'I feel excluded from society,' says teacher testifying against Quebec secularism law

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MONTREAL — Ichrak Nourel Hak, a Quebec teacher who wears a hijab, opened the court challenge to the province's secularism law Monday, testifying that the legislation makes her feel excluded from society.

Nourel Hak was a student in June 2019 when Quebec adopted Bill 21, the law banning public sector workers in positions of authority -- including teachers, police officers and judges -- from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Monday's legal proceedings combined four separate lawsuits challenging Bill 21 into one trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks before Superior Court Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard.

Nourel Hak said she started wearing the hijab at the age of 21 after reflecting on her religion. She told the court numerous times it was her choice to wear the Islamic head scarf and no one forced her to do it.

When asked what her father thought when she made her decision, the teacher told the court, "he didn't feel strongly one way or another." She said her hijab is a part of who she is, and it is unimaginable for her to remove it during teaching hours.

She testified that she received her teaching degree in September and was hired by a private school that isn't subject to Bill 21. She said wearing the Islamic head scarf is also a way for her to fight stereotypes against Muslim women. "I want to show that there are women who are fulfilled, who want to give back to society," she told the court

—this report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2020.

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