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December 9, 2019

An Appeal for Clarification on Bill 21

Reuel S. Amdur

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The head of government in each of the provinces is termed the premier, except in Quebec where he is called the prime minister. In the case of Quebec's François Legault, the title is well chosen, as the term minister has both a governmental sense and a religious one. In the religious sense, he is the Minister of Laïcité, assuring the religious neutrality of the state. With Quebec's Bill 21, he wishes to demonstrate that neutrality by forbidding government employees in positions of authority, including teachers, from displaying religious symbols.

This bill is clearly a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is why he attached the Notwithstanding clause, so that in spite of its illegitimacy it may possibly still stand.  Some court challenges are in process to kill it in spite of his use of that clause.

Be that as it may, we want to raise with Rev. Legault certain uncertainties in the application of the law, matters for his clarification.  Let us begin with matters as they pertain to Jews.

I write for the West Quebec Post.  The editor, Lily Ryan, at times wears a pendant with the Hebrew letters “het yod,” spelling out the Hebrew word “life.”  Would this pendant be classified as a religious symbol?

Then we have the situation of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish women who shave their heads and wear wigs.  Are the wigs religious symbols?  And if, in consideration of Bill 21, they forego the wigs, would their shaved heads be in contravention?

We come then to a Christian practice.  It seems clear that the practice of Catholics and some others of application of ashes to their foreheads on Ash Wednesday would be in contravention of the law, but suppose that they simply go to work with dirty foreheads.  Would that be acceptable?

I present these questions for the Rev. Prime Minister François Legault’s clarification on this urgent matter.

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