Amrit Kaur: The Very Real Casualties Of Bill 21
With a deep sense of betrayal and a feeling of religious persecution, I fled to British Columbia like a refugee.
December 13, 2021 | 3 min. read | Opinion
Last Thursday I received an email from my Vice Principal. The subject line read “Quebec teacher removed from post due to Bill 21”, and immediately I felt a revived emptiness.
On June 16, 2019, I graduated from the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Ottawa, ironically the same day the CAQ government passed Bill 21, a law that prohibits certain public servants such as teachers from wearing turbans, hijabs, and other articles of faith at work.
Prohibited from wearing my turban, a requirement for Amritdhari Sikhs, while teaching in Quebec, my future as an educator in my home province was shattered. I was left with a void. With a deep sense of betrayal and a feeling of religious persecution, I fled to British Columbia like a refugee.
For the past three years, I have been working as a high school teacher in British Columbia and growing in my pedagogy. My initial insecurities and fear of public scrutiny as a turbaned educator were pleasantly replaced by acceptance and empowerment.
However, for the first time in three years, I cannot help but feel those same insecurities resurface after hearing of Ms. Fatemeh’s removal from Chelsea Elementary School in Quebec.
Every day, I strive to laugh with my kids, strengthen their skills, and help them unearth their true potential. I have never met Ms. Fatemeh nor have I seen her teach in the classroom, however, I know she does the same as I try.
By looking at the card made by one of her students, I can see that Ms. Fatemeh is an adored and respected educator. With her Hijab, she performs and brings the best out in her students.
What sparks my reaction? Could it be that Ms. Fatemeh stands steadfast in her commitment to faith while building a strong rapport with her kids just as I have? Or, could it be the realization that Ms. Fatemeh took the bullet that I dodged by fleeing to British Columbia? Are these just my triggers or are they real feelings of persecution experienced by people devoted to their faith?
Although I have not endured Ms. Fatemeh’s fate in the same way, I cannot help but empathize. I imagine walking across my classroom and watching another teacher take my place, removing and replacing all elements of who we were as a class, of who we promised to be.
I imagine how it must feel to see and hear parents, staff and students express their disdain over this policy yet handling the brunt of the blow to me alone. I imagine what it must feel like to have my article of faith tokenized and assume a tawdry new role to appease a cynical Quebec.
Some rationalize that Quebec has the autonomy and jurisdiction to pass any law albeit as discriminatory as they come.
“Oh Amrit, we do not agree with the law but it is the law and therefore we are obligated to follow it,” just demonstrates the apathy towards our plight. I question if these people would use the same logic if one’s right to marriage or health care was revoked.
We are fearmongered to believe that racism and discrimination are acceptable in Quebec due to its own traumatic history with religion. As if this law is only about laïcité, ignoring the fact that those most impacted by it are racialized members of marginalized religious communities.
We know how hard we have fought to have our articles of faith accommodated across this country, and how hard we still fight to ensure it stays that way. What is happening in Quebec is not occurring in a vacuum.
Although, Ms. Fatemeh and myself belong to an exclusive fraternity, which I like to call the “Casualties of Bill 21”, I know that it is not only us who are directly impacted. It is our students, who are robbed of a multicultural environment and left with the idea that expressing a religious practice is a criminal or even a deviant act.
The irony is that internationally Canada is known as a champion in human rights but in this human rights issue, our leaders remain silent and apathetic.
I wonder what tone would have been set for Canada if our Prime Minister and party leaders had unapologetically denounced the secularism law and made active strides in its repeal.
How many more causalities do Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Singh, and Mr. O’Toole need to see to have a change of heart? What is their magic number?
Amrit Kaur hails from Quebec, but due to Bill 21, moved to British Columbia where she is now a teacher. She has served as the Vice President, Quebec, for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
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