Bouchera Chelbi has been teaching English to elementary schoolchildren in Montreal for a decade. But if Quebec’s incoming government has its way, she could be forced to decide between her religious faith and her job.
The Coalition Avenir Québec, which won a majority in this week’s provincial election, is promising to introduce a law prohibiting civil servants, including judges, police officers, prosecutors and teachers, from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.
“We know it’s going to happen. But am I going to accept it without fighting? No, I don’t think so,” said Chelbi, likening the proposal to a “witch hunt.”
Chelbi, 47, said she has been wearing a hijab since age 17 — when she decided, herself, as a matter of faith — in her native Algeria. She can’t imagine taking it off now.
“Even my husband cannot choose what I should wear. Why would I take orders from a man I never met?” she said, referring to the incoming CAQ premier, François Legault.
A representative for the CAQ government said Wednesday that those who don’t comply with the coming law could be re-assigned or lose their employment altogether.
The CAQ’s promise, if it becomes law, would likely be subject to a court challenge on the grounds that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The previous Liberal government tried to pass a religious neutrality bill that is still before the courts after it was challenged by civil rights groups.
Legault, however, has said he’s prepared to use the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to ensure the law goes into effect.
Teachers’ unions and school boards have been quick to condemn the CAQ’s plans, which recall the failed “charter of values” put forward by the Parti Québécois in 2013.
The PQ also wanted to prohibit teachers from wearing ostentatious religious symbols, such as a hijab, kippa or large cross. Details of the CAQ’s proposal have yet to be announced.