Trevor Greenway’s story December 8th, “Teacher banned from class over hijab,” reports how the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) was forced to remove teacher Fatemeh Anvari from her Grade 3 role, simply because the province insists the board comply with Bill 21– and to hell with the real consequences. Ms. Anvari is the second teacher that grade 3 class has lost since September – in the midst of a province-wide teacher shortage, making it difficult to find and retain teachers.
Anvari’s case is a perfect example of how damaging the reality of Bill 21 is on both teachers and students alike. That law has been vehemently defended by the governing CAQ and the federal Bloc Québecois leader, Jean-François Blanchet, as the “decision” of a “majority” of the citizens of Québec and as such, they assert, it “must be respected.” But these assertions are misleading and play to people’s ignorance of the purpose of human rights laws to gain political points.
The fact is that in human rights matters, it is the majority opinion at any one time that is usually responsible for discriminating against minorities because of their identifiable characteristics (race, creed, sexual orientation, etc.) – think white people owning black people, simply because of their skin colour, or men telling women they could not vote or be persons, either, simply because of their gender. The whole point of a Charter is to protect disadvantaged minorities from decisions made by the majority, which have an adverse effect on their full participation in society. Bill 21 is a classic case of adverse impact. It bans the wearing of religious symbols in the classroom by the teacher – even though there is no rational connection between that symbol and the teacher’s ability to teach.
These would-be leaders of Québec should know that: the province had its own “Charte des droits et libertés” since 1975, a full 10 years before the Charter took effect. Yet this story – and the many similar stories playing out across the province, reveal the true costs of this misleading populist pretence that secularism is the holy path to an egalitarian society: the removal of a teacher who by all accounts was “kind...caring, and took her job seriously.” (With a replacement teacher hard to find, the duties surely fall to the remaining teachers, already fully charged – so to hell with the effect on staff, students, and morale).
Our children and all citizens of Québec should see women and men of every race and creed in our schools, workplaces and institutions in proportion to relative numbers in society. We should judge each person we meet by their actions and ethics, and objective qualifications, not by their appearances. We can only hope the courts will make it clear once and for all that “majority support” against religious symbols is the wrong basis to exclude a teacher from the classroom – and that our government will come to understand, soon, that that is no way to build an inclusive, just, and progressive society.
Denise Giroux is a resident of Cantley, QC