Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he was not ruling out federal intervention in a legal challenge to Quebec’s secularism law, after a Grade 3 teacher was recently reassigned because she wears a Muslim head scarf .
“I am in profound disagreement with Bill 21,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “I don’t think that in a free and open society, someone should lose their job because of their religion, and it’s not longer a theoretical issue.”
Trudeau said he believes the teacher, Fatemeh Anvari, lost her job because of her religion and that many Quebecers are concerned about the issue.
But he said he refused to do more than issue his personal criticism so as not to give the Legault government “the excuse of a fight between Ottawa and Quebec.”
Anvari was reassigned to duties outside the classroom at Chelsea Elementary School, just north of Gatineau.
Bill 21 bans public sector workers who are considered in positions of authority, such as teachers, judges and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.
“A province has passed a law and the citizens of that province are in the process of defending their rights in court and that’s exactly how it should function, but as I’ve said very frequently, we haven’t ruled out, as the federal government, intervening at some point in time,” Trudeau said.
In response to Trudeau’s comments, Quebec Premier François Legault on Monday said he didn’t understand how the federal government could intervene in a challenge to a bill that is supported by the majority of Quebecers.
“Bill 21 was voted democratically, was supported by the majority of Quebecers,” he told reporters in Montreal. “I don’t see how the federal government can intervene in so touchy a subject for our nation.”
Legault said the law is not problematic in a free and open society “because people are free to wear, or not, a religious sign.”
“First, we’re only talking about people that are in an authority position,” he said. “Second, these people, if they don’t wear a religious sign, either a Catholic one, a Jewish one, whatever the religious sign, if they don’t wear the sign when they work in an authority position, they can still work and they can wear their religious sign on the street, at home, everywhere else.”
Legault said it’s important for government employees to appear to be neutral, adding that a teacher would not be allowed to wear a shirt advocating their support for the Liberal party.
Ever since Bill 21 was tabled, Trudeau has expressed his personal disagreement with the law but has preferred to let any legal challenges be filed by Quebecers before the province’s courts. He previously said it is premature for Ottawa to get involved in the issue so long as those challenges remain before the courts in Quebec.