On June 16, Quebec’s government passed Bill 21, which formally bans public employees, such as teachers, health professionals and judges, from wearing religious symbols in public. This bill adds onto the legislation requiring people to uncover their faces when accessing public services.
It is clear that legislations like Bill 21 are Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, and sexist attacks on people’s religious freedom. When people are not allowed to wear religious symbols like hijabs, turbans, or kippas the government is explicitly exposing these communities to prejudicial harassment, excluding these communities from accessing employment and leaving them vulnerable to harassment and violence.
In a CBC article, Barâa Arar, who was set to begin graduate studies at McGill in the fall, stated:
“As a graduate student, I do not want to look over my shoulder as I walk through the halls of my university. I do not want to worry about taking the bus alone after an evening class. I do not want to go to a weekly protest to protect my freedoms. I want to be a 22-year-old graduate student, stressed about writing papers and annoyed at the poor food selection on campus, not one who has to prove I am welcome”
This legislation puts visibly religious students, faculty and staff currently employed in post-secondary institutions at risk of facing threats and violence, having to pursue their academic aspirations elsewhere or losing their jobs if they refuse to conform to this new legislation. This is a dangerous precedent that condones hate and condemns freedom of expression and inclusivity.
The Canadian Federation of Students has a long-standing mandate to fight against barriers to post-secondary education including targeted attacks to visibly religious minorities. Students will continue to oppose the systemic violence perpetrated by Bill 21 until everyone can go around their campuses safely.