As dean of a law school in Quebec, last week I welcomed the incoming class of new students. As I do each year, I told them it’s a wonderful moment to take up a legal education.

While preparing this year’s speech, though, I had a new challenge. I had to decide how to acknowledge a new Quebec law that could deny employment to our law graduates based on religious observance.

It was in June that Quebec adopted an act respecting the laicity of the State, better known as Bill 21. The law affirms the importance of separating the state from religions. It requires public servants, and members of the public giving and receiving public services, to keep their faces uncovered. It also prohibits a long list of categories of persons from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions: teachers, government lawyers, police officers and lawyers in the private sector who go to court under a government contract.

In an effort to shield the law from legal attacks, the government invoked the notwithstanding clauses in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to the maximum extent possible. Legal challenges are nonetheless underway.

I’m used to telling new students that law school will be challenging, but that they should set their sights high and work to achieve their dreams. I’m not used to telling students that if their faith requires them to wear a hijab, turban or kippah, some dreams are not for them.

At the onset of my conversation with the new class, a female student wearing a religious garment asked me if a new law would prevent her from applying to be a student clerk at a Quebec court. (The answer is no.) But if it’s still in force when the time comes, the law will prevent her from securing a job as a lawyer for the provincial government. Moreover, whatever the law’s limits, it and the divisive legislative process it followed appear to have fostered a sharp increase in harassment directed at Muslim women.

"I’m used to telling new students that law school will be challenging. I’m not used to telling students that if their faith requires them to wear a hijab, turban or kippah, some dreams are not for them" — @DeanLeckey

What does one say to new students in such circumstances?

How do you persuade those wearing religious symbols that they have a place in the legal profession and the public life of the province?

As I believe that teachers should avoid partisanship, it’s relevant that the two principal opposition parties opposed the law. In any event, I don’t regard concern for the rule of law, for fundamental rights and freedoms, and for the protection of minorities as partisan.

So, when it came to address this year’s new law students, I made three points around Bill 21. First, I said that our law faculty — the only one to teach the civil law of Quebec in English — has always had a sensitivity to the minority experience. It has long championed civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.

Second, I acknowledged that rage about a law foreclosing employment based on one’s religion might be a factor motivating new students to study law, so they might learn the tools to attack such measures.

Third, I mentioned that graduates of my faculty are leading the charge in challenging the law.

Given my responsibility for maintaining conditions in which all our students can flourish, I wondered whether I needed to acknowledge the law’s supporters. After all, Bill 21 is the product of a majority government that maintains high standing in the polls. But I decided to leave it for another day. Those views find constant validation in the mainstream French-language media. Moreover, whatever discomfort criticism of the law produces for its supporters pales beside the law’s direct and indirect harms for Muslim women and others affected.

It’s too soon to know whether Bill 21 will still be in effect when the female student who spoke to me enters the job market. In the meantime, I hope she and her peers will find support from the Muslim Law Students’ Association, the Women of Colour Collective and the wider community.

As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

This bill is a shocking outrage to all citizens of Quebec and Canada- whether they understand it or not. I think we see well enough from Trump's America and from various thrusts and parries in our own land where this bill, if not vigorously resisted and challenged - even if we fail - may lead.
Ignorance never fosters sympathetic community. Already we've been appropriately designated a country with a history of genocide, something I learned about from aboriginal friends years ago and never from any Canadian textbook I studied in high school back when.
The laying of the Canadian railroad was such a highlight then.

Quebec's Bill 21, which I understand is limited to Provincial Public employees, stands in sheer contrast to the dress codes of the CAF and RCMP.

My understanding is that in provincial government buildings in Quebec, provincial employees are banned from wearing their usual religious dress itmes. Meanwhile a member of the RCMP or the CAF may present in that same building wearing a turban or a Hijab.
How does that make any sense and what purpose does this serve?

I also struggle to understand how this law will be enforced. If a Christian, Jewish or a woman without any religious affiliation presented at her provincial workplace wearing an item that is similar to a Hijab, (head scarf) would she be required to remove it?

At the federal level, these questions have been addressed. Muslim women who serve in the CAF are "permitted" to wear a Hijab and also have other uniform considerations (long sleeve shirts etc.)

In 1990, Baltej Singh Dhillon became the RCMP's first Sikh officer allowed to wear his turban instead of the traditional Stetson hat. Inspector Dhillion has since retired after serving 30 years in the force.

When I read our Charter of Rights and Freedoms I see that it "guarantees" Canadians freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination based on religion or race, I don't see that Quebec is excluded.

Bill 21 reminds me of Bill 101 which Mordechai Richler described so well on the morning of its application: "right now, grown men in suits are running around downtown Montreal measuring signs".

There is one word that describes this "legislation" and it is not a kind term.

The fact that such legislation may prevent someone from accepting employment in Quebec's provincial system is simply shameful!

I doubt there are many Quakers in Quebec but if there are, and they dare to appear in courts and refuse to remove their hats for "anyone except God" will they wind up in jails as they did in England centuries ago?

And where in the world can they migrate now that the North American colonies have adopted the draconian, unconstitutional laws its European emigrants fled from in colonizing this continent and, in the process, trying to exterminate its original human inhabitants?

Now, North America is still trying to exterminate its indigenous populations and adding to that, trying to choke off immigration from non-European, non white parts of the world. Where that fails, too many of us are attempting to segregate/suppress the "alien" non-whites, non Christian, cultures, nationalities (I WILL NOT use the unscientific, pejorative term, "race"!)

As for this so-called resurrection of White Male Supremacy fuelled by the rage of all those white males accustomed to unquestioned deference and privilege? Doomed. Its violence, its irrationality, its elevation of failed monsters as its heros, will be swamped by the rest of the world, As the old saying men loved to quote has it, "When rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it!". Hoist on one's own petard?