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Canadians United Against Bill 21

At least 3 teachers remove religious symbols at work under Quebec’s secularism law

September 17, 2019

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At least three teachers in Quebec have removed their religious symbols while at work in compliance with the province’s secularism law.

The Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) — the province’s largest school board — confirmed on Tuesday that three of its teachers have shed their symbols since the start of the school year in order to secure their employment.

“They took off their religious symbols to have the contract with the Commission scolaire de Montréal because we have by law the obligation with the government to be sure the law is in place in our school board,” said president Catherine Harel-Bourdon.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government’s Bill 21 prohibits public-sector employees in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious symbols while at work.

The controversial legislation was tabled in March and passed into law in June. It includes a grandfather clause that grants employees the right to keep their religious symbols, but prevents them from taking on different positions.

While the CSDM initially came out swinging against Bill 21, the school board changed its tune in August. It said it will enforce the province’s secularism law, but Harel-Bourdon admits the school board told the government it would affect the climate in its schools.

“We said to the government a lot of times that it’s going to be difficult for living together and that it’s really important in our institution because we are working on how to live together and accept everyone as they are with their religion,” she said.

“But right now, we have to work with this law.”

On Tuesday, Harel-Bourdon said she could not reveal what type of religious symbols the teachers were wearing, citing confidentiality reasons.

“I’m not going to go inside what kind of symbol and the details of their case because it’s confidential,” she said.

Earlier this month, the school board issued a written warning to a newly-hired teacher, demanding she remove her hijab by Sept. 10 if she wanted to be eligible for a contract. Harel-Bourdon could not confirm if that teacher is among those who complied with the law.

— With files from Global News’ Anne Leclair

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