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Bill 21: Quebec’s Totalitarian Law Against Religious Freedom

By: Sabaahat Iqbal

Is Quebec’s Bill 21 really about neutralizing religious symbols in a workplace or is it taking away the human rights of Quebecers?

On June 16, 2019, Quebec passed Bill No. 21, which prohibits the display of religious symbols by public-sector workers in the workplace. This means; Muslim women cannot wear hijabs or niqabs, Jewish men cannot wear kippahs, Sikhs cannot wear turbans, and Christians cannot wear crosses, at work. 

This bill was the government’s fourth attempt in ten years to introduce religious neutrality to the province. Bill 21 is based on four principles:

1. the separation of state and religions,

2. religious neutrality of the state,

3. equality of all citizens, and

4. freedom of conscience and religion.

Though the government tried to put the bill in place as a positive outcome to the citizens of Quebec, many believe it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom

Is it a Violation of the Charter?

The bill has been criticized as religious discrimination among many people in the province of Quebec and Canada as a whole. It violates Canada’s Freedom of Religion under section 2(a) in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

This bill not only targets religious women, but it is legislating gender discrimination against these women. Not allowing women to dress in accordance with their religious beliefs directly conflicts with the assurances of Freedom of Religion in the Charter. 

Taking Away Their Rights to Express Themselves

Religious minorities already face obstacles on a daily basis when looking for stable employment.  This bill takes away their right to express their religious beliefs. I understand the reasoning in neutralizing religious symbols in the workplaces of the provincial government, but this bill makes people choose between their religious views and their career. 

Quebecer Nour Farhat, who wears a hijab, summed up the situation: “It really shut all my doors. Five months ago, I would have told you ‘I’m a future Crown attorney.’ I was so sure of my path. And now I’m like, OK maybe I’ll become an expert in insurance law?”

Many people are considering moving out of the province and starting fresh in a place where they can freely express their religious beliefs.

Covid-19 Face Coverings vs. Religious Face Coverings

Many believe that this bill is targeting Muslim women specifically. Particularly because of the rules related to face coverings, which bars a niqab-wearing woman from accessing public services. However, this begs a bigger question: what is the difference between Covid-19 face coverings vs. religious face coverings?

With the rise of COVID, face masks are mandatory in work environments for public authorities.

Canada’s Chief Public Health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, suggested people to wear non-medical face mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Yet wearing a niqab, because it represents a religious symbol, is prohibited under the bill. For instance, upon arrival at a hospital, COVID-19 patients entering the emergency department are given a face mask and asked to keep it on. A woman wearing a niqab entering the emergency department, will be required by law to remove it before receiving any health-care services.

On April 9 of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected an appeal filed by civil rights groups to suspend parts of Bill 21. The Premier of Quebec, François Legault praised the decision not to move forward with the appeal.  At the same time, public health persistently compels people to wear face masks for health and safety reasons. This has raised serious concerns about the arguments and motives behind Bill 21.

What’s Next?

Many people across the province are struggling to figure out what they should do next. Quebec is home to many people. It is where they grew up or came for fresh beginnings. But now, they are frustrated and confused because they have to choose between their religious practices and their career paths.

Let’s Not Rely on the ‘luck of the draw’ to Reunite Families

By Anthony Harrilall 

Many people dream of immigrating to Canada in hopes of starting a new life. In fact, some people would do whatever it takes to land on our soil. The dream of settling in Canada is one that individuals from around the world work hard to achieve, and once they arrive that hard work doesn’t stop. Personally, I have friends who work two part-time jobs while being enrolled in full-time studies. One of them works nightshifts at a warehouse, driving forklifts in the freezer department. He still somehow managed to make it to our 8:00 am lectures in our 4th year of University. This friend as well as others I know work harder than some people who were born and raised in Canada. Many of them are working in order to save money so that they can afford to sponsor their parents or grandparents, who can hopefully join them in Canada and reap the rewards of their hard work.

Usually, a person’s hard work will result in them gaining some type of reward. These rewards can be in the form of high grades, promotions, or some sort of recognition.  In the case of those who hope to sponsor their parents and/or grandparents, they should rightfully think that their contributions to Canadian society will increase their chances of being granted sponsorship, as they have built a good reputation for themselves. Essentially, they would have higher priority in the selection process over those who have been in Canada for a shorter period of time and therefore have contributed less to Canadian society. This is not to say that one person is more deserving than the other, but that there should be some sort of guideline in the system that would benefit those that deserve it.

Well sadly, this is not the case. On October 4th of this year, Liberal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced that Canada would be reintroducing a controversial lottery-based immigration system for those who wish to sponsor their parents or grandparents to Canada

The system picks 10,000 random names from a pool of applicants, and those individuals who are picked will be invited to submit applications to Immigrations, Refugees & Citizenship Canada. Selection from the pool of names is completely random and there are no minimum requirements to apply. 

