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'Discrimination has no jurisdiction': Calgary council condemns Quebec's Bill 21

Last Updated Oct 1, 2019 at 7:20 am MST

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — A Calgary city councillor took a formal stand against a controversial law proposed in Quebec and received the unanimous backing of his colleagues.

On Monday evening, Ward 5’s George Chahal presented a motion targeting Bill 21, the so-called religious neutrality law that bars public employees from wearing religious items — even including headscarves such as hijabs.

Even though this is coming forward in Calgary, over 3,600 km away from the capital of Quebec City, Chahal said this motion could have real weight.

“Discrimination has no jurisdiction,” he told reporters outside the Council Chambers before the vote took place. “We need to stand up against this type of discriminatory bill and ensure that the province of Quebec knows that this is not right, and we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that we must uphold and protect the rights of minorities across this country.”

While reading the motion, Chahal detailed some of the racism he and his family faced while growing up — such as a failed cross-burning on their property.

A large crowd was in attendance to watch the vote, including Chahal’s father.

The councillor said it matters for Calgary to take a stand against the bill.

“It is our duty as elected officials to stand up for human rights,” he said. “Bill 21 is not acceptable. It is bigoted and intended to discriminate against particular religious minorities.”

Most councillors rose to make their point known as well, including Ward 13’s Dianne Colley-Urquhart who detailed other initiatives from past city councils to call out discrimination.

Ward 12 Councillor Shane Keating also told a personal story, noting that his mother — a Catholic nun — would not have been able to wear her religious habit if she were a teacher in Quebec today.

In telling that story, Keating added that Bill 21 is not just discriminatory to Muslims, Sikhs, or Jews — but rather an affront to people of all religions.

“I’m standing to raise those issues, say this is very broad-based, it’s not segmented into minorities, it is broad-based against all faiths in all aspects of our community and our country,” said Keating.

Ward 3 Councillor Jyoti Gondek also said she had some reservations about the original motion, but proposed an amendment that received universal acclaim from her colleagues.

“Reach out to the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination, to create a nationwide initiative that addresses the harms of Bill 21 and its impact to unity, reputation and well-being of Canada,” she said.

“That’s excellent,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Nenshi also spoke last and gave an impassioned speech against racism, though while agreeing with Keating’s point, he said it puts a target on visible minorities.

“It is a bill that was deliberately designed to target one group of people — and that’s Muslim women wearing a hijab,” Nenshi said, sparking some applause from the gallery.

In his closing statement, Chahal thanked fellow councillors for their support.

“Bill 21 is not about secularism, nor does it reflect Canadian values of tolerance and generosity. We are stronger together.”

After the vote received unanimous approval, there was loud cheers and applause from the audience once again.