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Faith or Career?

Saima Mazumder


Bill 21: a dystopian law that dictates the rights of Quebec minorities and limits their religious freedom.

The province of Quebec has just reinstated Bill 21 for another 5 years and, in addition, has officially demanded English school boards to implement the law in their public sectors. When the Bill was originally put in place in June of 2019, it excluded English school boards. That is no longer the case.

This brings to mention that Quebec is not short on problems concerning the education sector.

The province is currently facing a massive teacher shortage. As of August 2023, Quebec is around 8500 teachers short, as confirmed by our Education Minister, Bernard Drainville. As of recent news, the government is asking non-licensed adults to step in to teach, in hopes that they will eventually learn to love the job and get their license.

In times like this, the province’s top priority should be maintaining a proper education for children and young adults. Therefore, how can the province afford to discriminate against a whole group of people?

Truthfully, they can’t. However, that has not stopped them.

Bill 21 is a Quebec law that prohibits people who wear hijabs, turbans or any other religious symbols to work as public servants. Many Quebec citizens are outraged, claiming that this Bill goes against citizen's rights to freedom of religion.

“Every person is the possessor of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association”, states LegisQuebec.

According to the Human Rights Charter, this bill deliberately limits the rights of a person who wears religious attire. Quebec’s National Assembly claims that this law is for Quebec to maintain its secularism.

However, Khalilah Bilal, a 19-year-old Muslim nursing student at Collège de Maisonneuve disagrees.

“I think that they’re very hypocritical. They are very strict with certain groups of Muslims, but they lack any rules for others. In fact, right in front of my high school, there is a giant cross. You can’t expect us, as teachers, to not wear hijabs in schools, but then have students go to schools with huge crosses.”

Quebec is everything but secular. Ask yourselves, why do we have the day off on December 25th for Christmas? Some may defend, saying that it was the day Jesus Christ was born. And Easter, similarly to Christmas, is one of the holiest days for Christians.

Nevertheless, “...persons must maintain proper regard for State laicity in exercising their fundamental freedoms and rights” claims The National Assembly of Quebec, in Bill 21.

Despite all of this, the most this law has achieved is creating an increase in violence, both physical and emotional, towards visible minorities.

According to a survey conducted by the Association for Canadian Studies, between May and June of 2022, there has been a significant increase in hate crimes, such as spitting and pulling off the hijab. These acts of violence have risen to 66.7% since this law was put into effect.

“I think it's very limiting for a lot of people. I wanted to be a teacher before going into nursing, really bad. It was my dream job. The bill went into place right before I went into Cegep so it derailed my entire life”, expresses Khalilah.

This in itself proves how this bill is interfering with lives and is ruining the lifelong dreams of children and young adults who have dreamt their whole lives to work in these sectors. This bill is asking young teenagers to choose between their faith and their careers.

When asking Khalilah about whether or not she believes this bill will affect future generations, this is what she had to say: “I think it’s important to see different people, from different backgrounds, as kids. It’s really important for kids to see Hijabi women, Jewish men, or Sikh men, etc and learn that people are different. It’s important to teach them that this doesn’t make them less human.”

Is this the example that Quebec is trying to set for its children? That if you are among those who visibly portray their faith, your opportunities will be significantly limited?

It is 2024, and it is time for Quebec to rethink and question its priorities, especially in the education sector. These children that they are influencing are the future workers and leaders of society. If they continue to be taught to discriminate against certain people at such a young age, then there is no hope for an inclusive future.



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