A Muslim teacher in Canada was transferred from her job for wearing a hijab in the classroom, sparking outrage against a provincial law that forbids public servants from wearing religious symbols, according to media reports.
Fatemeh Anvari, an elementary school teacher in Chelsea Elementary School, was removed from her post and reassigned to work on a diversity and literacy project at the same school after her dress code violated Quebec’s “secularism” law named Bill 21, reported Quebec-based daily Montreal Gazette.
The controversial law, passed in 2019, prohibits certain public sector workers like judges, lawyers and public school educators from displaying religious symbols at the place of work. It has seen a number of legal challenges since passage and has been criticised for targeting minorities.
‘Bigger than me’
Anvari, who was notified of the decision earlier this months, told Canadian television network CTV News that the issue is bigger than an individual incident. “This is not about my article of clothing. This is a bigger issue. This is something that is about humans. I don’t want this to be a personal thing because that won’t do any good to anyone. I want this to be something in which we all think about how big decisions affect other lives,” Anvari said.
Anvari told the media house that while discussing the issue with the Western Quebec School Board, she was asked if the hijab was a “religious or cultural” symbol.
“I said, you know, for me it’s more of an identity. I’m not saying it’s a religious symbol because I don’t believe that somebody who is not wearing a hijab is not practising Islam. I don’t believe that, I think that everybody can choose to wear it or not wear it and that doesn’t make anybody less practising of that religion,” she said.
“I said it’s more identity and it’s sort of a resistance and resilience, because it’s empowering for me to wear it. But regardless of that, I was told you know, regardless of this it still counts as a religious symbol,” she added.
Many students and parents who support the teacher have been hanging green ribbons on a fence in support of Anvari and organising letter-writing campaigns to lawmakers on the issue, according to a report in the Montreal Gazette.
Elin Wilson drew this card for her teacher Fatemah Anvari after she lost her position because of #Bill21.
Even a third-grader can see that this law is unfair. pic.twitter.com/LwprbWoZul
— Amira Elghawaby (@AmiraElghawaby) December 9, 2021
However, Quebec leader Francois Legault has defended the law, saying that the school board should not have hired a hijab-wearing teacher. He termed the law as “reasonable and balanced”, reported the daily.
As the news picked up steam, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cautiously weighed in on the issue, stating that while he is opposed to Bill 21, Quebeckers should sort the issue on their own. “Nobody in Canada should ever lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs,” the PM’s office said in an email to Reuters.
Conservative politician Tim Uppal, a practicing Sikh who wears a turban, took to Twitter to criticise the law. “I can’t believe that just minutes away from Parliament, many Canadians, including myself and my children, are not allowed to work in professions of their choice, only because of the way we look,” he wrote.