and the January 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting, as evidence of a rise in racism and hate crimes.

One of the groups present at the protest was Fightback Canada, a self-described Marxist journal and advocacy group. Farshad Acadian, an organizer and editor for Fightback, said the group was present at the protest and signed the call to action.

“We’re a journal with socialist analysis, but we’re also an organizing tool,” Acadian explained. “We want to help students understand issues and connect and fight back. This [protest] is fighting back.”

Another organization that signed the call to action was the Réseau des lesbiennes du Québec (RLQ), an advocacy group focused on the rights and equality of lesbians. For RLQ member Jessie Boideleau, the reason to protest was simple.

“We’re here because diversity should be supremacy.”

Photos by Mackenzie Lad

Categories
News

Panel discussion tackles religious neutrality law

Panelists suggest more National Assembly gatekeeping, more political involvement panelists suggest

Human rights lawyer Pearl Eliadis was about to leave a panel discussion on Bill 62 organized by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) early because of an obligation when she asked the panel moderator for the microphone one last time.

“When this bill was debated two years ago, where were all you guys?” she asked. Eliadis’s comments came after an attendee asked how protesters of the bill could have been more proactive.

Eliadis—an adjunct professor of McGill University’s faculty of law—answered mostly judicial-related questions in the small Hall building classroom where the CSU invited guests for the panel discussion on Nov. 1.

She sat alongside Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association (CMLA) national board member Sameer Zuberi and policy analyst Idil Issa. The latter, when asked how society should stop being reactionary to controversial legislation, sighed before uttering: “I don’t have the answer.”

Throughout the discussion, but also immediately following her question to the attendees, Eliadis urged the public to thoroughly read and study Bill 62.

Specifically, she pointed out the parts other than the second—and most publicized—section, which state:  “persons receiving services from such personnel members must have their face uncovered.”

The section—named “services with face uncovered”—has been the most controversial part since the bill passed on Oct. 18. Two days after the law passed, multiple people descended on Montreal’s Park Avenue and in the metro system wearing ski masks to protest against the bill.

The panel’s organizers invited Fatima Ahmad, a McGill student who wears the niqab, to share her thoughts on the new bill and talk about her experience wearing the full face veil.

“I feel really used [and] targeted,” Ahmad told the group of mostly students gathered in the room. When Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said the law had passed, Ahmad admitted she “was super shocked.”

Ironically, Eliadis noted, the provincial government launched an inquiry into systemic racism in Quebec in September, just a few weeks before Bill 62 passed. “Right hand and left hand, really,” she said, referring to the disconnect within Quebec’s government.

According to Eliadis, section three of the bill, pertaining to reasonable accommodation, is just as important if not more than the ban on covered faces when using public services.

The lawyer criticized section 11.4 as an example, which states that when an institutional body deals with an accommodation request, it must make sure the request is reasonable “in that it does not impose undue hardship with regard to […] the proper operation of the body.”

“It really is ‘anything goes,’” Eliadis said, referring to the provision’s vagueness.

“Instead of making [accommodation] something that you should be doing in order to ensure that we have inclusion in this country, [the bill] says: ‘Here are all the reasons why you should not accommodate people.’”

More involvement in politics

Zuberi, a former CSU executive who also ran as a councillor under the Projet Montréal banner in 2013, encouraged the panel’s attendees to get involved in the political process.

“[It’s] because people like us are not involved in those conversations that legislations like this actually pass,” Zuberi said.

The CSU—which already motioned to condemn the bill during a special council meeting on Oct. 19—was supported by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) vice president of external affairs, Connor Spencer, and Association pour la voix étudiante au Québec (AVEQ) secretary general Rami Yahia at the panel.

Spencer said the bill should be “called for what it is: racist and sexist”.

“We do need to take a position on this. We’re students, but we’re also members of society,” he added.

“[It’s] not this piece of legislation that’s problematic, it’s the societal conversation that we’re having around this legislation that’s so damaging,” Zuberi argued.

According to Zuberi, company boards of directors and elected bodies in Montreal should also represent the city’s demographic by having the same percentage of visible minorities as in the society itself.

Issa supported Zuberi’s idea, adding that more representation from minority groups at the National Assembly could, at the very least, bring more opposition to legislation like Bill 62.

For Issa, the issue with the bill is more than political: it’s moral. “Use your moral imagination,” she said, “and try to think of what is fundamental to your character, to your beliefs, something that you hold dear, and imagine if it was violated upon every encounter with someone with institutional authority.”

Photo by Sandra Hercegova

Categories
Opinions

Another manifestation of Islamophobia in Quebec

How the construction and timing of Bill 62 is just another election campaign tactic

It’s disheartening that the same society that supports a woman’s choice to wear a short, black dress criminalizes a woman’s right to wear a long, black burka.

