Over 100 people gathered in Place-Emilie-Gamelin on Sunday to demonstrate against Quebec's Bill 21, the start of a weeklong flurry of activity in opposition to the controversial religious symbols law.
The Montreal protest was one of four in cities across the province. Others were held in Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Gatineau.
While the law was adopted in June by the National Assembly, protest organizers said they don't plan to end efforts to oppose the bill.
Ehab Lotayef, an organizer with Non A La Loi 21, said he wants the Legault to know there is still widespread opposition to the law, which prohibits public sector employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work. He said he hopes the protests will put pressure on federal leaders to more to oppose the law. While several party leaders have said they don't support the bill, none have said they will do anything to officially oppose it should they come to power after this month's election.
"I think the issue is gaining more and more ground in the federal campaign, it's been talked about more, the leaders' hands are forced to talk more," said Lotayef. "There's more commitments made as we go and we'll continue the pressure on them not to have wishy-washy commitments but to have commitments we cannot live in Canada with a law like that without being challenged."
Arlen Bonnar, a priest at the St. James United Church, was among those present for the protest. He said he came to show support for Quebecers affected by Bill 21, saying wearing his collar is an option to him, but not an option to people from other religions.
"There's been a call for us to stand in solidarity with one another and make a statement we want to be as open and broad as we possibly can as a society. This law doesn't seem to be providing that," he said.
Kim Manning said she has "deep concerns" about the impact of the law. She came wearing a cross, which she said was an effort to bring attention to "the injustice of Bill 21." She noted that among the legal challenges to the law is one saying it disproportionately affects women.
"It's one of my foremost concerns," she said. "I've seen how it's having a direct impact on young women. I've spoken to young women both who wear the hijab and don't wear the hijab and there's a strong feeling this law is constricting their futures and preventing them from pursuing the occupations they want to pursue. Just as importantly it's also exposing them to an increased level of hate and persecution."
Canadian Council of Muslim Women spokesperson Shaheen Ashraf said she would like to see more efforts to foster communication and understanding between different faith and ethnic groups.
"This thing around my head has nothing to do with who I am," she said. "It's just the way I dress and I should be allowed to do that. It doesn't matter what form of career I choose."
Bill 21 won't be the only target of opposition this week. Extinction Rebellion has plans for global anti-climate change demonstrations, which in Montreal will include a large march on Oct. 8.