Bill 21 hearings a sham, religious groups say

A coalition of religious groups is calling the CAQ's Bill 21 consultation process illegitimate, after their requests to testify were ignored.

Members from the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Montreal Board of Rabbis, the United Church of Canada, and the World Sikh Organization held a news conference at Montreal's St. James United Church on Tuesday morning — at the same time six days of National Assembly hearings on Bill 21 got underway in Quebec City.

Sarah Abou-Bakr with the National Council of Canadian Muslims says the near-total exclusion of religious voices — in a debate about the wearing of religious symbols — shows the CAQ is only pretending to want to hear differing points of view when in reality, their minds are already made up.

"We're the ones that are going to be affected by this law on the first level," Abou-Bakr said. "If they really wanted to listen or hear what we have to say, they wouldn't wait for us to beg to have a place, they would invite us to tell them what we think."

"They're trying to get an answer that they're looking for," added Rabbi Avi Feingold. "If you look at the types of organizations [who will testify at the hearings]...they're looking to get to a point where can say 'look, we've had our hearings, we've had our consultations, we've heard from the people and the people seem to be going toward this conclusion."

Only one explicitly religious group has been invited to present a brief at the National Assembly hearings — the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. They're expected to address the hearings on Tuesday evening.

The interfaith community, meanwhile, will hold its own public hearings next Monday to allow the people who will be affected by a secularism law to have their say.

Several other groups, including the Quebec Bar Association and a number of police associations, withdrew their applications to speak at the hearings — many of them saying they didn't believe the Legault government would listen to them.

CJAD 800's Matt Gilmour contributed to this report.