Jagmeet Singh hopes to change Quebecers' views on religious symbols

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Jagmeet Singh says an NDP government wouldn't challenge Quebec's religious symbols law in court — but he hopes his own public identity can change Quebecers' minds about wearing religious symbols.

"I'm a bearded, turbaned man that's going to Quebec and saying, 'I love the French language, I respect the unique identity of Quebec and I want to fight to defend it and I'm proud of who I am,'"  said the NDP Leader.

"Maybe they can start to say, 'Well, you know, that guy believes in the things that I believe in. Maybe those symbols aren't a problem.'"

The provincial law, known as Bill 21, bars teachers, judges and other public sector workers from wearing religious symbols and clothing at work. Federal party leaders have spoken out against the law — but have not agreed to join any legal challenge of Bill 21.

"I understand that there is a legitimate jurisdictional question here that's a legal question about jurisdiction and what provinces can and can't do," said Singh in an interview with CBC News' Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.

"There's some work to be done because it's, to me, divisive and troubling that laws that are designed to discriminate [against] someone because of the way they look are supported by people."

Here is Singh's full "Power Lunch" interview with Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos recorded on Sept. 17:

Kapelos: The last Power Lunch I did was with one of your competitors, obviously, Elizabeth May.  I had asked her who her personal hero was and she had responded that was it Jesus Christ and then right away apologized for saying so. And the reason she apologized, she said, is because she doesn't think that Canadian politicians should wear their religion on their sleeve. And that's not a knock on anyone specifically, she was speaking about herself, but I wonder what you think of that statement, the idea that politicians shouldn't wear their religion on their sleeves. 

Singh: I think that you should be who you are and be proud of who you are and put that out there. I'm proud that I'm a Sikh. I'm proud that I've got values that were inspired by my mom, that teach me that we're all one, we're all connected.

Kapelos: How foundational is your religion? I know you talk about some of the tenets of it, but how important is it to your daily life? Do you pray? Do you know what I mean? Like, what is it like?

Singh: Well, I meditate regularly and the goal in meditation is to realize that we're all connected.

Kapelos: Do you believe in God?

Singh: So we believe in a connection between all things and it's a connection that exists between you and I, between all people, between the environment and me and us. And that connection is what we focus in on and what I focus in on.

Quebec's religious symbols law

Kapelos: I know you've already received a lot of questions on Bill 21, speaking of religion. I want to ask you ... there was a poll out of Leger yesterday. I want to get the exact numbers right. It shows that 64 per cent of Quebecers support that secularism law, 38 per cent in the rest of Canada. What do those numbers tell you?

Singh: Well, there's some work to be done because it's to me divisive and troubling that laws that are designed to discriminate [against] someone because of the way they look are supported by people. It means what I've always known — there's a lot of challenges and those challenges mean trying to breaking some of the barriers that exist, and maybe some of the myths or stereotypes that make people think that just because someone looks different, that there is a justification to then treat them differently.

Kapelos: Do you think the support of Bill 21 is rooted in racism?

Singh: I think that ... there is ... It's hard to figure out what the root is. I don't know exactly what it is.

Kapelos: Do you have a gut feeling?

Singh: I'm not really sure exactly where to pinpoint it. I know that in Quebec there is a history with religion and how it had too much influence over society, so there's a lot of resistance to that and there was the revolution, effectively, that said we're not going to have continued a society that is so influenced by the church.