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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.

Lobster Tales: How the Mi’kmaq First Nations came out on top of the Nova Scotia Lobster Dispute

By Emma MacFarlane

The tale of fishing disputes in Nova Scotia dates back to the early 1990s, when Donald Marshal Jr. was charged with illegal catching and selling of eels in Cape Breton. By 1999, Marshal had appealed his decision all the way to the Supreme Court, citing a 250-year-old treaty that ensured his right to fish anytime, anywhere, so long as it was in order to support himself and his family. The court agreed with this ruling, and Marshall was acquitted. The court, however, came back to clarify that their ruling meant that Marshal could only fish to provide a “moderate living” and could not fish to accumulate mass amounts of wealth. According to legal experts, this clarification was a call to action for the federal and provincial governments to create policy to protect Indigenous rights and prevent issues such as this one from arising again, however no policies or practices were implemented to form a sustainable solution.

This lack of action allowed Indigenous fishermen to take matters into their own hands. In September of 2020, after Ashton Bernard was charged for fishing and selling lobster in a similar fashion to Marshal, the Sipekne’katik First Nation opened a livelihood lobster fishery in order to protect themselves from the scrutiny of commercial fishermen. Commercial fishermen highlighted environmental and livelihood concerns should the First Nations overfish the waters. In recent years, lobster fishing has become and extremely lucrative market, and it seemed that commercial fishermen were unhappy they would be sharing the waters and profits with Indigenous fishermen.

The claws came out on October 12th, 2020 when well over 200 commercial fishermen and their associates vandalized and burgled two separate facilities where First Nation fishermen had been storing their lobster hauls and fishing supplies. Fires, threats, and theft were the weapons of choice by commercial fishermen, and the “environmental concerns” they had voiced when originally confronting the Mi’kmaq fishermen seemed moot, as hundreds of pounds of live, sellable lobster were dumped onto the pavement to meet a cold end. As of November 14th, 2020, the RCMP has only made a handful of arrests and laid even fewer actual charges. Furthermore, they have not confirmed whether the arrests are related to the incident itself, despite video and eye-witness evidence. This lack of action on the part of RCMP has been publicly criticized by Chief Sack of the Sip’knekatik First Nation, who has had to instead pursue civil lawsuits against individuals who partook in the vandalism of the fisheries.

With the threatening and intimidating behaviour of commercial fishermen and little assistance from authority or government, the Indigenous fishermen of Nova Scotia needed a creative solution for peace, and fast. Enter Premium Brands Holdings Corporation. Partnering with several Mi’kmaq First Nations, they structured a $1billion dollar deal to purchase Clearwater Seafoods Inc. This is the largest seafood purchase by a Canadian Indigenous group in history and will likely be marked as a pillar for change and cooperation between Indigenous and commercial fishermen. Upon completion of this deal, this partnership will give Mi’kmaq fishermen sole holding rights Canadian Clearwater’s fishing licenses.

This is a major win for Indigenous fishermen, and for First Nations across Canada. This collaboration will hopefully encourage collaboration with commercial and First Nation fishermen, otherwise they will likely see a drop in their sales and livelihood. Without violence or force, the First Nations are now able to turn the tables in their favour in the lobster fishing industry. Clearly, this is a fantastic example of triumph over those who would continue to oppress Indigenous rights and is a step in the direction of independence and self-sufficiency for First Nations. Only time will tell how this victory plays out for them.

Despite this victory, there is still a need for government intervention. The Mi’kmaq establishing themselves as a major player in the lobster fishing industry should be a wakeup call to the federal government to play a much more active role in issues such as this one, to prevent them from reoccurring and alleviating the pressure First Nation’s face when having to solve these issues. In order to promote peaceful collaboration between commercial and First Nation fishermen, policies and attitudes must be adjusted. Further policy is needed to outline the actual meaning of a “moderate livelihood” and the “mass accumulation of wealth” on the part of Indigenous fishermen. Furthermore, the provincial and federal government must be tasked with achieving a balance between Indigenous fishing rights and sustainable fishing policies to be applied to all fishermen. Finally, an inquiry should be launched to examine RCMP practices when acts of targeted violence such as the vandalism in October occur, and examine why it was necessary for the First Nations to take settlement matters into their own hands. Though these processes may be a long and tedious process, it will be undoubtedly shorter than the decades that the parties involved have gone without substantial policy on the subject.