Calgary will not be bringing forward funding for a legal challenge against Quebec’s Bill 21 as the city joins other municipalities in a call-to-action to condemn the legislation.
Late Monday evening, city council voted 10-5 in favour of endorsing the legal challenge against Bill 21 and forming a task force to consult with the community.
Quebec’s Bill 21 bans all public employees including teachers from wearing religious symbols, like turbans and hijabs, in the workplace.
According to the notice of motion, the task force will be led by Councillors Jasmine Mian, Raj Dhaliwal and Evan Spencer, who will then engage with local legal and religious communities to determine what resources the city could provide to the legal challenge or to “local inclusivity initiatives.”
Council heard the three councillors spent the weekend meeting with community leaders and religious groups to gather feedback on Bill 21.
The task force will report back to council early next year with recommendations on those actions, and if the city’s efforts should include a request for public funding.
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“It is not asking for any public funds at this time,” Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek said. “It is, in fact, asking whether or not that should be done.”
Council heard the city could help raise money through non-profit organizations to donate to the legal challenge against Bill 21, with the potential for the city to chip in.
Dhaliwal, who is Sikh and wears a kara on his wrist, told his council colleagues that religious symbols are an important part of many peoples’ identities.
“I’m sitting in this council today and I can serve all Calgarians,” Dhaliwal said. “But if I move to Quebec tomorrow, I won’t be able to do that; that’s the difference.”
Councillors Sean Chu, Peter Demong, Andre Chabot, Sonya Sharp and Dan McLean all voted in opposition, but all noted their opposition to Quebec’s legislation.
“I personally don’t agree with their legislation, but it’s not within my authority to allocate property tax dollars to support anything that’s external of our city,” Chabot said.
Several councillors shared their concerns regarding the potential for public money in the future and whether the city should be weighing in on the issue.
“I think we’ve picked the wrong fight,” McLean said.
“We can condemn this; I have no problem with that but any means of spending time and energy on a Quebec problem is not a Calgary problem.”
Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, one of the authors of the notice of motion, said Calgary has committed to be an anti-racist city, and it’s up to the “comfortable majority” to condemn wrongdoings and systemic racism.
“This is a situation where what it is to be a Canadian is under threat and Calgary as an anti-racist city has to exist within the context of Canada,” Carra said.
“I fundamentally believe there are Calgarians who understand that systemic racism is a problem, that systems of oppressions are a problem, and we have to dismantle them.”
Last week, Calgary’s mayor said city council would debate an urgent notice of motion to join their colleagues in other Canadian cities to challenge Quebec law following a call-to-action from Brampton, Ont., Mayor Patrick Brown.
Brown called on other cities to get involved, as his council voted to put forward $100,000 towards a legal challenge of the legislation.
Other cities like Toronto and Markham, Ont. have committed to financial support for the court battle, while other communities like London, Ont. are currently looking into doing the same.
Gondek told reporters on Friday that Calgary city council would debate a similar financial backing of the court challenge by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
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However, the notice of motion brought forward by six city councillors and Mayor Gondek did not include that financial support.
When asked whether the omission of financial support in the notice of motion should be characterized as a step back or a pivot, Gondek said the move gives council a better opportunity to consult before taking action against the legislation.
“The point is to make sure as a city, not just the corporation, we are sending a clear message that we do not accept Bill 21 and that we endorse the legal challenge that has been offered,” Gondek said. “Where the money comes from is still something that remains to be seen.”
Gondek told council she spent several hours on the phone over the weekend speaking with lawyers of different faiths.
She said the legal experts asked the city to act as a convener and to bring community leaders together on the issue.
“The legal community in Calgary is incredibly interested in showing leadership, they have in fact said ‘we will help raise the $100,000 that was originally requested,’” Gondek told councillours. “That’s what this allows for, it’s allowing for a non-profit to help take the lead on raising funds from Calgarians.”
Gondek added she heard some legal experts have committed to helping with the work pro-bono.
Calgary city council has already passed a notice of motion that took a public stance against Bill 21 back in 2019.
However, Gondek told council that condemnation didn’t result in any change and that action must be taken now to join other communities in opposition of the law.
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“Getting me to write a letter does absolutely nothing,” Gondek said.
“This isn’t just lip-service time, it’s time to actually do something. If you read all of the points carefully, you will (see) that we are asking the community what’s the best approach.”
For the NCCM, the endorsement of the legal challenge against the legislation is welcomed.
“Calgary is the third most diverse city in Canada and is adamant in continuing to support a future where everyone has access to opportunity and prosperity,” an NCCM spokesperson said in a statement to Global News.
“The City of Calgary’s endorsement of the current legal challenge of this discriminatory bill assures that they will not let their residents down.”
–with files from Global News’ Adam Toy
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