Mayor Steinberg Statement on Bill 21

Dear Friends,

You may have noticed some controversy about statements that I have made about Bill 21. Here are the remarks that I made at a press conference last Friday.

A secular society does not impose one religion over others. We are not Saudi Arabia or other such countries. Bill 21 is an attempt to do exactly that since it discriminates against religions that require believers to wear articles of their faith such as a kippah, hijab or turban. The result will be that Jews, Muslims and Sikhs will not come to a place where their job opportunities are limited. Ones who already live here will tend to leave so that their children’s employment prospects will not be limited. This is an attempt to remove those who practice minority religions leaving only non-believers and Christians. This is ethnic cleansing, not with a gun, but with a law. It is racist and despicable.

Premier Legault justifies the law by saying a majority of Quebecers support it. Tyranny of the majority to discriminate against minorities is exactly why liberal democracies have constitutions to guarantee minority rights. In Quebec we have the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, passed unanimously by the National Assembly.

The fact that the government needs to use the Notwithstanding clause to override the Charter is a tacit admission that the law violates fundamental rights. These rights include the freedom to practice one’s religion without discrimination, the right to freedom of expression and the right to equal treatment under the law. I am confident that Quebecois will reject this law once they realize what it really means.

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At the press conference I made it clear that I was not talking about genocides like Rwanda or Serbia. I clearly stated that I was not talking about violence and I explained how Bill 21 would lead fewer religious minorities coming to Quebec and those already here leaving. I understand that these words are painful to some and it was not my intention to upset anyone, only to have people see the effects of an odious Bill. Sometimes strong words are necessary to open people’s eyes.

It is unfortunate that some media preferred inflammatory headlines to telling the full story. I note that the Montreal Gazette, the National Post and La Presse had full and fair coverage. The other media should also be explaining why I used those words. The words in Bill 21 are the real issue, not a phrase that has been misinterpreted to create controversy. Bill 21 discriminates against religious minorities and limits their job opportunities. It will lead to fewer of them coming to Quebec and to many already here, leaving. That will lead to a less diverse Quebec society. A law that targets minorities and uses the notwithstanding clause to get away with it, is odious and should be condemned in the strongest possible language.

Another important point that I said at the press conference is that Quebecers are NOT racist, Bill 21 is racist. I also said that I believe most Quebecers will reject this law once they realize what it really means.

There is a rally against Bill 21 Sunday April 14 at 11:30 am outside Cote St. Luc City Hall on Cavendish. I urge everyone to attend. I will not be there because I don’t want the story to be about me. Councillor Jack Edery will make remarks on behalf of Hampstead. The media will have to listen to the speakers and write about the numerous arguments against Bill 21 without any distraction about my earlier remarks. 

Sincerely,
Dr. Bill Steinberg
Mayor, Town of Hampstead