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Public money not included in Calgary Bill 21 recommendations

Calgary’s Bill 21 task force is recommending against using taxpayer cash to help fund a legal challenge of Quebec’s controversial legislation.

Some Calgary city councillors had considered a contribution of $100,000 to the Bill’s legal challenge. It was a step taken by the City of Brampton last December.

Bill 21 prohibits public servants from wearing religious symbols, including hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes and crosses while at work.  The issue garnered national attention after a Quebec teacher was told she couldn’t wear a hijab at work and was dismissed.

In December, city councillors endorsed the legal action, but didn’t contribute cash. At the time, they opted to strike a task force with Couns. Jasmine Mian, Raj Dhaliwal and Evan Spencer. The trio worked with administration to find ways to address the issue locally.

The task force report, which comes to Tuesday’s combined meeting of council, recommends a City of Calgary webpage that shows the history of Calgary’s opposition to Bill 21, along with links to private fundraising for the joint legal challenge.  They would also look at ways to strengthen ties with cultural and faith communities.  It also suggests rustling up more resources for Calgary’s Anti-Racism Action Committee (ARAC).

Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said money or not, the one thing they heard was that Calgarians were united in opposition to Bill 21. Mian felt the prescribed action is a good compromise.

“I think what we felt that the right choice ultimately is that we could sort of have a happy marriage where we do take action because there was a strong desire for action,” she said.

“But that action didn’t have to have to be in public funds.”

The uproar around the teacher’s dismissal was reflected in a big decline in public support for Bill 21 in Quebec.

No public cash

The task force analysis showed feedback from citizens and Calgary city councillors on the issue of public funds.

“Based on feedback from citizens and from Calgary City Council, the B21 Task Force recommends that no public funds are committed, but instead a private fundraising mechanism be established,” the admin report read.

At the time of the report, the groups behind the legal challenge had a memorandum of understanding for the setup of a joint account that could receive private donations.

Mian said they worked with the World Sikh Organization, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to create an account to drive private fundraising.

They wanted to provide support. They didn’t want to dive into something not within municipal jurisdiction and having an uncertain legal outcome.  

“This landed in a good place because you want to help people get where they need to go and you want to help attack an issue, but as a municipality, sometimes it can be really challenging because you do get into these conversations about jurisdiction and about what’s right and what’s wrong,” she said.

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer said they found many groups wanted action, but were hesitant about the public money.

Now that time has passed, he said, they weren’t sure how to keep Calgarians involved.

“We were not entirely sure how, at this point, to do a really great job of putting this in front of Calgarians again and trying to get them to go to bat with their wallets,” he said.

It was a middle option. It opened up work with local anti-racism groups and still provided access for those wanting to help financially, he said.

Task force added benefit

Both Mian and Spencer said the work with the local religious and cultural groups was valuable.

They also worked with the city’s Anti-Racism Action Committee. It’s there they found a group of tireless volunteers stretched in their work to advise city work.

“That’s something we heard from people in consultation, was we’re really happy to support something happening in Quebec because it does have a potential impact on all Canadians,” she said.

“But we have a lot of work to do here in Calgary.”

Mian said she looks forward to looking at how we can build those relationships and support anti-racism work here. She said there’s work ahead to build ties with cultural and faith groups.

“I think these are really great opportunities for the city and they’re really important opportunities,” she said.

The matter will need approval by council to move ahead.