The City of Kingston’s stance against Bill 21 is admirable—if they stay committed to the cause

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In challenging Quebec’s Bill 21, the City of Kingston is making positive progress in acknowledging and supporting the fight against religious discrimination in Canada. The next step is to lead the same battle within the local community.

On Feb. 2, the Kingston City Council committed to a donation of $10,000 to the legal fight against Bill 21. This is the first monetary commitment among Ontarian communities that have condemned Bill 21.

Beyond this donation, Kingston is looking to adopt the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ municipal recommendations for battling Islamophobia within the city.

Bill 21 prohibits Quebecers working as civil servants in the public sectors from wearing religious symbols, such as turbans, yarmulkes, crosses, and hijabs. In other words, it’s a direct attack on the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Citing secularism as reason for Bill 21 disguises its true motive—assuaging the discomfort felt by some Canadians when they’re confronted with visible expressions of religion. Secularism may mean neutrality in government positions on paper, but Bill 21 actually implies those practicing their religion are somehow compromised in their work.

Bill 21 encourages putting people into categories and “legitimizes” discrimination that’s already deeply ingrained in our society.

Although the legislation is broad, it disproportionately impacts minority religions who may already face barriers practicing privately outside of their workplace. For example, many Christians have Sundays off to attend church, but those practicing Islam may have to work on Fridays.

For many in Quebec, a difficult and an unfair conflict has arisen between keeping their jobs and staying true to their beliefs.

The donation made by the City of Kingston is a important step in standing up in defense of those genuinely hurt by Bill 21. It’s a visible, monetary commitment—making the councilors’ promise more than just empty words.

However, there’s still much to be done. Let’s not forget about religious discrimination present in Kingston. Just recently, both Queen’s and St. Lawrence campuses served as canvases for antisemitic and racist graffiti. Muslim members of the community remain susceptible to daily instances of Islamophobic harassment.

To reinforce their good intentions, the City must also contribute to local efforts working towards making this community safe for everyone.

Reporting hate crimes, for example, is a sensitive and difficult process for many. Providing accessible options of reporting these incidents not involving the police or supporting those with a language barrier is a necessary move towards making the city welcoming and safe.

Kingston’s donation can’t be a one-off. Staying true to the recommendations from the National Council of Canadian Muslims and funding anti-discriminatory education programs would have a tangible local impact beyond the rejection of Bill 21.

The City has done well in their commitment against Bill 21. Now isn’t the time to stop—let’s keep the moment going for those who still aren’t safe in Kingston.

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