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Teacher opposed to Quebec secularism bill

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As the Quebec government rolls ahead with its proposal to ban public employees from wearing religious symbols, one teacher who dons a hijab says there will always be people who “try to politicize your faith.”

“Secularism is about the state. The state should be neutral. But it cannot compel its citizens to be neutral as well,” Bouchera Chelbi, a teacher at Saint-Barthélemy and Maisonneuve elementary schools in Montreal told The Current’s guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

“Telling me that because I decide to wear a religious [symbol] … [it] hinders me from doing my job correctly, from being neutral towards my … students or towards my colleagues, it is completely false.”

This week, the Quebec government tabled its long-awaited secularism bill, laying out proposed rules for ensuring religious neutrality of the state.

“I’m very proud of the bill we tabled today. It represents values, our values, and it’s important,” Premier François Legault said on Thursday.

Quebec Premier François Legault’s government tabled legislation this week that could prevent public sector employees from wearing religious symbols such as the hijab, kippa or turban. But it’s not the first time the idea has been proposed. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

If passed, Bill 21 would prevent public sector workers in positions of authority — teachers, police officers and government lawyers — from wearing religious symbols, such as the hijab.

Citizens could also be required to uncover their faces while receiving certain public services. For example, a woman could have to remove her niqab before getting on a bus, to confirm her identity in order to use a discounted transit card.

Activists condemn province’s proposed rules

The Coalition Avenir Québec government is the fourth in a row to draft comprehensive legislation attempting to regulate what accommodations should be made for religious minorities. None of those attempts were successful.

The proposed bill has drawn the ire of civil and religious rights activists in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, who plan to challenge the bill.

Quebec secularism bill

The Quebec government’s intentions to regulate religious clothing has already drawn protests, including this one last fall in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Leila Bensalem, a retired Montreal teacher who doesn’t wear religious symbols, sees things differently.

“It’s [religion], something that is private and that has nothing to do with your work and the people you are supposed to serve,” she told Chattopadhyay.

“If you represent the state, you are supposed to represent, as well, the neutrality of the state.”

Christopher Skeete tells The Current’s guest host Piya Chattopadhyay why the Quebec government hasn’t come up with a laundry list of religious symbols that would be banned if Bill 21 passes. 1:37

Bensalem argues people can take off their religious symbols for seven or eight hours at work, and then put them back on when they get home.

“It’s not a big deal,” she said.

‘It’s a big deal for me’

But for Chelbi, she says this is about her freedom as a woman, to wear what she chooses.

“It’s no big deal for her, but for me it’s a big deal,” she said of Bensalem’s comment. 

“I am a feminist. Do you think that I am going to allow anybody to [tell] me, ‘OK. If you want to go there you should be dressed like this.'”

Click ‘listen’ near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

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Singh says Liberals must demonstrate willingness to work together

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Nov. 14, 2019.

Jagmeet Singh said Thursday he is hopeful the New Democrats can find common ground with the Liberals in the minority Parliament and suggested the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois are less than ideal dance partners for the Trudeau government.

Mr. Singh, who leads a caucus of 24 MPs, said Thursday he will look for indicators in the Dec. 5 Throne Speech that demonstrate a willingness to work together.

The commitments he’s looking for include a single-payer universal pharmacare system, national dental care, a commitment to fighting the climate crisis in a “meaningful way” and a pledge to drop an appeal of a human-rights tribunal decision on Indigenous children, Mr. Singh said.

“What I want to make very clear is the Liberal government has to work with parties to pass bills,” Mr. Singh told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday morning.

“There’s no question about that.”

The Prime Minister, who was reduced from a majority government to a minority in the Oct. 21 election, has been meeting with other party leaders this week on Parliament Hill to assess what each is looking for in this Parliament and where he may see eye-to-eye with them.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants New Democrats to support his minority government, the Liberals will have to move toward universal pharmacare and dental coverage and respect other NDP priorities as well. Trudeau is meeting each opposition leader in turn as he begins planning how to hold on to power without command of the House of Commons. The Canadian Press

He met with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on Tuesday and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet on Wednesday.

In his meeting, Mr. Scheer urged Mr. Trudeau to study the implementation of an east-west energy corridor to address national-unity challenges and also called for tax cuts, the cancellation of new environmental-assessment rules and funding for Toronto subway expansions.

Mr. Blanchet said Wednesday he looks forward to collaborating with the Liberal minority on issues that affect Quebeckers, including more financial help for the elderly and a compensation plan for dairy farmers. He also warned he would not shy away from opposing measures that go against Quebec’s interests or infringe on provincial autonomy.

