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Religion Teacher Protests CAQ’s Religious Symbols Policy


By Sarah Kassa

Religions teacher Sonia Zylberberg wearing a kippa at her desk - Victoria Vonapartis

The CAQ had announced before their election that they would be banning government officials from wearing religious symbols at their workplace, which led to thousands of people gathering to protest in downtown Montreal on October 7th. It would have been impossible for a community as diverse as Dawson’s not to react to such a statement. Religions teacher Sonia Zylberberg decided to start wearing kippas every day at school as her own way of protesting.


Our new government spent its first few weeks in office back-pedalling from the controversial resolution. The CAQ has remained adamant about the fact that workers in position of authority such as teachers, police officers, judges, and prison guards will no longer be allowed to wear religious symbols while at work. Conversely, they declared they had no intention of removing the crucifix hung in the National Assembly. There have been a total of three crucifixes hung in the Blue and Red rooms since 1936 and the party regards the latest a historical symbol rather than a religious one, calling it a part of Quebec’s heritage.


Premier Legault then announced during his party’s swear-in ceremony on October 16th that their proposed bill on religious symbols would not be ready until Christmas, despite months of saying he wanted the issue to be handled as quickly as possible. However, the delay did not help alleviate the tension with the people who disagree with that resolution.


She has six multi-colored kippas pinned on her office’s bulletin board and a miniature one on the head of her Buddha statuette. “A teacher who is a non Jew had asked me to make her a mini kippa that she could pin on her jacket,” she added. “I don’t know if I should stitch the word ‘kippa’ on it just to make sure that people know what it is.”


Zylberberg is not the only teacher who has openly expressed her disagreement towards the CAQ’s stance on secularism at work. Religions teacher Johanne Rabbat said that “the Department of Religion and some of [their] colleagues have discussed wearing religious symbols to work” for the same reason, adding that a Muslim student offered to teach them how to wear the hijab if the occasion ever presented itself.


“I have never really worn religious symbols at work since I have always wanted to be more objective as a Religions teacher, but I don’t wear them outside of school either, so it’s not like I removed them as soon as I got to school,” explained Rabbat. “I think I’d wear a bunch of religious signs from different religions at school if I decided to protest too.”


On November 14th, the Dawson Teacher Union released a statement about freedom of religion, saying: “The Religious Studies Department regards the proposed law to keep teachers from wearing clothing that makes their religious affiliation apparent as discriminatory. At the same time, such a law encourages, and in the mind of some, legitimates acts of disrespect, harassment, and even violence. For this reason, we are against this proposed law — we would like to see a neutral and tolerant society that allows all people the freedom to choose what they believe and wear. We invite all those who would like to express their opposition to the law by wearing a religious symbol to contact Sonia Zylberberg who has offered to crochet a kippah (with your own choice of colours) for anyone who wishes to wear one.”


This statement is available on the DTU website: https://dtu.qc.ca/2018/11/the-owl-hoots-no-542/

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