The 45,000-strong teacher’s union in Quebec joined the ranks of organizations filing lawsuits over the province’s ban on religious symbols by many public workers.
The ban, from which existing employees are exempt, affects new hires of police officers, teachers and lawyers. Other public employees such as doctors and bus drivers are exempt from the ban as long as the face is not covered.
It effectively bans hijabs, Christian crosses, turbans and kippahs while the workers are on the job.
The Quebec law firm of Gattuso Bourget Mazzone is handling the lawsuit on behalf of its client, the Federation autonome de le’enseignement (FAE).
Several other groups, including a civil liberties organization and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, have also filed lawsuits, arguing the ban unfairly targets Muslim women who wear the hijab.
“We want the court to declare that the rights of our members were violated by this government; the right to freedom of religion, of course, but also the right to equality, because the vast majority – if not the totality – of the people who will be impacted are women,” said Remi Bourget, a partner in the law firm. About 75 percent of teachers in Quebec are women.
Speaking of the new law, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government has no right to tell people how to dress and did not rule out the federal government intervening in the case.
At the same time, Quebec premier Francois Legault warned Trudeau not to interfere. Polls show that the new law is popular amongst Quebecers.
Meanwhile, anti-Muslim feelings are on the rise in Quebec, where 58 percent of hate crimes in Montreal this year have targeted Muslims, police said.
When Nour Farhat, a Quebec lawyer who wears a hijab, wrote a piece critical of the new law in a French-language law journal, she said she received death threats and insults via emails.
Farhat, who wants to work as a provincial prosecutor, cannot as long as she wears the hijab.
“I can’t work for the government, they don’t want me to work with them,” she said.