Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante speaks at Bill 21 parliamentary hearings

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante used a conciliatory tone when she delivered her testimony during the parliamentary hearings for the province’s proposed secularism law, saying it’s important to include the metropolis’ realities into the proposed province-wide law.

“I’m not here to ask for a special clause for Montreal,” she said, explaining that Montreal will be particularly impacted given its diverse population.

“Montreal was built thanks to those who chose it as a home. It’s what made Montreal a diverse and vibrant city,” she said.

In her speech, Plante challenged several aspects of Bill 21, particularly its application.

Plante says the city needs answers on how the proposed law would be applied and how it would be enforced if people don’t respect it.

“The application of the law seems hard — impossible, actually,” she said.

Plante mentioned the issue was particularly related to Article 6 of the bill, which refers to prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols.

“The concept of religious symbols is not clearly defined. How can we apply this law on an everyday basis?” she asked.

Plante was particularly critical of the government’s choice to invoke the notwithstanding clause.

“The use of the derogatory clause short-circuits the process and sends a contradictory message. It zaps all possibility to convince people that the bill is reasonable,” Plante said.

Speaking to reporters ahead of her presentation, Plante said that “if this is a strong law, it should withstand the courts.”

The proposed legislation invokes the notwithstanding clause to prevent any legal challenges based on rights violations against it.

Plante ended her speech by making a conciliatory appeal to the province to work together and argue for the contribution that diversity brings to Quebec society and to work for the integration of immigrants.

A total of 36 groups are presenting briefs during the public hearings, which started on May 7 and are expected to wrap up Thursday.

When the bill was announced, Plante came out swinging against it, saying it violates the fundamental rights of certain individuals.

Her stance earned her threats of physical violence in online attacks.

Taking her criticism a step further, Plante and opposition leader Lionel Perez presented a bipartisan declaration back in April, saying Montreal practices open secularism and its bylaws are neutral, regardless of the religious convictions of those who make them.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government’s Bill 21 would bar public-sector employees in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious garb in the workplace. It also includes a grandfather clause that would allow current employees to continue wearing religious symbols.

Quebec’s Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Simon Jolin-Barrette has said he hopes to pass the bill into law this summer.

—With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise and the Canadian Press

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