West end politicians announced at a press conference Friday that a Rally for Religious Freedom will take place to oppose the Quebec government’s Bill 21.
It will begin 11:30 a.m. Sunday April 14 in front of Côte St. Luc city hall, 5801 Cavendish Blvd.
Bill 21 will require that newly hired people in positions of authority under provincial jurisdictions, such as judges, teachers and police, not wear religious symbols. Those already employed will not be affected.
On hand for the press conference were Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather, Mayors Mitchell Brownstein (CSL), William Steinberg (Hampstead) and Beny Masella (Montreal West), as well as Snowdon councillor Marvin Rotrand and D’Arcy McGee riding office director Elisabeth Prass representing MNA David Birnbaum.
“We intend to speak out and defend a value we hold dear — that of ensuring all Quebecers can excel in the professions of their choice, irrespective of their religious beliefs,” Brownstein said.
But it was Steinberg’s comments that made the press conference the top story on major Quebec news websites Friday afternoon.
“Bill 21... discriminates against religions that require believers to wear articles of their faith,” the Hampstead Mayor said. “The result will be that Jews, Muslims and Sikhs will not come to a place where the job opportunities are limited.... This is an attempt to remove those who practice minority religions, leaving only non-believers and Christians in Quebec.
“This is ethnic cleansing, not with a gun but with a law. It is racist.”
Brownstein and Housefather, answering journalists, distanced themselves from Steinberg’s remarks. The City of CSL issued an official disavowal. Quebec media has been almost unanimous in denouncing Steinberg’s words.
Steinberg himself responded to the coverage on Twitter, writing, “I regret that some media have seized on the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ without fully explaining my position. Bill 21 will lead to fewer religious minorities coming to Quebec. Those minorities already here will consider leaving so that their children will have equal employment opportunities instead of being discriminated against.” The Mayor received many angry responses on Twitter, and Liberal MP Marc Miller posted that “expressions such as ‘ethnic cleansing’ are unacceptable and stifle debate.”
On Monday, Hampstead councillor Leon Elfassy, who made it clear he also opposes Bill 21, called on Steinberg to immediately apologize to all Quebec minority communities and retract his comments, or resign.
“He didn’t only hurt Hampstead residents, he hurt the entire Jewish community and all the minorities in Quebec, and diverted from the purpose of the press conference,” the councillor added.
Steinberg sent a response to The Suburban, saying: “As Barry Goldwater said, ‘extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! …And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!’ Bill 21 is an odious law that will trample on basic rights guaranteed by both the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Human Rights and Freedoms. History has shown that keeping your head down never works in the long run. As Jews, our history has proven that time and time again.
“Instead of worrying about my defense of the rights of Jews, Muslims and Sihks, perhaps Councillor Elfassy should be using his energy to fight against this unjust and immoral law.... My ethical denunciation of it should be praised.”