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Victoria joins Canadian cities financing legal challenge of Quebec’s religious symbols ban

Council commits $9,500 to legal fees, encouraging other B.C. cities to do the same
People rally against Bill 21 in Montreal in 2019. On Thursday (Jan. 6) Victoria council voted to contribute $9,500 to a growing legal challenge against the bill. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Victoria will join a growing number of Canadian municipalities in financially and verbally backing a legal challenge against Quebec’s Bill 21, following the passing of a motion by city council Thursday (Jan. 6).

The bill was passed in 2019 and bans some civil servants, including teachers, government lawyers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work. The secularism law is the result of a long and difficult relationship with the Catholic church in the province, but has been widely criticized since implementation for discriminating against minority religious groups.

In July 2019 Victoria condemned the bill, but it wasn’t until Thursday’s council meeting that the city decided to back its words with a financial commitment. Coun. Sharmarke Dubow brought the motion forward with the open-ended request of committing up to $50,000 to the joint legal challenges against Bill 21 being brought by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the World Sikh Organization of Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Dubow’s motion also asked council members to verbally support the legal challenges and encourage other B.C. municipalities and leaders to financially back it as well.

READ ALSO: Saanich councillor wants the municipality to support opponents of Quebec’s secularism bill

During discussions, Dubow recalled being given a copy of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms during his citizenship ceremony in 2017. He said it should remind everyone of what Canadian citizens have and what they could lose.

“Twenty, 30 years from now, what will I tell my children? What will the residents of Victoria tell their children?” he asked.

Several councillors expressed concern over allocating too much money to an issue outside of Victoria as they consider the city’s own needs, but they were unanimous in their support for some amount.

Using a 10 cents per resident formula, which they hope other B.C. municipalities will replicate, council lors decided on a $9,500 allocation.

Other municipalities across Canada have also made financial contributions.

In Ontario, Brampton, Toronto and London have all committed $100,000 each, and several other cities are considering $10,000 to $50,000 pledges. Winnipeg and Calgary are also considering amounts in the tens of thousands.

Couns. Geoff Young, Stephen Andrew and Charlayne Thornton-Joe voted against the $9,500 amount, having hoped for a smaller amount, but joined the rest of council in supporting the legal challenge and advocating for other municipalities to do the same.

READ ALSO: Trudeau won’t rule out federal intervention in Quebec teacher hijab case

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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