Many say rather than ensure the religious neutrality of the state, the law seems mostly to target Muslim women looking to serve their communities.
Teachers say Bill 21 has normalized a 'hateful language' used against themSeptember 29, 2019
Dalila Matoub has taught kindergarten for 27 years, she calls the job her “oxygen” and says if she can’t educate children, she may as well not exist.
But, recently, the parent of one of her students tried to have his child pulled from Matoub’s class because she wears a Muslim headscarf. Her hijab does not violate Quebec’s religious symbols ban since Matoub was employed before the law took effect.
She says that didn’t stop a parent from meddling with her livelihood.
“Am I a danger to his child? Am I a danger to him because of a piece of cloth on my head?” Matoub said Saturday at a Montreal rally opposing the law. “Can parents just pick and chose who teaches their children based on what that person’s identity is?”
The women who stood up and spoke out Saturday detailed what life has been like under Bill 21 — the Quebec law that forbids school teachers, police officers and other authority figures from wearing religious symbols on the job.
Though Bill 21 doesn’t affect daycare workers, one woman says a daycare owner refused to hire her because they already employed someone who wears a hijab. That’s according to Hanadi Saad, whose organization tracks hateful incidents against Quebec women.
“She was told that the daycare would lose clients if people thought it was too Muslim,” Saad said. “That’s what we’re facing out there.”
Speaker after speaker at Saturday’s event said rather than ensure the religious neutrality of the state, the law seems mostly to target Muslim women looking to serve their communities.
“The profession most impacted by this law is one dominated by women,” said Bouchera Chelbi, a teacher who filed a legal challenge to Bill 21 last week. “Women who they want to free and liberate without asking their opinion. … The real effect is women are being harassed on the job and on the street.
“We’re told to take off our scarves, to go back to our countries. We’re called extremists. But this is our country, we are Canadian citizens and this is a job we do because we’re passionate about it.”
Chelbi is one of three plaintiffs set to fight the law in court. After Bill 21 was passed last June, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed suit against the Quebec government. The English School Board of Montreal is also mounting a legal challenge to the religious symbols ban.
Ordinarily, the lawsuits could argue Bill 21 violates religious protections outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But since the Coalition Avenir Québec government built the notwithstanding clause into its legislation, entire swaths of the Charter don’t apply to the law.
Advocates at Saturday’s rally called Bill 21 a “devastating” solution to a nonexistent problem.
“Before Bill 21, things were going well. There were no fights in our schoolyards over a piece of cloth or a religious faith,” said Violaine Cousineau, a commissioner with the Commission scolaire de Montréal. “Now, parents are asking for their children not to be in certain teachers’ classes. … There’s a language that’s been normalized, a hateful language, that’s been legitimized by (Bill 21), an unprecedented wave of hate that wasn’t in Quebec one year ago.
“These women weren’t in danger a year ago. They were loved by their students, by everyone.”
Three Muslim teachers told the Montreal Gazette they go to great lengths to make sure their faith doesn’t inform the way they act in the classroom. One said she would even lie to her students about taking a day off to celebrate a religious holiday so she didn’t appear biased in favour of Islam.
Another said she recounted a child weeping because he wasn’t placed in her classroom this year.
“The boy had heard about the science experiments I did with my students and he wanted to be a part of it,” said the woman, who did not want her name published for fear of losing her job. “I have students who move on to high school and come back to say ‘thank you.’
“I have parents who thank me at the end of the year. I love these children, I’m not trying to convert them.”