Calgary city council will form a task force that engages with Calgarians on ways to support legal challenges against Quebec’s controversial secularism law, Bill 21.
The law, which was enacted in March 2019, prohibits some public servants, including teachers and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority, from wearing religious symbols on the job, including a headscarf, a turban, a kippah or a visible crucifix.
The current public outcry against the bill comes after a Quebec teacher was forced from her job in the classroom for wearing a hijab.
On Monday night, Calgary city council voted 10-5 to endorse the joint legal challenge to the law being brought by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the World Sikh Organization and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
And its new task force, which includes councillors Jasmine Mian, Raj Dhaliwal and Evan Spencer, will consult with local legal and religious communities on what they are willing to do.
Mian, who represents Ward 3, says protecting fundamental rights is everyone’s responsibility.
“We’re a city of leaders others are looking at to set a tone, a standard, and a practice of participating in issues that affect us civically, nationally and globally,” she said.
She added that councillors have already engaged with various faith communities in Calgary on next steps against Bill 21 and that it’s essential that the work is community-supported.
Some members of council said while they oppose the legislation they do not want to see any Calgary tax dollars going into the legal challenge.
“Even though I personally think it is wrong, I think by voting for this, we may create further divide between us and the province of Quebec,” said Coun. Andre Chabot.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek says the task force’s job will be to explore what resources there are in the local community to fight the law.
“There are members of the legal community as well as religious communities who have the ability to either donate time — pro bono — or collect donations for such a challenge,” she said.
“To leave them out of this process would be wrong and that’s why we’re engaging with them as quickly as we can in the new year.”
The task force will report back to council by the end of March. At that time, it will recommend whether any public money is needed for the legal challenge.