Quebec’s Bill 21 banning religious garments in the workplace leads to spike in racist attacks

The French speaking province of Quebec in Canada has seen a rise in racial attacks against visible minorities since Bill 21 was first presented to its legislature and then passed in June this year. Bill 21 bans judges, police officers, teachers and other certain public servants from wearing religious symbols or garments, such as the kippah, turban, or hijab while in the workplace. However, UN Human Rights observers stated prior to the passing of the Bill, that the Bill would single out Muslim women who wear religious garments.

Reports by Muslim women since then include cases of physical assault, being spat upon, attempts to forcibly remove the hijab, cases of harassment and intimidatation in the workplace, and cyberbullying.  Premier Francoise Legault appears reluctant to recognise Islamophobia in the region, who, when asked if there should be an official day to fight Islamophobia and in honour of the Quebec City mosque killings, suggested that Islamophobia did not exist in the province, with his office then clarifying he meant there is no widespread problem. Dan Macpherson, writing in the Montreal Gazette, points out the irony of the suggestion that “the only jurisdiction in North America where there was no Islamophobia is also the only one to elect a government on a promise to legislate against the hijab”, in reference to Legault’s pledge to pass Bill 21 during his election campaign.

However even Montreal and Quebec city, both cities in which the respective mayors explicitly stated their opposition to Bill 21 have seen a number of public racist incidents, which Richard Marcus, writing in, suggests is due to a new “culture of racism”. The overwhelming feeling from victims and advocacy groups is that the government of Quebec has created such a climate that those with anti-Muslim sentiments feel it safe and acceptable to act upon them. Despite protest from the government, Marcus points out comments made in a report issued by a government research group on diversity recognises that the law could increase the possibility of violent attacks.



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