WHAT IS BILL 21?
The Quebec National Assembly passed Bill 21 into law on June 16, 2019.
Bill 21 bans the wearing of “religious symbols” for government employees in positions of authority such as judges, police officers, jail guards, teachers, principals and others.
This law is both morally and legally offensive. The law sets a dangerous precedent which significantly erodes the rights of women, and minority religious communities living in Quebec. The law is also a violation of Quebec values as enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
HOW DOES THIS LAW AFFECT SIKHS?
This law bars practicing Sikhs from pursuing many professions simply because of their faith. The Sikh articles of faith or kakaars are external manifestations of Sikh identity and represent inner spiritual convictions. The kakaars are worn at all times by initiated Sikhs and are treated like a part of the body.
WHAT ARE THE SIKH ARTICLES OF FAITH?
Sikhs who are initiated into the Khalsa commit to follow the rehit maryada or Sikh code of conduct. This includes a daily discipline of meditation and prayer and also wearing the five Sikh articles of faith or kakaars at all times. They are as follows:
1. Kesh – unshorn hair symbolizing acceptance of God’s will; the hair must be kept covered at all times with a dastaar or keski (turban) representing spiritual wisdom;
2. Kangha – a wooden comb representing self-discipline; worn in the hair and used to keep it neat and tidy;
3. Kara – an iron or steel bracelet worn on the wrist; the circle signifies the oneness and eternity of God and to use one’s hands for the benefit of humanity;
4. Kachera – cotton undergarment representing high moral character and restraint;
5. Kirpan – a small sword, which must be worn sheathed, restrained in a cloth belt, and next to the body; the kirpan signifies the duty of a Sikh to stand up against injustice.
To learn more about the Sikh articles of faith, please see Five K (Kakaar) FAQs
HAS ANYONE BEEN ADVERSELY AFFECTED BY BILL 21?
WSO Board Member and former Vice-President for Quebec, Amrit Kaur is just one individual whose life has been impacted by this law. Amrit Kaur is a practicing Sikh and wears a dastaar (turban) as a part of her faith. Amrit Kaur wanted to be a teacher in Quebec but after the passage of Bill 21 has been forced to leave her home and move to British Columbia in order to pursue her profession.
IS BILL 21 LEGAL?
Even though Bill 21 is insulated from a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms through the use of the notwithstanding clause, the law itself is highly problematic as it contains no definition of religious symbol and does not reveal who will decide whether an item of clothing is religious, cultural or fashion.
In short Bill 21 represents institutionalized discrimination and racism and creates a second class citizenship for people who wear identifiable symbols of their faith or religious attire. If allowed to stand, Bill 21 will set a dangerous precedent that could forever erode the human rights of minorities and all Canadians.
WHAT IS THE WSO DOING ABOUT THIS?
The WSO is a party to the legal challenge against Bill 21. This is a fight we have undertaken for our community, for all Canadians and for the preservation of the rights and dreams of our coming generations.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
June 16, 2019 - Bill 21 passed by Quebec National Assembly
August 24, 2019 - Amrit Kaur is forced to relocate to BC
November 2, 2020 - Trial begins at Quebec Superior Court
April 20, 2021- Parts of Bill 21 Struck Down - World Sikh Organization of Canada
-WSO files appeal
January 21, 2022 - Quebec Government announces Bill 21 won't apply to parents supervising classes after shortage of teachers
WHAT CAN I DO?
If you wish to support the WSO Bill 21 advocacy campaign, please donate here