In 2019, the government of Quebec premier François Legault, the founding leader of the centre-right Coalition Action Démocratique (CAQ), passed “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State”, also known as Bill 21.
Bill 21 prohibits certain public servants in positions of authority, including judges, police officers, government lawyers, principals and vice-principals, as well as elementary and high school teachers, from wearing religious symbols such as a hijab, crucifix, turban or kippah while on the job.
This contentious law has polarized public opinion. The detractors of Bill 21 claim that it fuels anti-religious sentiment, disproportionately affects Muslim women, and restricts the freedom of conscience and is, therefore, unconstitutional. The supporters of Bill 21 argue that it enforces the healthy separation of state and religion, prevents passive proselytism, and enhances gender equality by “freeing women from the constraints of oppressive religions”.
Dr. Beesan Sarrouh is a Senior Research Analyst at the Centre of Wellness, Diversity, and Inclusion at the Treasury Board Secretariat in Ottawa. She has published work on inclusion, diversity, and belonging in the sphere of education in both academic and policy forums. She holds a PhD in Political Studies from Queen’s University.
FOCUS OF THE TALK:
The accommodation of Muslims in Quebec’s public education system has been a site of contention for decades. This talk will focus on how Muslims have been accommodated in this sphere prior to Bill 21, and the implications that Bill 21 has now for Muslims in the public education sector. In particular, the discussion will centre on the position of Muslim women employed within the public education system who are impacted by Bill 21.