All workers deserve to exercise religious freedom without discrimination

April 22, 2021

Canada’s unions are disappointed by the Quebec Superior Court’s recent decision on Bill 21, a Bill barring certain public sector employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols in the workplace, such as Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans and hijabs worn by Muslim women.

The Court said that the Bill violates part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms insofar as it infringes on minority language educational rights and the democratic right to serve in the provincial legislature. As such, while the Court ruled to uphold the majority of the legislation, it exempted only employees working in English-language schools, and those serving as members of the National Assembly.

While Canada’s unions welcome any exemptions to this inequitable law, this decision has left thousands of workers at risk of being barred from employment or losing their jobs simply because of their religious convictions.

Under the guise of equality and religious neutrality, Bill 21 strips workers of their dignity and choice through state-sanctioned discrimination and coercion, as they are forced to choose between employment and their faith.

“Equality is not something you can do partially—it’s either full equality or it isn’t,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff. “Every person in Quebec should have the right to exercise the same rights and freedoms, regardless of any personal characteristic, including religious faith.”

The Court’s ruling sets a regressive precedent by rolling back the religious freedoms all Canadians should enjoy and threatens to undo decades of hard-won struggles for human rights.

While Bill 21 applies to all faiths, Muslim communities have been bearing the brunt of its impact since its introduction, and the Court’s decision not to strike it down in its entirety sends a dangerous message in Quebec—a province where anti-Muslim sentiment and hate rhetoric continues to grow. Just four years ago, a gunman opened fire on a Québec City mosque, killing six worshippers and injuring many more.

Canada’s unions continue to stand in solidarity with and fight for the human rights of all workers affected by this Bill. Workers should not have to make the choice between working in the professions of their choice and practicing their faith.

The labour movement will continue to work with all levels of government in its commitment to advancing anti-discrimination efforts and promoting safer and fairer workplaces and communities for all.

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