The legislation known as Bill 21 basically says if you are a public employee in some position of authority, such as a teacher, judge, police officer, certain lawyers, etc., you cannot wear anything that represents or symbolises your religion. This would include for example wearing a Muslim hijab, turban, or kippa.
Yesterday, a group challenging the law saw their case rejected once again. While acknowledging the law has caused harm to affected persons, the group’s request for an injunction to stay the law until a constitutional challenge can be heard was denied in a two to one ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal tribunal.
Known as the “Laicity Act”, or ‘secularism law’, an injunction against the law was sought on the grounds that it harmed the careers of some people and would cause harm to others who may seek certain of the jobs affected by the ban. The injunction hoped to suspend all or parts of the law until the Constitutional challenge to the law is heard in Quebec Superior Court which is scheduled for October 2020.
The ruling provincial Coalition Avenir party invoked closure to push the bill into law this summer adding the ‘nonwithstanding’ clause. This is a legal manoeuvre which allows sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be overridden for a limited amount of time and therefore restrict any legal challenges.
The court ruled in its split decision rejecting the injunction request that the notwithstanding clause remains in effect.
The plaintiffs are the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), Natinal Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and Ichrak Nourel Hak, a female university student who had hoped to become a teacher but can’t under the law as she wears a hijab. They argued in part that the law targets hijab wearing women for the most part and so violated sexual equality guarantees which are not denied by the notwithstanding clause.
The group had earlier lost their injunction request at the Quebec Superior Court but the province’s Chief Justice Nicole Duval Hesler granted the group leave to appeal.
She was the dissenting judge on the tribunal with partial agreement with the plaintiffs.
Both the English Montreal School Board, and the Federation Autonome de l’Enseignment have both filed constitutional challenges to the law saying it limits their ability to hire qualified teachers.
While reviewing options, the challenging groups say the case could end up in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, although that may be years away.
- Quebec government: Act 21
- CBC: V. Stevenson: Dec 12/19: ‘We will keep on fighting’: Hijabi women devastated by Appeal Court decision to uphold Bill 21
- EMSN: Dec 12/19: Statement on Bill 21 appeal decision
- Montreal Gazette: J. Feith: Dec 12/19: Quebec’s Court of Appeal rejects bid to suspend Bill 21
- Global News: K. Laframboise: Dec 12/19: Quebec’s top court refuses to suspend province’s secularism law