'Second-class citizenship': Advocates renew calls for federal review of Quebec's Bill 21 in wake of London, Ont. attack
TORONTO -- Advocates are renewing calls for the federal government to review Quebec's controversial Bill 21 after four members of a Pakistani-Canadian family were killed in what police say was a targeted attack in London, Ont.
Journalist and human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday that Canadians "understand that hate is a phenomenon in this country." However, she says they need to push political leaders to take action.
"While the vast majority of Canadians are loving and show solidarity… we know that there are elements within our society that are not only Islamophobic, but that have been targeting Asian-Canadians, Jewish Canadians, Indigenous people so there is a problem in our country," Elghawaby said.
Bill 21 was passed in Quebec in June 2019 and it forbids any employee of the state, including judges, police officers, or teachers, from wearing religious symbols at work.
While it only applies to people living in Quebec, Elghawaby says there are concerns it targets Muslim communities and speaks to a wider issue across Canada.
"If they want to practise their faith in this manner, essentially they are told by the state that they cannot hold various positions in society… and that really has curtailed the dreams and aspirations of many members of these communities," she said.
While Elghawaby acknowledges that Canada has made "a lot of progress" in tackling hate, she said the federal government should be intervening in the case of Bill 21.
Four years ago, the federal government had its first major debate on Islamophobia after the Quebec mosque shooting. Since then, they’ve added more extremist groups to Canada's terror list and set up a Community Resilience Fund to collect data and address radicalization that leads to violence in Canada.
Despite disagreeing with Bill 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that it is up to Quebecers to challenge and defend their rights in court.
"We really need to see more courage from all of our federal leaders," Elghawaby said, adding that citizens also need to implore their politicians to do more to maintain an inclusive society.
She explained that Canada is a democratic country and Canadians cherish the freedoms that come along with that.
"Everyone is treated equally with dignity, we all make our own choices in the morning, we decide what we're going to wear, we decide how we're going to practise or not practise our faith traditions, and that is essentially what it means to live in a democracy," Elghawaby said.
However, she says Quebec has "essentially eroded these rights and freedoms" for a specific group who are no longer being treated the same as other Canadians with Bill 21.
"What we should really be seeing from our federal leaders is not only the condemnation of this bill, but the active work to get the government there to remove this bill," Elghawaby said.
Elghawaby says the "horrific mass murder" in London, Ont. has caused Canadians to take a closer look at discrimination within their own communities, including the impact of Bill 21.
Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah Salman were out for a walk on June 6 when they were struck and killed by a truck in what London police say was a premeditated attack because they were Muslim.
Elghawaby says Bill 21 targets religious minorities and creates "what we call a second-class citizenship."
She said the bill has made the lives of certain minorities in Quebec “difficult” and has even caused some to move out of the province.
"Although we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in this country, it's not being applied fairly and equally to everyone," she said. "This law basically takes away and erodes those rights and freedoms that all of us enjoy."
To help address this, Elghawaby says there needs to be a greater dialogue with Quebecers about why Bill 21 is "harmful to people's aspirations."
"Imagine a little girl or a little boy wants to grow up be a teacher, be a police officer, and they have a religious practice that they want to participate in, and they're told, 'You can't do any of these professions'," Elghawaby said.
"Why should they be treated any differently than any other Quebecer or any other Canadian?"