One of Canada’s most diverse cities will support a legal fight against Quebec’s religious symbols law

The City of Brampton will support a legal challenge against a controversial Quebec law limiting what civil servants can wear in the workplace.

The legislation, known as Bill 21 until it was passed earlier this month, makes it illegal to wear religious symbols to work for a range of employees, including public school teachers, police officers, judges, prison guards, Crown prosecutors — and even wildlife officers.

City council voted 11-0 in favour of the motion Wednesday. Councillors also voted in favour of a second motion that would see the city advertise firefighting and emergency service job opportunities in Quebec.

Brampton has a large south Asian population and is part of Peel Region, which has has the highest number of people who identify as Sikh in the Greater Toronto Area at 123,000.

The move comes just days after Peel Police Service Board passed a unanimous motion to launch a recruiting campaign in Quebec as well as to place advertising in that province for those interested in pursuing a careers in policing.

“Brampton is Canada’s most diverse big city. And if Brampton’s not going to defend Canadian multiculturalism, then who is?” said Mayor Patrick Brown, who called the new Quebec legislation “a trampling of a basic Canadian right.”

‘Playing to that populist rhetoric’

“Quebec may be playing to that populist rhetoric and frankly it’s very dangerous to trample upon religious communities. It helps create an environment of hate and frankly it’s very alarming … It’s not the Canadian way,” he said.

Brown says he has yet to speak with Quebec government officials about the motion, but would like to see other municipalities join the fight.

Jaskaran Sandhu, executive director of the World Sikh Organization, supported the motions and says while Brampton is just a single municipality, the motions could send a powerful signal to other levels of government about the impact of the legislation, which would bar individuals who wear a turban, hijab, kipa or other visible symbols from being employed in various public service positions.

“I think these things have an impact and act as a catalyst,” said Sandhu.

He said he can’t believe something “this discriminatory is happening in our own backyard.”

Local councillor Gurpreet Singh Dhillon was among those who voted in favour of the motions, but also pushed for an amendment for the city to better advertise positions to various ethnic media within Brampton to make it easier for diverse communities living in the city to access civil service jobs.

That amendment ultimately made it into the motion.

Push for further inclusion

“We absolutely support the residents that are affected by Bill 21 in Quebec and we have to show them support,” he said.

But Dhillon also pointed out that of the dozens of South Asian media outlets he reached out to about the move, not a single one had said they’d received ad money for municipal jobs, which is in part why he wants to see diverse communities get the same benefit as Quebec outlets when it comes to advertising positions.
Another one of Dhillon’s proposed amendments — in favour of a diversity and inclusion audit — did not pass Wednesday, but will be put back on the table in July. Nevertheless, he’s happy to see the motions successful, as is Sandhu.

“People may not fully appreciate that these are not merely symbols. These are in fact part and pieces of one’s identity,” Sandhu said. “This is not something you can take on and off.”

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