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Thunder Bay urged to join campaign against Quebec’s Bill 21

Anti-racism and respect committee recommends joining cities across Canada in condemning bill that limits religious expression for public servants.
Jason Veltri
The City of Thunder Bay's anti-racism and respect committee has recommended the city oppose Quebec's Bill 21. Chair Jason Veltri says it clearly violates Charter rights.

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council will consider a recommendation Monday to join a growing list of Canadian cities formally opposing Quebec’s Bill 21.

The controversial legislation prohibits public servants including teachers, police officers, and judges from wearing religious symbols like hijabs, kippas, and turbans on the job.

The city's anti-racism and respect committee is recommending Thunder Bay condemn the bill and join a growing campaign of opposition by municipalities outside of Quebec. Its resolution says the bill clearly contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mayor Bill Mauro agrees, noting he supported a similar motion passed unanimously by Ontario's Big City Mayors (OBCM) in December.

The issue may seem distant, but the mayor said it has clear implications for people in Thunder Bay and across the country.

"This is about the Charter, which is national in scope and application," he said. "If something like this is successful in Quebec, who knows what might happen here."

If the recommendation wins council approval Monday, the city will send a letter urging the federal government to challenge the bill in court, something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declined to do since it was passed in 2019.

The motion would also see the city call on the Canadian Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities, of which it is a member, to create a nationwide campaign against the bill.

The legislation presents a “very real risk to our Charter rights and freedoms," said anti-racism and respect committee chair Jason Veltri.

“If it can happen in Quebec, it can happen anywhere,” he said. “We have our own challenges, very clearly, but this is an instance where we can stand up and say, we value freedom of expression and freedom of religion for all."

The city would also be far from alone in taking a stand, he pointed out, joining a growing coalition that includes Winnipeg, Calgary, Montreal, and Oakville.

Other cities like Toronto, Brampton, London, and Victoria have gone further, contributing funds to a legal challenge of the bill led by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the World Sikh Organization of Canada, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Veltri hopes Thunder Bay will follow suit.

“I have personally asked for our city to contribute something in the neighbourhood of $10,000,” he said, calling that a “small but meaningful” amount.

Brampton and Toronto each contributed $100,000 to the fight, while Victoria contributed just under $10,000.

In an interview Friday, Mauro said he'd consider a request for a financial contribution if it came before council, but had some hesitation over committing tax dollars to the fight.

The support isn’t necessarily welcomed by those within Quebec who oppose Bill 21, with leaders including Montreal mayor Valerie Plante saying the intervention of English-speaking cities outside of the province is likely counter-productive.

The bill was passed in 2019, but has sparked renewed public debate after a teacher in Chelsea, Que., was reassigned due to her hijab late last year.

City council will consider the recommendation from the anti-racism and respect committee on Monday.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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