Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed: Teachers' challenge to Bill 21 sets good example

La haine de la loi 21, symbole ultime du rejet du Québec par les immigrés musulmans

Their involvement in fighting Quebec's laicity law shows our children the importance of standing up for marginalized communities.

Teachers are so often among our first guiding lights. Many adults can think back to one or two teachers who had a profound impact on how we see the world. For me, it was my Grade 8 Enriched English teacher, Mrs. Moore. Her passion for reading reinforced my own voracious love of books. She taught me to love learning, and to embrace writing. I would soak up her every word, and all these years later, I can still think back and fondly remember where I was sitting in her class when she taught us about many of the classics. While I’m no longer in touch with Mrs. Moore, the impact that one year in her classroom had on me lives on in work I do every day.

Those of us with school-aged children know that they spend more time at school with their teachers than they do with us during the week. That is why what the teachers teach them matters both inside and outside of the classroom.

So I was thrilled and proud to learn that the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), a union representing 45,000 teachers in Quebec, is challenging Bill 21. These teachers represent those who help shape the education of our children day in and day out. Their involvement in fighting Quebec’s laicity law, which among other things restricts the religious freedoms of teachers, is more than just symbolic. It is speaking truth to power. It is showing our children the importance of standing up for the underdog; for marginalized communities and for those who are being silenced. It is giving our future generations permission to dream big no matter what they wear on their heads or around their necks. It is a reminder that the only thing that should matter is what is inside of their minds and hearts.

My favourite part? On their legal team is hijab-clad Nour Farhat, a 28-year-old lawyer who had been hoping to become a prosecutor.

Farhat started receiving insults and death threats by email after a French-language law journal published her op-ed criticizing Bill 21. She is now fighting the bill that risks costing her her future, as well as the futures of others whose religious beliefs require them to wear specific items that then are visible signs of their religion. (The law may apply to all religions, but its practical impacts are far from evenhanded.)

It fills my heart with pride to know that our Jewish, Muslim and Sikh children can hold on to a hope that these lawsuits will be successful, that the law will be overturned and that they will be able to aspire to become teachers — or police officers, or prosecutors, or work in the other affected areas. As it stands now, visibly religious minority students who are in the midst of, or who have recently completed their studies, have no recourse. Imagine completing a degree with a massive student loan only to be told that you cannot work in that field.

Bill 21, the way in which it was passed and the increase in hate crimes after its implementation have weighed heavily on many Quebecers. In the first few months of this year, coinciding with anticipation of the laicity law and then its introduction, 58 per cent of the people targeted in hate crimes identify as Muslim, according to Montreal police statistics.

I have faith that Bill 21 will go down in the history books as the divisive, discriminatory law that it is. Who challenges it and how they do so is the stuff our grandchildren will read about one day. For now, I am thankful that the teachers’ union is standing on the front lines against a law that we hope will one day end up as no more than a history lesson.

Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed is the founder and editor in chief of CanadianMomEh.com, a lifestyle blog.