Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Quebec secularism law passes constitutionality test

Exemption for English schools overturned

by Charles Dickson
Montreal
Feb. 29, 2024
In a unanimous decision rendered Thursday, the Quebec Appeal Court ruled that the CAQ government’s Bill 21, the so-called secularism law, is constitutional.
The law, which prohibits public-facing government employees from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs, turbans, kippahs and crucifixes at work, would appear to be at odds with provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protect religious expression, among other human rights.
The CAQ government’s use of the notwithstanding clause, also a provision of the Canadian constitution, shields Bill 21 from challenges on constitutional grounds, and led the appeals court to reject the claim that the law is unconstitutional.
Thursday’s ruling also overturned a Quebec Superior Court decision of April 2021 that provided English schools with an exemption to the Bill 21 ban on wearing religious symbols.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says it expects to challenge last week’s ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada, and federal justice minister Arif Virani said the federal government would be part of any appeal to the country’s highest court.
“Every Canadian, no matter their province or territory of residence, should feel confident that the federal government recognizes and respects their rights and freedoms,” said the minister.

Meanwhile, the CAQ government recently tabled legislation to renew the application of the notwithstanding clause to Bill 21 for another five years.
On Thursday, Premier Legault was quoted saying that his government will continue to use the notwithstanding clause for “as long as it is necessary for Canada to recognize the societal choice of the Quebec nation,” adding that “it’s non-negotiable.”
“The court has confirmed Quebec’s right to make its own decisions,” Legault told reporters. “Secularism is a collective choice that is part of our history, in continuity with the Quiet Revolution. Secularism is a principle that unites us as a nation in Quebec.”
“The CAQ decided to use the notwithstanding clause in a preemptive and excessive manner, therefore limiting the rights and freedoms of many,” Pontiac MNA André Fortin said in an email to THE EQUITY. “The CAQ’s approach, which limits judicial recourse, is unacceptable to us. The Quebec Liberal Party strives for a society in which the rights of all nine million Quebecers are upheld. For these reasons, we opposed Bill 21 and will also oppose Bill 52, which aims to extend the application of the notwithstanding clause,” Fortin said.
For more on Bill 21, see THE EQUITY editorial The company we keep, published Dec. 14, 2021 https://www.theequity.ca/the-company-we-keep/.

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