Edmonton councillors condemn Quebec’s religious symbols law, stand in support of legal challenge

Community members packed the River Valley Room at City Hall where council’s executive committee expressed their support for the legal challenge of Quebec’s Bill 21. Photo by Shaughn Butts/Postmedia Shaughn Butts / Postmedia

Edmonton city councillors are taking a stand against “rights being trampled upon” under Quebec’s controversial Bill 21 and showing their support for communities in fear of similar laws spreading across the country.

Residents from all walks of life and representing several community groups poured into city hall Thursday afternoon to voice the need for Edmonton to stand against Quebec’s new legislation prohibiting public sector employees from wearing religious symbols.

Having to choose between faith and employment should never be on the table, speaker Harman Kandola told councillors in front of a packed room including about 20 students from a local private school.

“How can we be turning the clock back now?” questioned Kandola who serves as Alberta’s vice president on the World Sikh Organization of Canada. “It’s crucial for us to know there is solidarity from our political leaders on these issues and standing up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Mayor Don Iveson and the four councillors on the executive committee unanimously backed the condemnation of Bill 21 and the call to stand in support of the legal challenge currently underway.

“To have fundamental rights overridden in blatant disregard for the values and multiculturalism and pluralism that are at the core of my love for this country is offensive,” said a passionate Iveson. “We’ll have an opportunity to send a very strong message of solidarity to all Canadians who believe in those fundamental rights that what has happened in Quebec with the passage of this law is wrong.”

Although largely symbolic, Kandola said it’s important for Edmonton’s leaders to take a stand against discrimination or it could worsen. He said the ruling in Quebec has been traumatic for Muslim and Sikh communities across the country and increased fear of intolerance.

“If you don’t challenge legitimacy of the law, if you don’t challenge what has now been legislated, you’ll lead to the normalization of a lot of that,” he said. “I think a lot of younger people are starting to feel this rise of intolerance.”

Edmontonians shared stories with councillors of being spit on or yelled at in public because of their identity.

Adil Hasan with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council remembers his mother needing to explain to him why someone was being rude in a grocery story because of what she was wearing.

“Her hijab is part of her identity and how she views herself and having someone question you as a human about why you wear that is extremely troubling,” he said.

For Coun. Scott McKeen, who brought the motion forward, the stand against Bill 21 is a declaration against discrimination in the city and an affirmation of values.

“All newcomers are welcome in Edmonton, all faiths are welcome here. End of story,” he said.

All city councillors will vote on the motion next Tuesday.