Two city councillors want city hall to stand up in opposition to Quebec’s controversial Bill 21.
Couns. Shawn Nason and Janice Lukes said they want city council to pass a resolution opposing the Quebec legislation that bans public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols at work.
"There are cities across Canada opposed to Bill 21 — Calgary, Victoria, Brampton — and we should join them," Lukes said.
"We have people from all over the globe living in Winnipeg," Nason said. "People in Quebec need to understand that we don’t support their ban."
Nason and Lukes held a noon-hour news conference at city hall, accompanied by Simarpreet Singh, a PhD candidate in chemistry at the University of Manitoba, and Tasneem Vali, a member of the Manitoba Islamic Association.
It was a social-media contact from Singh earlier this month that prompted the two councillors to consider the motion for next week’s council meeting.
Singh said he reached out on social media to all members of Winnipeg city council on Oct. 2, after learning the City of Calgary had passed a similar resolution opposing Bill 21.
"I’m worried (Bill 21) could have some sort of snowball effect," Singh said, adding he’s concerned he could be denied employmen because of the way he looks.
The Nason-Lukes motion states: "Be it resolved that Winnipeg council oppose Quebec’s Bill 21, and support in principle, the constitutional challenge to Bill 21, and continue to support building a welcoming city where everyone has access to opportunity and prosperity."
Customarily, a notice of motion brought to council is automatically referred to the following month's council meeting for debate but the two councillors said they’ll ask for a suspension of the rules to allow the motion to be considered at next week’s meeting.
Copies of the motion will be distributed to all members of council later Wednesday and several community representatives are expected to speak to the motion at the Oct. 24 meeting.
Only Nason and Lukes responded to his social media post, Singh said, adding he’s pleased with the motion they’re bringing to council. He is pleased Premier Brian Pallister has also spoken out against Bill 21, but fears similar legislation could spread across the country, he said.
Nason and Lukes said they don’t believe there is enough support in Winnipeg and Manitoba for similar legislation but said they know there are segments of the community who do.
"I feel relatively confident that our community as a whole, of Manitoba, would not support something like Bill 21 being brought forward," Nason said.
"But incredible things are happening in the world right now," Lukes said. "We both think it’s important to send a strong message that says Winnipeg is against discrimination.
"There are segments of society that are supportive (of Bill 21) and that’s unfortunate. We need to work to educate them that in a modern, Canadian society there are different-looking, different-speaking people in our community and we need to embrace that and move forward."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.