Marco Mendicino claims that this system is equitable and attracts the best and brightest from around the world. However, many people who went through this system would beg to differ. There are instances where people who have been in Canada for over 5 years simply don’t get selected in the draw, as reported by CBC. It is seen as unfair by many because those who have been here for less time end up getting selected. There are also instances where people are selected but do not have suitable accommodations for sponsorship and therefore a spot is wasted because their application is denied.

The system is essentially a lottery and selections are based on sheer luck. We should not be supporting a system that is falsely labelled as equitable. I believe that the people who go through these systems should be able to voice their opinions and provide constructive feedback that can highlight weaknesses. That should be a basic right that they have which will help avoid unequitable systems like this being from implemented again. I am not arguing that the people going through the process should be the ones creating the system, but their voices should be heard since they are the main stakeholders in this situation.

Organizations around the world consider their clients as their most important stakeholders. They always include their clients in their strategic planning processes and it usually contributes to the organization’s success. Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada should involve these stakeholders more so that they can actually ensure that their programs and immigration systems are as equitable as they claim they are. All in all, Canada is known for opening its doors to those who would like to call Canada home, and we should always keep it that way. If we want to ensure a smooth welcome, we should make our processes more predictable and not rely on the luck of the draw.

In Canada, immigrants must matter just as immigration matters.

By Olufemi Ajiboye

Although Canada’s immigration system is a model for others to follow, proactive measures are needed to guide them to the resources and training to better prepare for the Canadian workplace.

Canada has set an ambitious plan to welcome over 1.2 million new permanent residents by 2023. This recent plan announced by the Honourable Minister of Immigration, Marco Mendicino, is an extension of the multi-year immigration levels plan that was first announced in 2017.

However, additional measures by the government would help more immigrants to overcome the challenges they face as newcomers and provide them the opportunities to contribute favourably to the country’s economic growth.

Despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada plans to welcome 401,000 new immigrants in 2021, 411,000 new immigrants in 2022, and 421,000 new immigrants in 2023. In addition to this, up to 60% of these new immigrants are expected through the economic immigration class system.

Over the years, Canada has prioritized economic class immigration and is using this to solve both its population and economic growth concerns. The multi-year immigration levels plan is, therefore, an affirmation of the important contributions of immigrants to Canada, and the role that immigrants will play in building the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic immigrants arrive in Canada with their professional skills, educational qualifications, and years of work experience. They also anticipate the opportunities to put their skills into use and fill the skills shortage in the critical workforce.

Historically, immigrants have supported economic growth in Canada as both employees and employers of labour. They have replaced the retiring baby boomer workforce in many sectors, driven innovation, boosted bilateral trade between Canada and their countries of birth, strengthened Canada’s multiculturalism, and are responsible for 75% of Canada’s population growth. These and many other reasons are why immigration matters in Canada.

However, numerous challenges have prevented many immigrants from integrating into the workforce and contributing to the country’s economic growth.

These challenges have brought forward discussions on the disparity between the immigration recruitment criteria for economic immigrants, and the employment recruitment criteria they face upon arrival in Canada. Before being granted permanent residency in Canada, the Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada would conduct an evaluation of the applicants’ credentials, verify the skills and experience they claim to have, and put their applications through a rigorous review process to ensure they are a good fit for both the Canadian society and workforce. All these would, however, amount to little when seeking employment in Canada.

New immigrants often arrive in Canada to find themselves subjected to the realities of not having sufficient Canadian experience to secure employment, or their credentials not recognized as equivalent to a Canadian education. Additionally, for those in regulated professions, there is a rigorous process of securing the licenses required to practice in their profession.

According to the World Education Services, top among the challenges that constitute barriers to employment for new immigrants are lack of professional connections; employers not recognizing their qualifications and experience; lack of recognition for their international education, the rigorous licensing process for regulated professions; the resume, CV, or cover letter writing skills of new immigrants; and the low demand for certain degree majors or skills.

These challenges have prevented many newcomers from integrating into the workforce and contributing their quota to the country’s economic growth.

The challenges present opportunities for Canada to implement certain proactive measures such as

  1. offering qualifications and experience recognition support for new immigrants and employers;
  2. mandatory skills upscaling and rescaling programs that would help newcomers to assess their skills and develop requisite workplace skills;
  3. employment integration programs that would create a platform to connect underutilized talents to local employers; and
  4. a restructuring of the licensing procedures to make room for faster integration in certain regulated professions.

The Canadian Government should work with relevant stakeholders to put adequate measures in place to ensure that these recommendations are effectively implemented. Existing resources should also be targeted towards programs that would better prepare new immigrants for the expectations of the workplace, and guide them to access the resources and training they need. 

Taking action on these recommendations would help to boost Canada’s global profile as a welcoming destination for immigrants, and further reiterate that immigrants matter to Canada, just as immigration matters.