Since the National Assembly passed Bill 62 on Oct. 18, people have voiced mixed opinions about the “religious neutrality” law. The bill states that in order to give or receive public services—like public transit, healthcare and educational services—a person must have an uncovered face, according to the Montreal Gazette. While Bill 62 doesn’t explicitly target Muslim women who wear a face veil (the burka or niqab), it seems obvious the bill is geared towards that minority.

The fact that this religious neutrality bill was voted into law beneath a crucifix hanging in the National Assembly is as hypocritical as it gets. If Quebec really wanted religious neutrality, they would get rid of any symbol that directly refers to a religion—not just Islamic symbols like face coverings. Quebec doesn’t seem to know where it stands on religious neutrality, which just stirs up more confusion and controversy.

In Quebec, the exact number of Muslim women who wear a face veil is unknown, but according to the social research forum Environics Institute, three per cent of women in Canada wear the niqab. That number is even less in Quebec—which raises an important question. Why spend so much time and effort creating a law that marginalizes such a small group of women? The answer, I’ve realized, is a sickening election campaign trend in this province.

With less than a year until the provincial elections, this law has taken media outlets by storm and has created a tense, divisive political climate in Quebec. People are once again divided over a debate about Muslim women’s choice to wear what they want. It brings us back to 2013, when Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois attempted to remove all religious symbols under the guise of the Charter of Values.

“This ban shows that the government is trying to steer away attention from real issues,” said Razia Hamidi, the Montreal representative of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “It’s not a priority for Quebecers. We’ve seen polls from the Angus Reid Institute that show that this issue is rated as very low priority. So why does the government continuously bring it up and give it so much attention?” In Hamidi’s opinion, the fact that this debate is happening with an election around the corner isn’t a coincidence and isn’t acceptable. “They can’t go around pushing such legislation whenever they need to get their voting rates up.”

A new Angus Reid Institute poll suggests 70 per cent of Quebec respondents favour the ban, while 23 per cent discourage it and only eight per cent say the niqab should be welcomed, according to the Montreal Gazette. Another poll from the same institute found that one in five Quebecers said Bill 62 would be an important factor when deciding which party to support, according to CBC News.

It seems to me the Liberals are playing a game of identity politics by attempting to appease future voters who dislike the niqab. And in a province where 42 per cent of the population dislike Islam, according to a 2016 Forum Research poll, it is an unfortunately effective tactic.

A conversation with Hafsa Hussain, a Muslim woman from Montreal, furthered my understanding of how strong anti-Muslim sentiments already are in Quebec. “I wear the hijab and abaya (a long loose dress). As it stands, I have received many verbal assaults out in public,” she said.

Hussain said she feels Bill 62 wasn’t intended for security reasons, but was a product of Islamophobia. “There hasn’t been a single case where a person wearing the niqab has posed any kind of threat,” she said. “I don’t see how this is a security issue. Whenever identification is required, women wearing the niqab don’t have any problems with complying and showing their faces. We have so many problems in Quebec to tackle, I find it ridiculous that they spent their time discussing dress codes instead of housing, health and education problems, to name just a few.”

At a press conference on Oct. 24, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée attempted to reassure citizens that they would only be required to uncover their faces for identification purposes and when speaking directly with a public service employee. This would nonetheless prevent veiled women from checking out library books, speaking with hospital staff, picking up their children from daycare or attending classes, according to CBC News.

Educational institutions like Dawson College and Université de Montréal were quick to insist that women who wear face coverings should still be allowed to attend class, according to the Montreal Gazette. Similarly, a McGill spokesperson said the university must accommodate religious differences and “will continue to do so.” Here at Concordia, the history department condemned the bill and the CSU announced its intent to take action against the the legislation. Concordia president Alan Shepard himself said the status quo will remain unchanged on campus.

While it’s refreshing to see people protesting against the bill and speaking up, it’s also important to analyze the construction of Bill 62 and understand where it comes from. The harsh truth is that it is just another manifestation of Islamophobia in Quebec. It targets a small group of women and criminalizes their choice to wear a religious garment.

This bill also emboldens those with Islamophobic biases. Among other remarks, I’ve often heard the question: “If they want to cover their face so badly, why don’t they go back to their country?” The thing is, those countries don’t preach diversity and acceptance—Canada does. Our federal government seems to pride itself on accepting and promoting immigration and multiculturalism. So why shouldn’t women be allowed to freely express their religious beliefs? Legislation like Bill 62 contradicts Canada’s identity as a nation, and therefore should hold no validity.

