Quebec’s highest court to begin hearing appeals on provincial secularism law

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Efforts to challenge the law are complicated by the Quebec government’s preemptive use of the Charter’s notwithstanding clause, which protects the legislation from most legal challenges for violation of fundamental rights.

Groups opposed to the law filed arguments in December saying the bill ran counter to Canada’s constitutional architecture and infringed on federal jurisdiction.

“By thus excluding a group of people from several spheres of society because of their religion in an attempt to “protect” a certain vision of social peace or fundamental social values, Bill 21 contradicts the principle of religious inclusion derived from our Constitution, and it represents an invalid attempt to legislate in an area of ​​jurisdiction reserved for the federal legislature,” read the legal arguments filed with the Court of Appeals in December 2021.

Representatives from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims will speak to the media Monday morning before the start of hearings, which are scheduled to take place this week and next week at the Montreal Court of Appeal.

The Quebec government passed Bill 21 in 2019 and has repeatedly argued that the law is moderate and supported by a majority of Quebecers.

Critics, on the other hand, have argued that it targets racialized minorities who choose to practice their religion, especially Muslim women.

In his 2021 decision, Judge Marc-André Blanchard acknowledged that the law has “cruel” and “dehumanizing” consequences for those who wear religious symbols, many of whom could no longer seek new public service jobs without compromising their beliefs.

He noted that the law “negatively affects Muslim women first and foremost” and violates their freedom of speech and religion.

But he ruled the law was allowed to stand because of the government’s invocation of the notwithstanding clause, which protects the legislation from most Charter challenges.

Blanchard struck down part of the law that applies to English school boards, as well as a section that prohibited members of the provincial legislature from wearing face coverings.

The Quebec government is appealing this decision.

The federal government has said it is ready to join the legal challenge to the law if it eventually ends up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 7, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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