Mayor Valerie Plante testifies before Bill 21 hearings

Mayor Valerie Plante went before the hearings before the National Assembly's Bill 21 hearings on Tuesday afternoon — not to argue for the city of Montreal to be exempt from the secularism law, or to argue against the principle of state secularism.

Instead, the mayor pleaded with Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette to amend the proposed rules to better reflect Montreal's reality, and to argue against his pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause in the bill.

"At the start, let me state that I wholly endorse the will of the Quebec government to enshrine [the principle] of religious neutrality of Quebec into law," was how Plante began. "Let's be clear, I'm not here to demand a special clause for Montreal, but rather to bring the realities of Montreal to a provincial law."

The mayor touted Montreal's diversity, calling it the strength of the city, and she insisted that enshrining the notion of religious neutrality into Quebec law must respect that diversity.

Earlier in the day, she penned an op-ed piece that appeared in several papers, including the Montreal Gazette. Plante wrote she isn't against the idea of secularism as such, but adds the ban on wearing religious symbols is an affront to individual freedom, and that as mayor of such a diverse city, it's her duty to stand up for the diversity that made Montreal what it is.

'Duty to protect minorities'

"Ultimately, I consider it our duty to protect the minorities of which our society is made, whether they are sexual, linguistic, cultural or religious," she wrote.

She also suggested Quebec's institutions can, and do, defend the principle of state secularism well enough as it is.

Later on Tuesday — at 8:15 p.m. — former Liberal MNA Russell Copeman, now representing the Quebec English School Boards Association, will also argue against Bill 21's religious symbols ban.

Taking the train from Montreal to Quebec City on Tuesday morning, he spoke with CJAD 800's Andrew Carter about what he plans to say.

"Bill 21 is divisive, unnecessary, largely inapplicable, and doesn't correspond to the values that are taught in our schools and centres," Copeman said. "We feel that Bill 21 in an infringement on English-speaking communities' constitutional right to control and manage its education network."

Earlier in the day, 95-year-old Quebec sociologist Guy Rocher, one of the authors of Bill 101, suggested failing to adopt Bill 21 could lead to a return of the days when schools were split by religion.

Also in the morning session, the nationalist group Ligue d'Action Nationale said Bill 21 doesn't go far enough, saying the right of human beings take precedence over religious precepts, something which "wasn't done in Canada's constitutional monarchy and in the constitution which [Quebec] never signed."