Quebec debates law banning hijabs, other symbols

Women’s group says Bill 21 leads to spike in Islamophobia

Hearings into a bill banning religious symbols in certain jobs in Quebec resumed Tuesday and one advocacy group said the controversial proposal has led to a spike in harassment of Muslim women.

Justice Femme, a Montreal group that offers support to women, said it received more than 40 calls from hijab-wearing women since Bill 21 was introduced in March.

The bill would forbid anyone in Quebec public service, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs, Christian crosses and the Jewish kippa while dealing with the public.

The bill, which the Quebec government said is designed to separate state from religion, raised the hackles of many who see it as unfairly targeting Muslim women who wear the hijab.

Earlier this month, hundreds of Montrealers formed a human chain around the Quebec legislative building to protest the proposed law.

The hearings, conducted by elected officials, are an opportunity for organizations for and against the bill to present their arguments.

Tuesday, Justice Femme introduced its findings as did Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante.

In a written statement released before she appeared, Plante said it is, “difficult for me to accept this restriction of individual rights and freedoms.”

Justice Femme officials said the bill served to heighten Islamophobia and other forms of hatred.

The organization detailed four recent cases of physical assault, including two attempts to rip hijabs off women and spitting on another woman; six cases of harassment in the workplace and more than 12 cases of cyber-bullying.

In the fall when the proposed bill was first being considered, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced his opposition.

“As you know very well, I’m not of the opinion that the state should be able to tell a woman what she can wear, nor that she cannot wear,” he told reporters.

The hearings are taking place over six days and are expected to conclude May 16.

The government hopes to enact Bill 21 by mid-June.

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