Toronto votes to oppose controversial Bill 21

Toronto council backs fight against Quebec’s Bill 21, calling it ‘contrary to the values of Torontonians and Canadians’

Toronto city council voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to oppose a controversial Bill 21 aimed at restricting and criminalizing French-language and religious schools in the city.

The vote comes after a week spent bickering over what to do about Bill 21, which has sparked protests in Toronto’s French-language community as well as among English-speaking students who are concerned about its impact on religious freedom.

Bill 21, which passed third reading with only one person voting no, will create new offences for people who try to take over religious accommodation under the Human Rights Act and give police powers to stop and question people on the grounds of religious freedom.

In a statement, the city said its new rules were “not intended to limit or restrict people’s rights to freely express and worship God in accordance with their religious beliefs — in accordance with the Charter.”

“The new regulations on schools, however, are necessary to ensure that a balanced and inclusive secular education system can be maintained in our city,” it added.

Toronto’s new Bill 21 rules will require teachers to avoid creating a “religious environment” that would create “a significant risk to a person’s physical or psychological health” and that secular programs do not have “the primary purpose of advancing or promoting religion.”

“The rules will also require that school boards and school boards’ employees provide information on the school’s mission and secular education about religion to parents and students alike,” the city said.

Protesters are expected to rally outside the downtown school board offices on Thursday to lobby for the bill.

The city had argued that Bill 21 will not be put directly into effect until the 2015 municipal election but that changes to the Human Rights Act will be in effect then, something opponents such as U.S. comedian Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief, Stephane Charbonnier, said would make the city’s fight against Bill 21 “all the more powerful for us.”

Opponents have previously said Bill 21 will harm the city’s

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