The City of Surrey has joined other Canadian cities in publicly denouncing Quebec’s Bill 21.
Bill 21, which was introduced in March and passed in June, means that public workers in Quebec are banned from wearing religious symbols while working. As well, people have to uncover their faces while receiving public service “to allow their identity to be verified or for security reasons,” according to the bill.
The ban includes clothing, a symbol, jewelry, an accessory or headwear that “is worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief” or “is reasonably considered as referring to a religious affiliation.”
Surrey Councillor Brenda Locke brought forward the motion to publicly denounce it at Monday’s (Nov. 18) regular council meeting.
She said denouncing it sends a “very clear” message that Surrey “supports people’s freedoms to worship as they choose, but it is also about inclusion and celebrating Surrey’s amazing diversity.”
“That diversity is our greatest strength in this city,” Locke said. “The ability for us to participate in our culture and our faith and find that acceptance in our neighbourhoods and schools is the cornerstone of who we are as a city and a demonstration of our love for one another.
“When I walk through city hall, I see how blessed we are to have so many people — so many employees — some wearing a hijab, some wearing a turban, a yarmulke or they may carry a kirpan or wear a cross, no matter, they are all a part of us.”
Locke said that Surrey is proud to be the home of Baltej Singh Dhillon, the first person to wear a turban in the RCMP.
She also referred to Amrit Kaur, a teacher from Quebec who moved to Surrey following the ban.
“Amrit is from Montreal and had to leave her province because she was no longer permitted to practice her religious values and views. That isn’t who we are in Surrey, or Canada, and it is not acceptable,” Locke said.
Council unanimously passed the motion.
Councillor Laurie Guerra, who is Christian, said her faith means everything to her.
“I wouldn’t live in a place where I couldn’t wear my cross or had to cover up my cross tattoo,” Guerra said. “I can’t imagine our wonderful Sikh community not being able to wear a turban or Muslim women not being able to have a head covering. I think it’s absurd.”
For Councillor Mandeep Nagra, he said his father and his son each wear a turban, “just like thousands of other hardworking, peace-loving Canadians.”
“I feel that this bill is designed to target my family and the entire Sikh and Hindu faith community,” Nagra said.
Councillor Doug Elford said the bill legalizes discrimination.
Other cities that have denounced Quebec’s bill include Edmonton, Toronto, Winnipeg and Brampton.