Québec Bill 21

Written by  //  February 3, 2023  //  Justice & Law, Québec  //  No comments

Quebec lawyers, activists throw support behind Amira Elghawaby as pressure for resignation mounts
‘Civil debate is not just insisting on one’s position and being angry,’ says human rights lawyer [Julius Grey]
(CBC) A large group that includes lawyers and community leaders in Quebec have signed a letter to support Canada’s first special representative on combating Islamophobia and push back against calls to have her step down over past comments she has made about Quebecers.
Amira Elghawaby has been mired in controversy since being appointed to the role last week due to a 2019 opinion column about Quebec’s religious symbols law — widely known as Bill 21 — that she co-authored.
In that column, Elghawaby and the former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber, wrote: “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.”
In the column, Elghawaby and Farber said that they came to that conclusion after a Léger poll found that the 88 per cent of Quebecers who held negative views of Islam overwhelmingly supported the law.
Critics, including elected officials in Quebec, have accused of Elghawaby of harbouring anti-Quebec views that make her unfit for her new role.
“We are sensitive to the concerns that have been raised since her appointment, but the challenge before her is a considerable one and we believe that Ms. Elghawaby should be given the opportunity to assume and fulfill the mandate for which she was appointed,” reads the letter.
The signatories who backed the letter include human rights lawyer Julius Grey, Boufeldja Benabdallah, the co-founder and spokesperson of the Quebec City Mosque, McGill University professor emeritus Charles Taylor and Jack Jedwab, the president of the Association of Canadian Studies.
Grey said it’s become too common for controversies to be dealt with by calling on someone to step down. … “Too often, people simply get indignant when a controversial statement is made. They don’t debate it. They simply demand resignations, apologies”

23 January
Pre-emptively using notwithstanding clause ‘not the right thing to do:’ Trudeau
(CTV) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says provinces should not be pre-emptively using the notwithstanding clause, because it means “suspending fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Legault’s government had pre-emptively invoked the notwithstanding clause on the Quebec secularism law, known as Bill 21, which forbids some public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job.
Trudeau said his government plans to intervene when Bill 21 reaches the Supreme Court.
Legault maintains it is up to Quebec’s National Assembly to decide its laws.
His social media response to Trudeau ended with the declaration “Quebec will never accept such a weakening of its rights. Never!”
Quebec Solidaire says the notwithstanding clause is an essential political tool
Quebec Solidaire (QS) spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois says Justin Trudeau is in no position to lecture Quebec on human rights, given his government’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.
At the opening of the pre-sessional QS caucus, Monday in Montreal, the party’s parliamentary leader repeated that he is opposed to Bill 21 on the wearing of religious symbols, but he asserted at the same time that Quebec needs the notwithstanding clause to advance its own issues.

2022

28 November
Sheema Khan: The downfall of Quebec’s Bill 21 could come thanks to women
(Globe & Mail) When the Charter was being drafted, women demanded equality rights – but they were derided at committee hearings for doing so … A year later, more than 1,300 women descended on Parliament Hill to assert equality rights in the Constitution, by affirming Section 15 on general equality and proposing Section 28, on gender equality rights.
Initially, the notwithstanding clause could have been used on Section 28, too. But women fought for its exclusion, having had the foresight to ensure that gender equality rights could not be denied by the potential whims of future governments. We owe them a great deal.
And yet, today, we see the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause leading to disproportionate damage to Muslim women in Quebec.
… Bill 21’s damage has been done – abetted by the notwithstanding clause. The women who fought to exclude Section 28 from the clause knew its dangers. As Canadians, we must continue that fight to guarantee basic rights for all, be they religious and linguistic minorities in Quebec, education workers in Ontario, or anyone threatened by the notwithstanding clause.

22 November
Bill 21 hearings conclude, reinvigorate outrage from members of McGill community
By Adeline Fisher
(McGill Tribune) Nov. 16 marked the final day of hearings against Bill 21 at the Court of Appeal of Quebec in Montreal. The legislation has faced controversy because it prohibits people employed in the public sector from wearing visible religious symbols at work and preemptively invoked the notwithstanding clause. Over five non-consecutive days, civil liberties groups, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), argued against an April 2021 decision by the Superior Court of Quebec that upheld most aspects of the Bill.
Among those protesting outside the courthouse on Nov. 7, when the hearings began, was the McGill Coalition Against Bill 21, which is composed of students, staff, faculty, and other McGill community members who oppose the law.
The 17 groups challenging the Bill argued that the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)’s use of the notwithstanding clause―section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms―was invalid. The notwithstanding clause allows Parliament and provincial legislatures to shield legislation from any provisions in sections 2 (fundamental freedoms) and 7 through 15 (legal rights and equality rights) of the Charter. Plaintiffs opposed Bill 21 on the grounds that the notwithstanding clause does not protect the Bill against section 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equality between the sexes.

