Legal fight against Quebec religious symbols law could get $100K boost from City of Winnipeg

A legal challenge against a Quebec law forbidding public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols could get a funding boost from the City of Winnipeg.

At Thursday’s last council meeting of 2021, Mayor Brian Bowman and Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason introduced a motion which would commit $100,000 toward the joint legal challenge against the law, launched by the Council of Canadian Muslims, the World Sikh Organization of Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Speaking to reporters, Bowman said the motion aims to show support for communities in Winnipeg that have faced discrimination, as much as it is about the lawsuit in Quebec.

“Many of the groups that are being directly affected in Quebec face discrimination elsewhere, including in in our city,” Bowman said.

“And that’s why I think it’s important to communicate to them that we stand with them … against what we feel is, and certainly what I feel is, a discriminatory law.”

The motion doesn’t mention where the money will come from, something Bowman acknowledged.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to work collaboratively to identify a funding source,” he said.

The motion comes after a school teacher in Chelsea, Que., who wears a hijab was removed from the classroom. 

Supporters of the law, including Quebec Premier Francois Legeault, say it promotes separation of religion and state.

Critics say it disproportionately targets religious minorities, particularly Muslim women and Sikh men. 

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would not intervene in the legal challenge, which is likely to end up at the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Brampton, Ont., Mayor Patrick Brown called on other government leaders to support the lawsuit, after he and councillors unanimously voted to give a one-time contribution of $100,000.

Winnipeg city councillors passed a motion condemning Bill 21 in October 2019.

Nason, one of the councillors who introduced that original motion, said Thursday that recent events called for Winnipeg to take a further step “to support those whose voices are being diminished in Quebec.”

Bowman encouraged other municipal leaders to contribute to the legal challenge in Quebec

“I think Bill 21 is something we haven’t seen for some time in Canada, and I think it is so objectionable and it is contrary to everything we hold dear as Canadians,” he said.

The motion was referred to executive policy committee for further discussion.

Vaccine requirements for film productions

A motion introduced at council Thursday would limit permits for film productions within Winnipeg to those that require all crew members to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

If passed as written, the motion would apply retroactively to all active film permits in Winnipeg.

It was introduced by Nason and Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie. 

The policy is needed, Nason said, to ensure people coming from out of the province are vaccinated. 

Travellers who are not fully vaccinated are required to self-isolate for 14 days, but provincial health orders exempt “cast, crew and other persons directly involved in a film production.”

“We have an emergency situation where this variant is spiraling out of control,” Nason said.

“I think it is an important item to have on there to see, if we do have major productions that are going on in the city … to ensure that public safety is also ensured.”

The motion will go to the protection and community services committee in January. 

Bowman questioned whether such a policy was necessary, saying the city doesn’t have similar rules targeting specific industries, but wouldn’t rule out possibly supporting the motion. 

“I’m not sure why just this one at this time, but the committee will take a look at it.

“Generally speaking, the provincial public health orders are where our collective efforts in Manitoba are being focused on.”

A spokesperson for the provincial government says the province doesn’t have any vaccine requirements specifically targeting film productions.

“Private-sector business and organizations may choose to implement their own employee immunization and testing requirements,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Other items passed by council include a call for the property and development committee to study limits on where retail cannabis stores can locate, after the number of stores in Winnipeg quintupled within the last year.

Council also passed a motion asking the province to earmark a portion of the city’s disaster response funding for the N’Dinawemak — Our Relatives emergency shelter at 190 Disraeli Fwy.

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