Some 500 people turned out at the Bernard Lang Civic Centre in Côte St. Luc Sunday morning for a rally for religious freedom and against the Quebec government’s Bill 21, which would ban newly hired people in some positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.
Security was extensive, with numerous Public Security personnel and vehicles and SPVM police cars in close proximity.
There were numerous speakers, including CSL Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, Côte des Neiges Black Community Association executive director Tiffany Callendar, D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather, Montreal Opposition leader and CDN-NDG councillor Lionel Perez, St. Laurent MP Emmanuella Lambropoulos, Outremont MP Rachel Bendayan, McGill Faculty of Law Dean Robert Leckie, English Montreal School Board chairperson Angela Mancini, EMSB teacher and Orthodox Jew Carolyn Gehr, Black Coalition of Quebec vice-president Gabriel Bazin, Muslim Council of Montreal president Salam Elmenyawi; Liberal MPs Anju Dhillon, a Sikh woman (Dorval) and Marc Miller (Ville-Marie), Montreal councillor Abdelhaq Sari, a member of the Muslim community; lawyer Greg Bordan, Hampstead councillor Jack Edery, Sikh community member Taran Singh and Côte des Neiges-NDG councillor Marvin Rotrand.
Not on hand were Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg, who said he did not want to be a distraction because of the media storm surrounding his characterization of Bill 101 as “ethnic cleansing without a gun,” and Marguerite Bourgeoys teacher Chahira Battou, who wears a hijab, and was on the initial list of speakers.
In her speech, part of which was also on her Facebook page, Lambropoulos said Bill 21 is “discriminatory and takes away the rights of so many people who make up our Canadian and Quebec society.
“This is a form of segregation that reminds me of a much darker time in history, and I really thought we were past it, especially in a Western society, “ she added. “It deeply saddens me it’s been brought back in my very own province.”
Other comments from some of the speakers:
“I represent a city that has many individuals who wear religious symbols,” Brownstein said. “We want to make sure they are considered full citizens.”
Housefather said he has been asked why he and others as MP are involved in a provincial issue.
“I answer them the same as I answered as Mayor in 2013 with we had a rally against the PQ’s Charter of Values,” he added. “If there is ever a law that threatens the rights of any of my constituents, it is my obligation to come out and protest against it.”
Perez expressed his points exceptionally loudly and passionately.
“The premier says, ‘finally we have a law,’ what exactly is he referring to?!” the councillor said. “To solve a problem that doesn’t exist?! He wants to legislate discrimination?! I say no, we say no!’.... I reject a law that creates two classes of citizens, that’s not moderate!”
Mancini, whose school board has vowed not to enforce Bill 21, said “it is so important that we stand together and the EMSB is proud to stand with all of you.”
“Probably the only good thing about this law is this solidarity and for us to be together and work hard to defeat it,” Elmenyawi said.
Rotrand, as did others, challenged the crowd to speak to people “who don’t necessarily agree with you” about Bill 21.
“We believe that the more people understand that this law institutionalizes discrimination, the more they’ll turn from the law,” he said.
After the rally, we asked Hampstead’s Edery and Councillor Michael Goldwax their reactions to Steinberg’s charaterization of Bill 21. Councillor Leon Elfassy, who was also at the rally, has called on Steinberg to apologize or resign.
“My position is on Bill 21,” said Edery. “That’s the important Bill. That’s what we’re talking about.”
“I’m not commenting on Bill Steinberg,” Goldwax said. “I want to keep the focus on Bill 21. Bill Steinberg is not the issue here.... Bill Steinberg made a comment, Bill Steinberg stands by his comment, but I don’t want to distract from the larger goals, defeating Bill 21.”