The World Today for December 30, 2021


Much Ado About Something


School officials forced third-grade teacher Fatemeh Anvari out of her classroom at Chelsea Elementary School in Quebec because she wore a hijab. Anvari didn’t lose her job, per se. She was reassigned to an inclusion-and-diversity literacy program.

Her students were, nonetheless, confounded. The school’s motto is “Respect for all, by all,” wrote the Washington Post. They wear anti-bullying T-shirts that read, “We help. We tell. We include.” When they realized that a Quebecois law called Bill 21 prohibits public employees from wearing religious symbols – this includes turbans, yarmulke and Islamic head coverings like the hijab – the furor that was unleashed in online chat groups and email chains led to a campaign against the law.

“It was just awful, really upsetting,” said Kirsten Taylor-Bosman, whose child attends Anvari’s class, in an interview with the Radio Canada International. “These are not the values that we teach our children. So it’s really hard to explain this to our kids.”

Writing in the Hill Times, Rose LeMay, a member of Canada’s Tlingit First Nation, an indigenous community, noted that the law echoed early 20th Century rules that forbid them from wearing traditional dress because they were supposed to be “civilized” and dress like Europeans.

Bill 21 was among the first legislation passed when Quebec Premier François Legault took office. The legislation ostensibly was designed to promote secularism – the Catholic Church once wielded an outsized influence in the province – but critics like those at the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties argue it aims to discriminate against non-Christian racial and ethnic minorities.

A conservative who supports the independence of French-speaking Quebec from otherwise English-speaking Canada, he said the school made a mistake when they hired Anvari after the law was enacted in 2019, according to Global News. The school board agreed with the premier even if they disagreed with the law. They erred in hiring her without asking what she wore.

The matter could become a wedge issue between Quebec and the rest of the country. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has repeatedly voiced his commitments to diversity but has yet to challenge Bill 21, or the federal courts invalidate the law, the Quebecois could view those moves as unwelcome meddling in their internal affairs, argued iPolitics, a Canadian news outlet.

Sixty-four percent of Quebecois are “perfectly content” to compel folks to choose between their religion and their profession, the Globe and Mail added.

Every community has the right to enforce its norms. In democracies, every person has the right to complain about it – and challenge them.

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