Americas

New teacher leaves Quebec for British Columbia over Bill 21

A Quebec woman who graduated with a teaching degree the day Bill 21 was passed is moving out of her home province and heading out west for her first teaching job.

The new teacher no longer qualifies for a job in Quebec because she wears a turban. While the so-called “religious neutrality” legislation is already being contested in court, one lawyer is hoping the United Nations will step in to suspend it.

“The government has sent a clear message that people like myself who wear religious symbols are not welcome here and are not welcome to do their jobs in Quebec,” said teacher Amrit Kaur, who is also the Quebec vice-president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

Kaur is packing her bags, leaving her family and the place she’s called home for most of her life to take a job as a high school teacher in Surrey, B.C.

“It’s heartbreaking to see her having to move to B.C. because of Bill 21,” her mother Arvinder Kaur said.

Traditionally, turbans are worn by Sikh men. Kaur started wearing it two years ago as a symbol of equality. Until recently, she felt Quebec was tolerant towards religious minorities.

“It’s sad because Quebec is truly one of those societies that always has embraced people who wear turbans,” Kaur told Global News. “I’m the only woman in my family who wears a turban I am empowered by it.”

But much has changed since Bill 21 came to life.

Under the controversial legislation, public school teachers and other public sector employees in positions of authority aren’t allowed to wear religious symbols.

It’s already being challenged in court by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

A Quebec Superior Court judgment suggested it wasn’t causing serious or immediate harm but that decision is facing an appeal.

Meanwhile, a Montreal-based constitutional lawyer hopes someone will submit an application to the United Nations to put a stop to Bill 21.

“I have serious strong hopes that the international tribunals are going to defeat it,” lawyer Julius Grey said. “The trouble is it’s extremely popular there’s no doubt about it, it’s got massive support outside Montreal.”

Kaur says she chose a job in BC since she feels it’s an open province that “embraces multiculturalism” but her mother is hoping the move will be temporary.

“I’m hoping she will come back to Quebec and be with the family again,” her mother said. “It’s very painful to see your child go through discrimination and racism, but at the same time I’m very proud that she’s standing up for basic human rights.”


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