Truthfully, a lot of people misunderstand Islam and spend more time disliking the faith than learning about it. With a little bit of effort, people could come to understand why Muslim women choose to wear the face veil. Asking their opinions instead of assuming negative stereotypes about them could solve this entire ignorant debate.

Freedom of choice dictates that one should have the right to express their individuality whether it be in the form of a little, black dress or a long, black burka. The government should have no place in telling women what to wear. After all, we live in a free society for all. Don’t we?

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Categories
News

Concordia history department condemns Bill 62

Motion refusing to enforce law’s provisions passed at department meeting

A motion was passed at an Oct. 20 Concordia history department meeting condemning Bill 62, a provincial religious neutrality law adopted by the National Assembly on Oct. 18.

The motion—which was published on the department’s Facebook page—claims that the new law “discriminates specifically against one group, Muslim women who wear face coverings.”  

After the law was adopted last week, it was understood that Bill 62 would require people to uncover their faces when receiving public services. However, on Oct. 24, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée clarified that women who wear a veil will only have to show their face for identification purposes and when interacting with a public service employee.

In its motion, the history department added that “the real effect of Law 62 will be to restrict women’s access to essential services and public space.”

“Therefore, the Department of History resolves that we will refuse to enforce its provisions in our classrooms and offices,” the motion continued.

The history department is the first Concordia department to officially condemn the bill. The motion also urged the university and major unions, such as the Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA) and the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA), to take a similar stand in refusing to enforce the law’s provisions.

In an interview with The Concordian on Oct. 20, Concordia president Alan Shepard said the university was not provided with guidelines or explanations for how to interpret or implement the law. “So for now, it’s a status-quo—as if the law weren’t there,” Shepard said.

As part of their motion, the history department stated, “the new law not only contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms but also Concordia’s own policies regarding ‘civility, equity, respect, non-discrimination and an appreciation of diversity,’ as well as the right of all members of the university regarding ‘freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.’”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

Categories
News

The mayoral candidates face off at Concordia

Plante and Coderre talked construction, Montreal 375 spending and Bill 62

Montreal mayoral candidates Denis Coderre and Valérie Plante faced off on Monday in the campaign’s only English-language debate.

The Oct. 23 debate was organized and hosted by CJAD, CTV Montreal and the Montreal Gazette at Concordia’s Oscar Peterson Hall. Host and moderator Leslie Roberts presented the candidates with questions based on those submitted to each outlet by Montrealers.

Roberts first asked the candidates how they planned to ease the burden placed on Montrealers by construction. Incumbent Mayor Coderre said his administration’s investment of more than $21 billion in infrastructure over 10 years is “short-term pain, long-term gain,” and “a necessary approach that we have to do for the future generation.”

Plante—the leader of Projet Montréal—criticized what she called “a lack of organization, coordination and communication” in construction projects. She said the city needs a “quality squad” to ensure projects are done properly and efficiently.

Both candidates promised compensation for business owners who have been negatively affected by construction.

On the topic of public transport, Plante said her proposed pink metro line from Lachine to Montreal North could transport up to 250,000 people per day. Coderre said the light rail system, the Service rapide par bus (SRB) and an extension of the blue metro line are better transit alternatives.

Mayoral candidate Valérie Plante spoke in favour of her proposed metro line at the English-language debate on Oct. 23. Photo by Alex Hutchins

Coderre later responded to criticism about the pit bull legislation he introduced in 2016, saying it’s not about loving or hating dogs but “a matter of public safety.” Plante denounced the legislation, claiming breed-specific legislation creates “a false sense of security,” adding that the legislation is “not even based on science.”

The candidates were then asked about their positions on the renaming of landmarks named after controversial historical figures. Although Coderre said “there are some times where we have to take that kind of decision to recognize the bad things that happened in the past,” he also spoke out against removing John A. MacDonald’s name from buildings and landmarks, saying Canada’s first prime minister “did some great things too.”

Plante said any name changes must be undertaken by “listening, understanding history, connecting with the different communities and finding the proper place for a proper name.”

Coderre was challenged by Plante and moderator Roberts on the lack of English signage on Montreal roads and public transit. Roberts suggested the lack of English signage on Camillien-Houde Way may have contributed to the death of 18-year-old cyclist Clément Ouimet who was struck by a car making an illegal U-turn on Mount Royal on Oct. 4. In response, Coderre said the pictograms along the road were sufficient. “There’s no reason not to understand that a U-turn is illegal,” he said.

On the subject of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations, Plante criticized what she called a “lack of transparency” in the way money was spent. “Right now, it is a non-profit organization that manages the money, and so we don’t have access,” she said, referring to the Society for the Celebrations of Montreal’s 375th Anniversary. “We don’t have access to information, we have no idea where things are at. And so people feel like it’s just this big hole that we’re just throwing our money into.”

