June 20, 2019
QUEBEC’s BILL 21 FORCES PEOPLE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THEIR FAITH AND THEIR JOB
Statement by Scarborough Centre MP Salma Zahid
Like many Canadians who were not born in Canada but choose to make Canada our homes, I came to Canada because this is a country where we are free to live, to worship, and yes, to dress how we choose. So I am deeply disappointed and concerned over the passage of Bill 21, the so-called religious symbols act, by the Quebec Legislature.
Canada is already a secular state. That’s one of the things that makes our country great, and it is already reflected in our institutions. This bill is not about promoting secularism; it is legislated discrimination that disproportionately impacts members of the Muslim and Jewish communities and will disproportionately impact women.
For the past year, I have chosen to wear a hijab, or head scarf. I’m the first woman to do so in Canada’s Parliament. My reasons for doing so are personal. And in Canada, I have the freedom to make this choice. It has had no impact on my ability to represent and serve my constituents in Scarborough Centre. I am the same person I was before I choose to wear it.
I would be the first to the barricades if someone were forced wear a head scarf or other religious symbol. Likewise, I find equally offensive the suggestion that someone should not be allowed to wear one. It’s two sides of the same coin. Taking away my agency to make my own choice is not empowering me.
The Quebec legislation is forcing people to have to choose between their religion and their jobs and undermines fundamental rights and individual freedoms. No one should ever have to make this choice. It is the anthesis of what it is to be Canadian.
I support the appeal of this legislation by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and I hope it will be struck down by the courts.
And I urge my fellow Canadians that we replace legislation with dialogue. In my nearly four years as an Member of Parliament, I have visited many faith institutions in my riding and have worked to create the Scarborough Centre Multi-Faith Council. It is my experience that we as Canadians of many faiths have far more in common than not – our love for our families, our dedication to giving our children a better life, and our desire to build a stronger community and a stronger Canada. Let’s talk to each other more. Let’s build bridges of understanding. Let’s get to know our neighbours, and their perspectives.
And let’s talk about how we can all do better together.