Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis by June 3

Goal: $100k

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole says a Quebec law prohibiting some public servants from wearing religious symbols on the job is an issue to be dealt with by that province alone.

Some of his MPs, however, appear to be taking a tougher stand.

O'Toole discussed the Quebec secularism law, known as Bill 21, on Thursday, in response to a report that a teacher in western Quebec was reassigned from the classroom because she wore a hijab.

Bill 21 was passed in June 2019 and bans the wearing of religious symbols such as hijabs, kippas and turbans by teachers and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority.

The Conservative leader says while he personally opposes the law and has raised it with Quebec Premier François Legault, he respects provincial jurisdiction and believes it to be "an issue that is best left for Quebecers to decide."

While the Tory leader said the matters involving Bill 21 falls squarely within provincial borders, some of his MPs weren't shy about expressing a different opinion.

"I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore. This is an absolute disgrace," tweeted Ontario MP Kyle Seeback, linking to a news story about what happened to the teacher wearing the hijab.

"It's time politicians stood up for what's right. Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the House of Commons and in the streets."

"100 per cent," Jamie Schmale, the Conservative critic for Indigenous Services, tweeted in response.

@erinotoole says Bill 21 is a #Quebec issue while some of his MPs take tougher stand. #Bill21

Also on the social media platform, B.C. Conservative MP Mark Strahl said "Thank you for your leadership, Kyle. My views on this are the same as yours."

Alberta Conservative Chris Warkentin added that, "If government is free to limit religious freedom it will take liberties to restrict other freedoms."

"I support freedom for every Canadian!"

O'Toole characterized his position as being the "exact same" as that of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who hasn't ruled out the idea of federal intervention.

Unlike Trudeau, O'Toole said during the September federal election he would "never challenge" a provincial law.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday that Trudeau has been clear about where the government stands on the issue.

Other Liberal MPs went online to expressly condemn the Quebec law, including a representative from that province.

Alexandra Mendes called it "outrageously discriminatory and absurdly counterproductive, at a time when we need all willing adults to join the workforce."

Ontario Liberal Salma Zahid, who herself wears a hijab, tweeted she was "saddened and disappointed" by what she read about the Quebec teacher, saying "This should not be happening in Canada."

"Nobody in Canada should ever lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021.

Keep reading