#CantBanUs – How Quebec's Bill 21 Cost a Hijab-Wearing Muslim Teacher Her Job
Current Events
Jan 5, 2022
Quebec (Canada) school teacher Fatemah Alvari was fired over her hijab; Image source: Cult MTL
By Tabassum Wyne
National news was made when a Chelsea, Quebec teacher, Fatemah Anvari, was removed from her classroom for being a visible Canadian Muslim a month ago and subsequently reassigned to non-public facing position at the school. This was due to the discriminatory law, Bill 21, in Quebec, Canada, which was passed in June of 2019 and prohibits public sector employees from wearing religious attire such as the turban, kippah or hijab.
The hijab has drawn a lot of attention worldwide and has been viewed negatively by many policy makers. In 2013 in Russia in the region of Stavropol, hijabs were banned in public school. In the U.S. young athletes have been fighting to have religious headwear waivers removed from the rules books for high school and college sports.
In France in April 2021, the French Senate passed a measure that would ban the hijab in public on anyone under that age of 18; this proposed legislation will need the approval of the lower house of the French Parliament before it can become a law and is built upon a France’s history of anti-Muslim sentiment. The French-proposed legislation is a reminder that Quebec politics are heavily influenced by France, and Bill 21 is a byproduct of global racism.
French Muslim women protest against hijab discrimination; image source: Twitter
Bill 21 is a human rights issue that infringes upon the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, known as the “notwithstanding clause,” allows the federal, provincial and territorial governments to override certain Charter rights. In the case of Bill 21, the religious freedom right is the charter guarantee that is being infringed upon for those who wear religious attire.
(It must be noted that the notwithstanding clause lasts a maximum of five years, but it can be reactivated thereafter.) The erroneous message that Bill 21 conveys only adds to systemic racism/systemic Islamophobia in Canada. It must be stopped.
Discriminatory Laws Send a Clear Message: Muslims Lives are Expendable
This law has real life consequences, not only on the civil servants unfairly targeted in Quebec due to their faith attire and the current and future impacts on their livelihood, but also has impacts on all Canadian Muslims. Consider that the six-month mark of the violent murder of four Canadian Muslims in London, Ontario recently passed. Discriminatory laws like this that exist send a clear message to Canadians that discriminating against Canadian Muslims (and other faith groups observing religious attire) is acceptable.
Bill 21 is a form of gendered Islamophobia, in which the state utilizes gendered forms of violence to oppress, monitor, punish and control Muslim bodies. Bill 21 disproportionately impacts Canadian Muslim women who wear the hijab
Bill 21 is not only a public safety concern in Quebec, it is a public safety concern for the entirety of Canada. As such, the Muslim Advisory Council of Canada put forth a petition calling on the Minister of Public Safety and Minister for Women, Gender Equality and Youth to take action on ensuring a coordinated, holistic government response to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals observing religious attire in Quebec.
Tabassum Wyne; image source: @zoiaharoon.photography
How? By denouncing Bill 21, introducing anti-hate legislation in Canada and urging the Prime Minister to intervene in the court proceedings of Bill 21. We have gained community support, and our local Members of Parliament issued statements about Bill 21, along with the Prime Minister condemning the discriminatory Bill in the House of Commons.
For Canadian Muslim women, gendered Islamophobia has become more apparent. In December, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an article that was short-sighted and targeted the hijab. It is not lost on us that the author was a surgeon in Quebec. After public outcry and hours of advocacy, CMAJ rightly issued a formal apology in addition to the full retraction of the article three days later. You can see our statement here.
This was an example of co-opting a medical journal for a racist political agenda (Bill 21) and should be a concern to all Canadians. If anything, this was a wake up call that Canadians needed to recognize the depths of Islamophobia in each sector, such as healthcare, and step up and ensure this does not happen in their own organizations.
Support Muslim Groups Fighting the Good Fight
Islamophobia has no place in Canada (or anywhere), yet it continues to thrive. We need the federal government to introduce and pass anti-hate legislation so that there are no more incidents like the Quebec City mosque shooting (it will be the five year remembrance of this incident on January 29, 2022) or the London Ontario attack on the Afzaal family.
If there is one takeaway I’d like you to have, it’s to support Muslim advocacy organizations in Canada, like the Muslim Advisory Council of Canada. This work is tireless, ongoing and resources are limited. Advocacy is a skill that anyone can develop but very few have taken the time to hone this skill to make a lasting impact.
If the speedy retraction and response of the CMAJ article has shown Canadians anything, it’s to start actively investing in advocacy organizations so we can continue to show up where it matters most – working with policy makers and organizations to proactively dismantle systemic Islamophobia.
About the Muslim Advisory Council of Canada:
The Muslim Advisory Council of Canada is national federally registered not for profit organization dedicated to empowering the Canadian Muslim diaspora and advocating for an equitable society. While we are a national organization, we are currently heavily immersed in the social activism within Halton Region to lay the foundation of our strategic priorities. We have a focus on key sectors including: education, healthcare, public safety, women and gender-equality and public policy. Support our work by donating here. Find us on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Tabassum Wyne is the executive director of the Muslim Advisory Council of Canada, a mom of two and a passionate human rights advocate. particularly for the introduction of Islamophobia legislature in Canada. She has presented policy recommendations to every level of government and has had her work recognized in the House of Commons. Find her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
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