Toronto council backs fight against Quebec’s Bill 21, calling it ‘contrary to the values of Torontonians and Canadians’

Toronto is joining Brampton and other municipalities morally and financially supporting a challenge to the Quebec law that has banned a hijab-wearing teacher from her Grade 3 classroom.

City council approved by a 25-0 vote a Mayor John Tory motion that stated: “This law diminishes rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms and stands contrary to the values of Torontonians and Canadians — values this council has been vigilant in protecting and upholding.”

It calls on other Canadian municipalities “to affirm their opposition to Bill 21 and provide financial contributions to support the legal challenge” and pledges $100,000 from Toronto toward the legal fight against the controversial law.

Earlier Tory tweeted: “I stand with Brampton Mayor (Patrick) Brown and Brampton City Council” which also condemned Bill 21 and pledged $100,000 toward the legal fight in a special meeting Wednesday.

Toronto council twice before criticized Quebec’s securalism law passed in 2019, but this is the first time it has pledged money toward efforts to get it scrapped.

Pressure on the Quebec government to rescind the law increased after the Western Quebec School Board was compelled to transfer Muslim teacher Fatemeh Anvari, who wears a hijab, out of her Chelsea classroom under the provincial law.

“I don’t think this is a Quebec issue — it’s not a local issue there. It is a national issue and it affects the rights of all Canadians,” Tory told city council via video feed from his office.

Later Thursday, Markham joined the cause, with Mayor Frank Scarpitti pledging $10,000 to efforts to overturn Bill 21 and calling the Quebec teacher’s treatment “shameful and a clear violation of human rights.”

Federal leaders have mostly tiptoed around the politically sensitive law that is popular among Quebec residents. Brown told his council colleagues that cities must step up and defend human rights.

If “religious freedom is diminished, and you can fire someone based on wearing a turban, or a hijab, or a cross, it will be an incredible diminishment of a foundational principle of this country,” Brown said.

“This affects our municipal interest, and it affects our city where we are proud to be a mosaic.”

Brown told the Star’s Noor Javed that the groups leading the legal fight — World Sikh Organization, National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association — have raised about $1.1 million and need about $3 million.

“Our hope is to level the playing field,” Brown told the Star. “It’s not a fair fight, when you have racialized communities fundraising from the community to defend the charter while you have the Quebec government with unlimited legal resources …

“If the government of Canada is not going to stand up against Bill 21, then I think Canada’s big cities can rise to the occasion.”

Quebec Premier François Legault staunchly defended the law after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government isn’t ruling out intervening against it. Legault blamed the school board for hiring a hijab-wearing teacher.

“Polls show a majority of Quebecers are for the law,” Legault said “It’s a law that is reasonable,” and only impacts public servants in positions of “authority.”

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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