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By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A legal challenge against Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law, began on Monday morning in Montreal and expects to last up to five weeks.

Bill 21 effectively bars public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols at work, which opponents argue infringes on a person’s basic human rights. Police officers, teachers and judges are among the people directly impacted by the law.

Jean-François Therrian, spokesperson for the Cultural Islamic Association of Eastern Townships (ACIE) in Sherbrooke, spoke to The Record about the court proceedings. The government needs to listen right now, he said, they can’t tighten their grip on this issue.

“We need to talk, discuss and come to a consensus to live together peacefully without discrimination on both sides, as a host community or for immigrants coming to Quebec,” Therrien said.

The provincial government needs to shift its stance on the conversation surrounding religious symbols, he continued. Muslim women in particular feel attacked by the law, Therrien said, they feel like job opportunities have been ripped away from them.

He believes there is an avenue for both politicians and religious communities to create an honest and open dialogue. We need to eliminate discrimination from our society, he said, and start having more nuanced conversations, rather than dialogue driven by emotion.

“Wear the symbols you want to wear, when we understand each of these symbols, we will pass a superficial comprehension and fall into a profound understanding,” Therrien said.

If someone wants to wear a kippah or a hijab, he added, that is their fundamental human right. But beyond this, Therrien said, there is something more fundamental, which is to live together in harmony.

He believes that at the end of the day, what makes a society tick is if everyone is on the same page. Everyone should be able to live the way they want, Therrien concluded, as long as they hold strong community values.

However, there is an ongoing problem, according to the ACIE spokesperson. There will always be people who oppose freedom of expression, he said. The goal is to break down those barriers and build relationships to eliminate this hate.

“If I decide my mentality, my ego is stronger, well that’s the danger, there’s always people who give themselves a higher right,” Therrien concluded.

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