Quebec’s discriminatory Law 21 could start a new chapter of violence

Past laws have contributed to a culture where police murder Black and Indigenous people
Photo: Axel Drainville
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Everything is connected.

What we have witnessed over the last few weeks — the murders of George Floyd in Minnesota, Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore in New Brunswick, Rayshard Brooks in Georgia, and so many others — did not happen suddenly or out of nowhere. What led to those tragic events, and many others we have witnessed more silently over the years, started decades, maybe centuries ago.

The laws of the past that made second-class (or no-class) citizens out of Black and Indigenous people are what set in motion the violence we are witnessing today.

We are now rising up and standing together to eradicate the effect of past laws that have led some to believe that Black lives and Indigenous lives do not matter.

Even after such laws are repealed and disappear from the books, their essence remains embedded within the culture. This is passed from generation to generation until there comes a time when society decides that it has had enough and decisively eradicates the ongoing violent effect of those past laws. This eradication is not an easy process and the price paid until that happens is enormous.

We are now rising up and standing together to eradicate the effect of past laws that have led some to believe that Black lives and Indigenous lives do not matter. But even as we do this, we are witnessing the start of new cycles similar to the ones we are trying to end. Leaders such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and François Legault are starting such cycles.

The Quebec premier, who denies the existence of systemic racism, effectively legalized discrimination a year ago this week by passing Bill 21 — a law that discriminates against people who may be more qualified and better equipped for a certain government job because they choose to abide by their religious beliefs, and wear visible religious symbols.

No one is free unless we are all free, and there is no freedom unless we are all equal.

Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs are not now being killed by police on the streets of Quebec, but history indicates that Bill 21 — by making them second-class citizens — could lead to that in the not too distant future.

Indeed, the stakes are unbearably high: If we succeed in our fight against Bill 21, we will save lives that might otherwise be lost to racism decades from now, in 2050 or 2070. If we falter or give in now, we will be responsible for those future deaths.

The fight for rights and equality is not about only one group of people defined by their skin colour, origin or belief. It is also not a fight against one group of people in particular. Anyone can become the aggressor or the victim. No one is free unless we are all free, and there is no freedom unless we are all equal.

The only way out of these cycles of discrimination and racism is to stop them as soon as they start. When it comes to Bill 21, we are at the beginning of one of those cycles. The time to stop it is now.

“Black Lives Matter” does not mean, and was never intended to mean, that only Black lives matter. It means that the lives of Black people matter every bit as much as any other. It means that when the victims are Black, we rise up together and raise our voices with BLM. It means when Indigenous people are targeted, we shout at the top of our lungs: “Indigenous Lives Matter.” It means that when any group is attacked or put in danger, we assert that their lives and their rights matter.

The only way out of these cycles of discrimination and racism is to stop them as soon as they start, before they cost us pain, suffering, and loss of life. When it comes to Bill 21, we are at the beginning of one of those cycles. The time to stop it is now.

Ehab Lotayef is coordinator of the Non a la Loi 21 campaign.

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