Canadian teacher reassigned under controversial Quebec law for wearing hijab: NPR

A teacher who wears a hijab has been removed from the classroom under Quebec’s Bill 21, which prohibits teachers from wearing religious symbols in class.


A teacher from the Canadian province of Quebec was removed from the class because she refused to remove a head covering worn by some Muslim women. The controversial Quebec law prohibits religious clothing from certain public employees, including teachers in public schools. This is one of the first instances where someone has lost their job since the law came into force. Journalist Emma Jacobs joins us from Montreal. Emma, ​​thank you very much.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Thanks for inviting me.

SIMON: Please tell us more about this teacher and what happened.

JACOBS: So Fatemeh Anvari was a young teacher who was hired to teach third grade language arts in October in Chelsea, Quebec, so it’s just outside the Canadian capital of Ottawa. And in November, it seems someone in the district realized that under a provincial law passed a few years ago, the school was not allowed to hire her as a teacher because she is wearing a hijab. And this is the headscarf worn by some Muslim women. So they moved her from running her own classroom to being an assistant working with students on literacy and diversity.

SIMON: And tell us about the details of this – of Bill 21, this legislation.

JACOBS: Bill 21 is a law of the province of Quebec that prohibits people working in certain government roles from wearing religious symbols. It applies to people in positions of authority – judges, police officers and, where it has been felt most in practice, teachers in public schools. The reasoning used to defend this legislation is that it is a question of maintaining the secularism of the State, that it does not target a religion. Thus, a person carrying a large cross could be asked to remove it. But this has been much more of a problem for people belonging to religious minorities in Quebec – so Sikhs who wear turbans or Jews who wear religious headgear and especially women who wear hijabs, many of whom are teachers.

SIMON: And Bill 21 is the subject of an almost continuous legal challenge, isn’t it?

JACOBS: Yeah. The bill was challenged in the courts and different lawsuits were combined into one legal challenge. But this dispute is still ongoing. There was a grandfather clause for teachers and administrators who were already in office when the law came into effect, and that was in 2019. But they can’t be promoted and schools can’t hire. new people who will not comply. There have been very strong criticisms from minorities in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. I spoke with Samaa Elibyari (ph), who is part of the Quebec section of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

SAMAA ELIBYARI: You put this person on the margins of society. You consider this woman wearing the hijab to be a second class citizen who cannot enjoy the rights that you give to all citizens.

SIMON: Emma, ​​what was the public reaction to this teacher’s case?

JACOBS: Locally, it shocked a lot of families at school. It is an English-language school, and there is much less support for Bill 21 among anglophones in Quebec, which is predominantly francophone. People began to tie green ribbons on a fence outside the school to show their support for this teacher, and it gained provincial and national attention. It really seems that by hiring this teacher in violation of the law basically by accident, the school district gave a face to the people who lose their jobs because of this law. Before, we had heard a lot about young graduates unable to pursue their careers in Quebec, and it is a little different.

SIMON: Reporter Emma Jacobs in Montreal, thank you very much for being with us.

JACOBS: Thanks for having me.

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