Public cash shouldn’t aid battle against Bill 21: Calgary task force

‘We heard many people say that they would donate privately if there was a mechanism to do that’

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The City of Calgary shouldn’t contribute public funds to aid a legal battle against Quebec’s controversial Bill 21, according to recommendations from a city task force.

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Bill 21, passed in 2019, prohibits Quebec’s public servants from wearing religious symbols, including hijabs and turbans, while at work. The impact of the legislation made headlines nationwide in December 2021 when the Quebec government ousted a teacher from classroom work because she wore a hijab.

Calgary city council, following a funding commitment by the City of Brampton, looked at offering $100,000 in public funds to the legal battle in December. Instead, councillors opted to formally endorse the court challenge and launch a task force — headed by Couns. Jasmine Mian, Evan Spencer and Raj Dhaliwal — that looked into avenues for potential funding.

That task force has now arrived at the conclusion that committing taxpayer dollars isn’t the best way to go about Calgary’s efforts in the fight against Bill 21, based on feedback from members of the public and councillors.

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A task force report headed for a council vote Tuesday suggests the city instead launch a webpage outlining the history of council’s response to Bill 21 that would highlight an upcoming private fundraising effort by the joint proprietors of the legal action: the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

“I think Calgarians are almost unanimously against Bill 21,” Mian said. “We heard many people say that they would donate privately if there was a mechanism to do that.”

The idea of public funding was contentious from the start, with concerns raised over the jurisdiction of the city to step in to aid a legal matter on the other side of the country. But Mian said they still wanted to support residents calling for further city action.

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“There were really significant concerns about whether this was the correct role for the city to be taking from a jurisdictional perspective,” she said. “Private fundraising really is a way to satisfy both of those concerns.”

In consulting with local faith and cultural communities, as well as the city’s Anti-Racism Action Committee, Mian said the task force found opportunities for growth. As such, the report also recommends the city explore ways to strengthen relationships with those communities and look into better resourcing for the anti-racism committee.

“In my mind, I think this is how local leaders should respond to issues like this,” said Mian. “We took the feedback of everyone and then devised the best path forward.”

Council will vote on the suggestions made by the Bill 21 task force at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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