City council has rejected an independent councillor’s bid to allow officers who wear religious symbols to serve on Montreal’s police force.
Currently, no Montreal police officers wear Muslim hijabs, Sikh turbans or Jewish kippahs.
The motion, from Snowdon councillor Marvin Rotrand, was supported by members of the opposition Ensemble Montréal party but rejected by the Projet Montréal administration of Mayor Valérie Plante.
The vote was 19 for, 32 against.
The motion came as Plante was in Quebec City to explain the city’s opposition to Bill 21, Premier François Legault’s proposal to bar some government employees, including police officers, from wearing religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab, Jewish kippah, Sikh turbans and Christian cross.
Rotrand said Montreal should take a stand on the issue despite Bill 21.
The RCMP and municipal forces in Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa and Calgary all updated policies to welcome qualified candidates who wear religious symbols, Rotrand noted.
He pointed to a young Muslim woman and a young Sikh boy who have said they want to be Montreal police officers but would not be allowed to do so under the Montreal police department’s current rules.
In 2017, the last year for which statistics are available, Montreal’s police force included 345 officers from visible minorities, representing 7.5 per cent of uniformed personnel.
Visible minorities represent 33 per cent of the population on Montreal Island, according to the 2016 census.
Last year, when Rotrand raised the issue of religious symbols and the police, Plante said she was “very open to this proposal.”
But on Tuesday, Rosannie Filato, Plante’s executive committee member responsible for public security, said Projet Montréal would reject Rotrand’s motion, which she described as “a form of provocation, pure and simple.”
She said proposing the motion while the National Assembly is holding consultations on Bill 21 is “not constructive or positive.”
Plante has spoken out against Bill 21. However, she said Montreal would apply the rules if they come into force.
Plante spoke to reporters before leaving city council to address the National Assembly committee studying Bill 21.
“Since the debate around Bill 21 started, I’ve always asked people to stay calm and to be respectful and bring good arguments to this in a respectful way,” Plante said.
“To me, (Rotrand’s) motion comes at a very bad time. There is a legal process happening in Quebec right now. I don’t think it’s relevant or contributing in a positive way to have this kind of motion. I don’t find it very useful. I think it’s not the right time.”
She did not answer directly when she was asked, twice, whether she thought Montreal police should be allowed to wear religious symbols.
“I’ve always spoken my mind on this front. And I’m more talking about the motion and this is what I’m saying right now: not the right time, not the right moment and it’s just adding fuel on the fire that is already burning pretty intensively.”
Last month, city council unanimously rejected that proposed law in a bipartisan motion that said the bill “does not reflect the daily reality of Montreal society, which is rich and unique in terms of culture and diversity.”