Plante pressed Coderre to reveal the total ticket sales for the Formula E electric car race that took place over the summer. “Everybody wants to know, and you have the ability to tell us how many tickets were sold,” Plante said. According to Coderre, a report would be released and “it will show that everything is well transparent.”

Incumbent Mayor Denis Coderre was criticized by candidate Valérie Plante for the lack of organization and coordination at Montreal’s construction sites. Photo by Alex Hutchins

Roberts also asked the panelists about the possibility of baseball returning to Montreal, a project Coderre has been advocating for since his election in 2013. Plante said no such initiative would be undertaken by the city without a city-wide referendum.

Both candidates spoke out against Bill 62, which prohibits the wearing of face coverings by anyone giving or receiving a public service. “To provide services with an unveiled person is OK,” Coderre said. “But to receive services, I think it’s ludicrous, and it won’t pass the court.” He also criticized Plante for not speaking out against the legislation more immediately. Plante said the law is “ill-conceived. It is not connected to Montrealers’ reality. It is not applicable.”

The candidates also had the chance to ask their opponent one question. Coderre asked Plante whether she was for or against the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). Without taking a clear stance, Plante responded with: “I think it is important to understand the international context of this,” adding that it was something that needed to be discussed with “the whole team.”

Plante asked her opponent whether or not he would serve as leader of the opposition if she won the election. “I’m running, and I’m going to be the mayor,” Coderre responded.

Photos by Alex Hutchins

Categories
Concordia Student Union News

CSU opposes Bill 62 and intends to take action

AVEQ condemns religious neutrality law, Concordia admins uncertain of impact on campus

The Concordia Student Union (CSU) condemned Bill 62—a provincial religious neutrality law—in a motion passed at a special council meeting on Thursday, Oct. 19. The law—which was approved by Quebec’s National Assembly on Oct. 18—requires people to uncover their face when receiving public services or working in Quebec’s public sector.

The special council meeting was originally called to hire a new CEO, however, the motion to oppose Bill 62 was presented without warning and voted upon by CSU councillors.

“Our official position is we reject [the bill]. We demand the Quebec government change it because it’s unconstitutional,” said Ahmed Badr, the CSU’s external affairs and mobilization coordinator. He said it conflicts with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Section 2a of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone is entitled to fundamental freedom of conscience and religion.

“Normally [at] special council meetings, we don’t pass [a motion] unless we give them a notice beforehand, but we didn’t,” Badr said. However, he said the CSU council was supportive of the motion.

According to Badr, now is time for the union to take action. “We will have a petition and we will write letters to the [members of Parliament] who voted for it,” Badr said. “We need Concordia students to sign these letters, and we will send it to the [MPs] telling them that we denounce [the] new law.”

The letters will begin circulating for students to sign as early as Tuesday, Oct. 24, however, Badr said the petition release date is to be determined.

Over the weekend, Badr presented a motion at the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) congress for the association to condemn the law.

Following the CSU motion, AVEQ officially opposed the religious neutrality law as well. Sophia Sahrane, the AVEQ coordinator of education and research, said religious neutrality laws infrige on values that AVEQ has endorsed since its establishment. She said the organization takes a feminist, anti-racist and anti-discriminatory position.

Kristen Perry, AVEQ’s coordinator of mobilization and associative development, said the association will be releasing a public statement to announce and clarify their position against Quebec’s new law.

Response from administration

“Bill 62 is such a new law, we don’t even have the final text of the law, and we certainly don’t have any of the government’s requirements yet,” Concordia president Alan Shepard told The Concordian.

The bill applies to provincial public-sector services and provincially funded institutions, such as universities and schools, the CBC reported. According to the same source, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée advised that amendments be added to include municipalities, metropolitan communities and public transit organizations in the bill.

Shepard said the university has not been provided any guidelines or explanation of how to interpret or implement the law. He said he is not certain if the religious neutrality law affects Concordia.

“I’m in no rush to implement a law in which I have no regulations,” Shepard said. “So for now, it’s completely status quo—as if the law weren’t there.”

“The niqab is the first step. They will [eventually] move onto every other religious symbol,” said Bara Abuhamed, a Concordia industrial engineering student and former Muslim Student Association (MSA) executive. He said Bill 62 is likely the first step of many, and he wants to stop it before it starts.

Abuhamed said the fact that the bill is officially identified as a religious neutrality law is problematic. “It’s clear discrimination and a move against religious freedom,” he said.

“We’ve welcomed women before some other institutions, we’ve welcomed religious minorities—we’ve welcomed everybody,” Shepard said. “And we fully intend to keep welcoming everybody.”

Photo by Mackenzie Lad 

Exit mobile version