Victoria joins voices opposing Quebec ban on religious symbols

Victoria has gone on record opposing Quebec’s Bill 21, which prohibits public servants from wearing religious symbols such as turbans, hijabs and kippahs.

Councillors unanimously supported a motion brought by Coun. Sharmarke Dubow calling on the city to support in principle a legal challenge against the bill launched by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

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Dubow, a Muslim and former Somali refugee, said he was approached by community groups asking that the city take a stand.

“Bill 21 is a local fight because an attack on the Constitution in one part of Canada is an attack on the Constitution in any part of Canada,” Dubow said.

“It’s important that all Canadians stand up for the Constitution and that all residents of the city of Victoria stand up for their constitutional rights.”

When reports of Dubow’s motion surfaced, council faced criticism in some quarters for being distracted by outside issues.

Stan Bartlett, chairman of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, said councillors should be dealing with potholes or allocation of police resources.

It was a criticism not lost on Coun. Sarah Potts, who in expressing support for Dubow’s motion asked director of engineering Fraser Work whether council’s advocacy on the issue would impede repair of potholes.

“I’m more than confident that staff can continue to work on their operational priorities within the boundaries of political advocacy work,” Work said.

Potts said issues that affect minorities and the marginalized are important to people in the city.

“Everyday Victorians deserve to be represented here and I think we’ve heard from some sections of the community that we shouldn’t be wading into these issues,” she said.

“Maybe what’s being heard here are voices we’re not used to hearing at this table so clearly.”

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said while she is reluctant to get involved in issues in other jurisdictions, this motion was different. “What is being proposed [in Quebec] goes against rights and freedoms,” she said. “[The bill] is definitely a form of discrimination and cannot be tolerated.

“I think for that reason we need to speak up.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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