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Québec’s controversial Bill 21

By Manahil Hassan, October 7 2019—

News flash — Australia has nearly cured a type of cancer. NASA released its scientific research for free. Scientists found a brand-new celestial phenomenon and called it Steve. I could say that 2019 has been a great year for progress. After all, look at everything we have accomplished. However, we hear devastating stories of human rights violations and crimes being enacted. Horrific news headlines make us think that all of this scientific research, innovation and human progress is for nothing. If we cannot acknowledge the fundamental rights and freedoms of a society, how can we thrive and become better? One prime example is Bill 21— Québec’s secularism law.

Bill 21 was passed during the summer of 2019 and prohibits civil servants from wearing religious symbols such as the hijab, a turban or even a kippah. As you can imagine, this affects thousands of individuals who identify as Muslim, Sikh or Jewish. What’s suspicious, however, is Québec’s weak excuse to cover what seems to be an attempt at driving minority religions out of the public eye. Québec premier, Francois Legault, stated that the bill’s main aim was to affirm the states’ secular identity. I think it is safe to assume that this bill should never have been passed. Not only does it fail to recognise basic human rights, but it promotes racism and division between societies. 

Societies make laws for the good of their communities. It is agreed that although laws do not benefit everyone in society, they should never challenge the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals. It is not just a principle — it is common sense. Québec seems to have ignored this, and now Muslims and Sikhs are forced to take off their hijabs and turbans to prove their loyalty to society. What the government refuses to acknowledge is that this defeats the purpose of wearing a hijab or a turban in the first place. These head coverings are not just pieces of cloth — they are symbols of an individual’s right to choose. They are a symbol of self-sacrifice and of tradition and religion. After all, isn’t Québec’s charter called the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms? Quite frankly, this law is radical, hypocritical and unfair. It affects different individuals to different degrees. A crucifix, for example, can be worn by members of the Catholic faith so long as they are hidden, while Muslims and Sikhs don’t have the option to simply hide their religious affiliation. Either throw away years of culture, self-sacrifice and virtue or choose to make a living for yourself or your family. Who in their right mind would look at the current situation in Québec and claim the government is respecting basic human rights?

After this bill was passed, harassment towards minorities increased. And why wouldn’t it? Some people feel that they no longer need to internalize their racist, vile thoughts and can act upon them because the authorities have already begun doing so. In one case, two friends at the mall were harassed by another patron. One friend was told to go back to her country, while another woman had her niqab snatched off her face. The government passing a law that allows the targeting of minorities is unacceptable. A division is forming between supporters and opponents of this bill. While close-minded individuals are emitting an increasingly pungent stench of superiority and ignorance, victims of this bill feel debilitated and degraded in a place they call their home. But surely, Québec can’t just expect Muslims and Sikhs to stand by and let their dignity and faith be spat on. The bottom line is that we’re constantly talking about presenting a united front and being fair, but how is it possible when people just stand by and let innocent men, women and children feel targeted? 

Supporters of this bill aren’t fooling anyone into believing that they are a secular and neutral state — they just want to target minorities.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet‘s editorial board.

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