It was Marianna Mason’s experience with the United Nations and interaction with people from all over the world that spurred the first-year Dawson College student to organize Friday’s protest outside the Montreal offices of Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec’s minister of immigration, diversity and inclusiveness.
That, and a healthy dose of moral indignation.
“I’m not religious and I was outraged by (Bill 21), so I couldn’t imagine how people who are religious were feeling when I heard the bill had been tabled,” said Mason, 18, who is studying liberal arts. “I was completely taken aback by the blatant disregard for diversity and multiculturalism on the government’s part.
“I felt like, as a student, I had to say something.”
The protest, titled Sit-In Against Bill 21 is scheduled for noon Friday outside the offices of Quebec’s immigration ministry at 287 Notre-Dame St. W. in downtown Montreal. Initial plans to hold a sit-in within the building were changed after Montreal police advised Mason that doing so could create security issues.
Along with Dawson College’s student union, the event has garnered the support of Université de Montreal’s student union, Marianopolis’s student union, McGill Students for Amnesty International, the McGill Syrian Students’ Association, and Dawson Amnesty International, among others. Mason said several hundred protesters are expected to take part. More than 1,200 people have expressed interest on the event’s Facebook page, and over 200 are listed as going.
Decent numbers for someone who’s never organized a protest rally before.
The impetus came from Mason’s involvement with Dawson College’s Model United Nations, which sends teams of students to UN conferences around the world, and organizes its own United Nations conference every November. Dawson’s successful UN program was one of the things that led the Laval resident to choose the CEGEP.
“It’s given me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world at conferences and you hear different stories about where people come from, different situations that they’ve experienced.
“I was recently in Madrid for the WorldMUN conference and we were discussing the statistics of Third World countries and we talked about minority ethnic groups and how they feel that, on the international scale sometimes, they’re disregarded or their views aren’t necessarily put at the forefront. That definitely brings to light issues, just in terms of general lack of tolerance, lack of knowledge for what we call ‘the other,’ which is unfortunate and that was definitely an aspect that provoked me wanting to organize this.”
Involvement in the UN program gave her networking connections with members of other CEGEPs and universities, as well as Amnesty International groups, who agreed to support the protest and spread the word.
The goal is to show government employees and politicians that “what they are proposing is not only discriminatory, it segregates a large portion of our population. … We want them to see right in front of them that there is such an uproar, not only from our demonstration, but for others.
Since Premier François Legault tabled his secularism bill in late March — which would ban certain government employees, including judges, police officers and teachers, from wearing religious symbols — numerous protests have been held to denounce the law. They include demonstrations at Westmount High School and Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School in early April, a rally on Sunday organized by the Collectif Canadien Anti-Islamophobie that drew several thousand marchers to downtown Montreal, and an in-school protest organized by Dawson College’s teachers and student unions. Upcoming events include a staff and student walkout at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue’s Macdonald High School Friday at 12:30 p.m., and a “freedom rally” outside Côte-St-Luc’s town hall on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Municipalities, school boards and teachers’ unions have vowed to defy the regulations if they ever become law.
For Masson, who is thinking of pursuing studies in law and perhaps history after CEGEP, the protests represent the coming together of people of all stripes to speak out for the rights of minority groups who may lack a concerted voice.
“I hope we demonstrate not only to the government, but to all who are feeling segregated right now that they are not alone. We stand in solidarity with everyone. We support human rights, that is the basis of our motivation.”