PSAC calls for repeal of ‘secularism’ law that violates human rights

Teacher wearing hijab

PSAC firmly opposes and calls for the repeal of Quebec’s Bill 21, the ‘secularism’ legislation that the province recently adopted. It violates human rights so explicitly that in passing the law, the government used the charter's notwithstanding clause in an attempt to shield it from inevitable court challenges.

Among other provisions, the law primarily prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by public servants in positions of ‘authority,’ including public school teachers, judges, and police officers. In addition, the law will require members of the public receiving a public service to uncover their faces for identification purposes and does so with vague language that could easily lead to the denial of public services to already marginalized women.

Legislation that requires individuals to remove their religious garment or symbols (e.g. hijab, kippa, turban, crucifixes, etc.) is unconstitutional and discriminatory on the basis of religion, race and gender. Furthermore, a ban on religious garments disproportionately affects Muslim women and delivers a dangerous precedent in which a government can dictate what a woman can or cannot wear.

This law will only increase anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, racist, and sexist sentiments – as well as incidents – both in the workplace and outside of it.

Although this law does not directly apply to PSAC members who work in federal agencies or departments in Quebec, these workers are likely to be victims of the legislation nonetheless. The general public will often not distinguish between public service workers employed by the federal government and those working for the province – undoubtedly causing negative incidents for our members.

The legislation is also a direct attack on unionized workers’ rights, as it overrides collective agreement provisions.  Workers covered by the bill will be subject to surveillance, with inspectors empowered to police what workers are wearing and to apply disciplinary or corrective measures. The law also remains ambiguous in what constitutes a religious symbol. This vagueness will cause confusion and result in the law being applied in an arbitrary measure.

It is imperative that Bill 21 be repealed to stop the erosion of important human rights and freedoms.

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July 5, 2019
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