OTTAWA – When Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen first heard the story of Fatemeh Anvari – the Quebec teacher who was fired from her class for wearing a hijab – his first thought was that this should never have happened in a country like Canada.
“My feeling was that in 2021 we shouldn’t be in a situation where people lose their jobs because of their religious beliefs,” Hussen said in an interview with The Star.
“A teacher should be judged on their professional competence to do the job, not on their religion. “
It was a belief shared by many politicians over the past week, after Anvari was removed from the classroom under the provisions of Quebec’s Law 21.
The 2019 law prohibits officials in certain positions from wearing visible religious symbols. A legal challenge to the law is currently underway.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that he would not rule out the “possibility” of the federal government intervening in the court challenge at “some point,” Hussen went further on Thursday.
“Absolutely, I would support that. Yes, of course, ”he told The Star when asked if he would push for intervention if the case made it to federal courts.
The law sparked debates over discrimination at the end of a two-year period that saw issues like racism, reconciliation and hate crimes take on new public importance.
But Hussen disagrees with critics who say the Liberal government has lost momentum in addressing these issues, after bills targeting online hate speech and criminal justice reform were left for consideration in the House to make way for federal elections that largely neglected to position anti-racism as a key priority.
“There is so much in this space and you know sometimes I feel like we haven’t communicated enough how many things we’ve done to implement various calls to action. communities, and even government to diversify our public service, ”Hussen said.
“I think there is a lot of work going on. I’m not saying it’s all over, but there is also a lot of progress that we have made and we will build on that progress in 2022. “
The federal government has already reintroduced its criminal justice reform legislation, although experts criticized the bill for not going far enough to address the overrepresentation of black and Indigenous adults in the Canadian justice system.
The minister’s mandate letter, which was released Thursday, also contains clues to the government’s priorities over the coming year.
There are twice as many initiatives and commitments focused on black Canadians, for example, as in the supplemental mandate letter given to former Diversity Minister Bardish Chagger in early 2021.
These include a pledge to “act quickly” on the Liberals’ $ 200 million budget pledge to establish a black-led endowment fund to support black youth, organizations and communities.
“It is a legacy that will survive this government,” Hussen said.
The letter highlights Canada’s renewed strategy against racism, which includes actions to tackle hate crimes, better train public safety agencies, invest in digital literacy and prevent radicalization leading to violence.
He also mentions the support of Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special envoy in the fight against anti-Semitism. In the House of Commons on Thursday, Hussen announced that Ottawa would create a similar role to fight Islamophobia, responding to a key demand from the Muslim community following this summer’s national summit on the subject.
The minister also highlighted the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative, a fund that supports and finances black organizations and workplaces, which Hussen previously oversaw when he held the social development portfolio.
(The Star reported earlier this year that the program initially froze some applicants because they weren’t black enough, a move Hussen called “unacceptable” at the time.)
And while the triple minister is new to the diversity file – he’s also responsible for housing, which has clear ties to Indigenous and racialized communities – he’s no stranger to many of the core portfolio issues.
He will work closely with the Department of Justice, just as he did previously as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
In his most recent role as Minister of Children, Families and Social Development, Hussen has also been responsible for developing programs for racialized Canadians and ensuring these populations receive the funding they need during the pandemic. of COVID-19.
“I bring all of that to this role. I also have, of course, a lived experience as a racialized person, ”Hussen said.
“It’s nothing new to me, and there is obviously a short adjustment period. But the issues are very close to my heart.
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