Canadians expect parties to work together to serve them according to their priorities, Mr. Trudeau said Thursday.

“We’re very much focused on working with all parties in the House,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau also indicated areas where the Liberals see shared priorities with the NDP including the fight against climate change, the need to tackle affordability issues such as housing, growing the economy in ways that help everyone, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and improving the health-care system.

Mr. Singh said Thursday he hopes the Prime Minister will choose to work closely with the New Democrats on national, progressive programs and cited pharmacare as an example.

The Conservatives are not interested in rolling out such a program, Mr. Singh said, adding that the Bloc doesn’t have an interest in delivering plans that benefit Canadians across the country because they are “not a national party.”

Mr. Singh said Mr. Trudeau will have to work with him if he has any interest in delivering national, progressive programs.

“And if he’s going to work with me, it [pharmacare] is going to be universal,” he said. “It is going to be public.”

Mr. Singh said he is willing to be constructive with Mr. Trudeau, but vowed that he won’t do this “blindly” to avoid another election. The NDP is deeply in debt.

He said he is ready to head back to the polls, adding he will work for the nearly three million Canadians who voted for the New Democrats.

“But by no means does that mean I’m beholden in any way to working with the Liberals,” he said. “I have a job which is to fight for Canadians.”

“I am hoping that they are prepared to work with us.”

Mr. Singh has left the door open to voting against the Throne Speech, but he hasn’t identified specific issues that would prompt such a move.

By Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

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Cloverdale pastor found guilty on one sex charge

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A Cloverdale pastor has been found guilty on one count of sexual assault, while his wife has been acquitted on all counts.

Samuel Emerson was a pastor at Cloverdale Christian Fellowship Church for eight years.

Emerson was being tried on five counts of sexual assault, two counts of touching a young person for a sexual purpose, and one count of sexual interference.


What did church know about B.C. pastor accused of sexual assault?

His wife Madelaine was charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count touching a young person for a sexual purpose and one count of threats to cause death or bodily harm.

A publication ban was in effect to protect the identities of the victims.

“I was kind of overwhelmed by it all, I know everybody involved, and its the first time to hear a lot of the circumstances,” said Emerson’s father, Randy, the church’s senior pastor.

“So, it’s been a long two and a half years for us, and lots of hurt all the way around.”

Many members of the church were in attendance at the Surrey court room where the verdict was delivered, some of them expressing disappointment with the result.

Emerson will be sentenced at a later date, and remains free from custody on court-ordered conditions.

The offences were alleged to have occurred between 2015 and 2017.

Randy Emerson told Global News in a previous interview the incidents were alleged to have taken place off church grounds.

Randy also previously told Global News that Samuel resigned his position upon his arrest.

He said the family’s five children had been living with their grandparents after their parents’ arrest.

With files from Catherine Urquhart

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Ron MacLean ponders his future

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He’s been called Judas. Pontius Pilate. Brute, too.

But while Ron MacLean has heard these references, he said there is only one truth when it comes to how he feels about Donald S. Cherry.

“I love Don,” he said.

You can tell from his voice these have not been easy days for MacLean. He’s worrying about the well-being of his close friend and the criticism he has faced for his response after last week’s controversial Coach’s Corner broadcast.

They have, after all, been partners for 35-years on Coach’s Corner until Remembrance Day when Cherry was fired by Sportsnet for saying “you people who come here” should wear poppies to honour the troops who provided this way of life and freedom.

MacLean took to Twitter, as well as appearing on the Sunday night Hometown Hockey broadcast, to apologize.

But he had no idea he would never appear with Cherry on Coach’s Corner again.

“It all happened so fast. I wish we could have had another day,” he said.

And now he is faced with trying to figure out what comes next?

He spent Wednesday at CBC headquarters meeting with Sportsnet brass and producers to work on just that.

“I am doing some thinking,” MacLean said Wednesday. “I am taking these days to sort and order what I will say Saturday.”

It’s going to be interesting to see how Hockey Night in Canada is going to handle that first intermission. It’s a massive hole to fill.

My suggestion is for everybody to stop trying to sink this ship.

I am hoping saner heads will prevail and we can get Coach’s Corner back where it belongs.

Forgive Don for a minor faux pas. Forgive Ron for his reactions in what was clearly a difficult time.

Make amends to those who feel hurt by what they think Cherry was trying to say.

And then get back to entertaining the audience on Saturday night.

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