MONTREAL — Groups defending the rights of minorities and women came together Friday to denounce Quebec's new legislation restricting the wearing of religious symbols.
Seven organizations including Amnesty International and the province's main women's federation attacked the secularism bill as discriminatory.
France-Isabelle Langlois, Amnesty International's director for French-speaking Canada, said the Coalition Avenir Quebec bill contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
"In renouncing our international commitments, we undermine our international credibility," she told a news conference in Montreal.
The legislation tabled Thursday would prohibit public servants in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards — from wearing religious symbols. People currently in those jobs would be protected by a grandfather clause.
Idil Issa, vice-president of the Fondation Parole de femmes, which represents women from visible minorities, said Muslim women wearing the hijab will bear the brunt of the law's impact. She said she fears they will be stigmatized and even subjected to violence in everyday life.
"Are we prepared as a society to tell an aspiring police officer that she will never enjoy the privilege of protecting her community?" Issa asked. "Are we prepared as a society to tell a teacher that she will be the last of her kind? Are we prepared as a society to tell a young civil servant that she has reached a glass ceiling and that roles of authority will forever be denied her?
"And if we are, are we prepared as a society to lose some of our best and brightest or to watch their dreams be deferred?"
The groups are asking that the bill be withdrawn, but they acknowledge the battle will be difficult because the government has invoked the notwithstanding clause to block possible court challenges.
Membership of the Federation des femmes du Quebec, the province's most prominent women's group, has been divided over the hijab in the past, but the organization came out strongly against the bill this week. It said the legislation would oppress Muslim women and limit them to a "ghetto" professionally and socially.
"This law contributes to the creation of public spaces that are collectively hostile to them," federation vice-president Marlihan Lopez said Friday.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said she has received messages that she called "very aggressive, even violent sometimes" after speaking out against the bill Thursday. "I ask everyone to be very careful and to keep in mind that we are talking about human beings," she told reporters.
She said that as a politician she is accustomed to receiving abusive messages. "I am even more worried by those, I'm thinking of the children, who are in the schoolyard who will perhaps be judged," she said.
The Canadian Press