OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh ruled out appealing Quebec’s controversial secularism law while appearing on a popular French-language television show Sunday.
Singh was asked on “Tout le monde en parle,” a talk show that often breaks the one-million viewer mark — meaning more than 10 per cent of Quebec’s total population could be tuning in — whether he would contest Bill 21. The law prevents residents who wear religious symbols such as turbans, kippahs and hijabs, from holding public-facing government positions of authority, such as teachers, police officers or judges.
“No,” the NDP leader said in response. “I said that [we] recognize Quebec’s jurisdiction in this file.”
Quebec’s secularism law is popular, and Premier François Legault has urged all federal party leaders to butt out of challenging it court, saying it represents the will of the population.
Watch: Jagmeet Singh makes NDP’s pitch to Quebecers
Singh said he was “obviously” against laws that divide the population, but he stopped short of condemning it as strongly as he has in English Canada.
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“The work of a politician is to really try to find ways to gather people together,” he said, “but actually I want to put my efforts where I know many Quebecers are united, [such as] attacking climate change, attacking social injustice, so there are many issues on which we can work together.”
The show’s host, Guy A. Lepage, introduced Singh as someone who was born in Canada of Indian parents and who practices the Sikh faith, “which is why you wear a turban.” Lepage told him many Quebecers and Canadians are squarely opposed to a political leader who wears religious symbols, and he asked, what do you tell them?
Singh suggested that while he might wear a turban, he shares the same values as Quebecers: he’s in favour of abortion, of women’s rights, of same-sex marriage, and is someone who “fell in love” with the French language when he was a pre-teen.
“I want to be an ally for Quebec, and I can be ally for Quebec,” he said.
On Friday, a day after the “Tout le monde en parle” interview was taped in Montreal, Singh told reporters that he thought Bill 21 was “absolutely wrong.”
“I understand that there are jurisdiction questions and questions of law. Right now, this law is being challenged in court, and I support the right to do so, and that is very important,” he said during a stop in Essex, Ont.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are fighting the law in Quebec courts on behalf of Ichrak Nourel Hak, an education student who will be unable to work in Quebec’s public school system unless she removes her hijab.
Appearing in a town hall earlier this month hosted by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, Singh described how troubled he was by the law.
“It’s essentially the state, the government, saying ‘yes, it is OK to treat people differently. We are actually going to legally treat people differently. It’s OK to treat people differently for the way they look.’ We have a law now that confirms that. That is horrible.”
Watch: Singh, Trudeau join teachers, religious groups in decrying Quebec secularism bill
This is not the first time Singh has said in Quebec that he would not fight the bill in court. Nor is Singh the only leader to rule out intervening in a court case.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has consistently said his party won’t intervene to fight the Quebec legislation but has also pledged never to introduce a similar law.
“This is not something that we would ever think of imposing at the federal level.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said at the Maclean’s/City Television debate that she was distressed by the bill and found it “clearly an infringement on individual human rights.” But she would stop at intervention, she suggested, to avoid inflaming separatists. Her solution? Finding jobs for anyone Quebec takes off the payroll.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is the only leader who has not shut the door to intervention.
He told voters earlier this month that he is opposed to the bill and that the Liberals were “weighing whether to intervene. At this point, we do not think it would be productive.”
On Monday, at a campaign announcement in Hamilton, he said the party was watching the court process in Quebec and would “continue to make determinations around next steps.
“I am opposed to any law that restricts Canadians freedoms, that tells someone what they should or shouldn’t wear. I believe in defending people’s rights and I always will.”
With a file from the Canadian Press