Defenders of Quebec secularism law have their turn to testify as trial continues

As a court case involving Quebec's controversial secularism law continued into its second week of proceedings on Tuesday, defenders of the bill had their voices heard. 

Among those who testified was Nadia El Mabrouk, who came to Canada from Tunisia in 1997. El Mabrouk is now a university mathematics teacher who told the court she doesn't want her children learning in a classroom where a teacher wears a hijab, despite being a Muslim herself.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's not normal, it projects a negative view of my religion," she said. 

El Mabrouk was repeatedly asked how a teacher wearing a hijab would undermine her freedom of conscience.

"The underlying message is that if you're a good Muslim and modest, you must wear a hijab," she replied. 

The legislative piece – adopted in June 2019 by the National Assembly – forbids the wearing of religious symbol for certain employees of the state while they are they are fulfilling their functions, including police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison wardens, as well as public school teachers both in primary and secondary schools.

It did not meet with unanimous approval.

Those who contest it judge it to be discriminatory towards religious minorities, including Muslim women, who they say would be targeted by the law. 

Last week, challengers called Muslim and Sikh schoolteachers who wear religious symbols as witnesses, who explained to the judge the impact that the law had has had on them and on their employment opportunities.

Since Monday, it has been the law’s protectors’ turn to call on witnesses and experts. El Mabrouk and other witnesses are being called to testify by the Movement Laique Quebecois, which has lobbied to ban all aspects of religion in the public sector. 

CEGEP philosophy teacher Francois Dugre told the court he believes students are put in a difficult situation when a teacher chooses to wear a religious symbol.

"Children are not invited to criticize religions," he said. "A teacher wearing a symbol will further limit an open dialogue."

Judge Marc-André Blanchard, of the Superior Court, will have to determine whether the law will survive this challenge whole or if some of its articles will be invalidated.

- With files from The Canadian Press


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