10 November
Bill 21: It’s up to ‘parliament and not the courts to determine’ if MNAs can wear religious symbols, Quebec lawyer argues
But Attorney General of Quebec representative Isabelle Brunet says the argument is theoretical since no one has been prevented from running for office.
In the Quebec Court of Appeal on Thursday, prosecutors for the Legault government attacked part of a judgment that invalidated the ban on sitting with a covered face in the National Assembly, contained in Bill 21.

8 November
Bill 21 appeal provokes debate on Charter of Rights contradiction
Competing sections of the federal charter come under scrutiny on Day 2 of hearings in Montreal.
(Montreal Gazette) The Quebec Court of Appeal must decide on a contradiction in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the sidelines of its work on the validity of Bill 21.
Bill 21 relies on section 33 of the Charter — the notwithstanding clause — to suspend freedom of religion when it comes to the wearing of religious symbols. Bill 21 prohibits the wearing of such symbols in Quebec by some state employees, including judges, police officers and teachers.
Section 33 specifies that a legislature may derogate from certain sections of the Charter, in particular section 15, which prohibits any discrimination based, among other things, on sex.
However, the notwithstanding clause cannot circumvent section 28 of the Charter, which stipulates that the rights and freedoms of the Charter “shall be guaranteed equally to persons of both sexes.”
The debate was launched by Perri Ravon, who represents the English Montreal School Board. She argued Bill 21 “disproportionately disadvantages Muslim women in exercising their freedom of religion.”
Julius Grey, representing the Canadian Commission of Rights and Freedoms, recognized that Bill 21 “did not limit the right to practise religion, to go to church.” However, he clarified, if this right exists, “it has been limited and it has been limited unequally between men and women, therefore precisely the case (provided for by article) 28.”
Véronique Roy, representing the Fédération des femmes du Québec, noted the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled section 28 exists to render unconstitutional any sexual discrimination protected by section 15.
Muslim women most affected by Quebec’s secularism law, Court of Appeal hears
School board lawyer tells court only Muslim women have lost jobs due to Bill 21
Quebec religious symbols ban violates equality right that can’t be overridden: lawyer

4 August
New research shows Bill 21 having ‘devastating’ impact on religious minorities in Quebec
(CBC) New research shows that three years after Quebec’s secularism law — commonly known as Bill 21 — was adopted, religious minorities in the province are feeling increasingly alienated and hopeless.
“Religious minority communities are encountering — at levels that are disturbing — a reflection of disdain, hate, mistrust and aggression,” Miriam Taylor, lead researcher and the director of publications and partnerships at the Association for Canadian Studies, told CBC in an interview.
“We even saw threats and physical violence,” Taylor said.
Bill 21, which passed in 2019, bars public school teachers, police officers, judges and government lawyers, among other civil servants in positions of authority, from wearing religious symbols — such as hijabs, crucifixes or turbans — while at work.
Taylor and her colleagues at the association worked with polling firm Leger to gather a unique portrait of attitudes toward Bill 21 in Quebec. …
Muslim women most affected
Although all three religious minority groups surveyed said they’ve experienced negative impacts due to Bill 21, the effects are being most acutely felt by Muslims and, in particular, Muslim women.
“We saw severe social stigmatization of Muslim women, marginalization of Muslim women and very disturbing declines in their sense of well-being, their ability to fulfil their aspirations, sense of safety, but also hope for the future,” Taylor said.

2021

10 December
Bill 21: Trudeau says he won’t give Legault an excuse to clash with Ottawa
The prime minister reiterated his personal disagreement with Bill 21 after a Quebec teacher was removed from her classroom for wearing a hijab.
Ever since Bill 21 was tabled, Trudeau has expressed his personal disagreement with the law but has preferred to let any legal challenges be filed by Quebecers before the province’s courts. He previously said it is premature for Ottawa to get involved in the issue so long as those challenges remain before the courts in Quebec.
Speaking to reporters in Montreal on Monday, Quebec premier François Legault said Ottawa had to “respect the democratic choices made by the Quebec nation.”
“It’s a reasonable law,” he said. “It’s more moderate (than what’s being done in France)…”
Gazette Editorial: Bill 21 undermines Quebec’s efforts to be inclusive
So long as this repugnant law remains on the books, it will undermine whatever laudable steps are taken to build a truly inclusive Quebec.
Trudeau hasn’t ‘closed the door’ to legal action after Quebec teacher loses job over hijab
But Inclusion and Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen told reporters on Thursday it was ‘premature’ to ask the federal government if it plans to oppose the two-year-old law.
Quebec teacher removed from classroom for wearing hijab under law banning religious symbols
Under Bill 21, some civil servants in positions of authority cannot wear religious symbols at work
After working several months as a substitute teacher with the Western Quebec School Board, Fatemeh Anvari says she was asked to apply for a more permanent position teaching a Grade 3 class at Chelsea Elementary School.
Anvari began that job earlier this fall, but after just one month she says the school principal told her she had to move to a position outside the classroom because she wears a hijab.
nobody in Canada should ever lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs.Hon. Marc Garneau on Twitter
A Quebec Superior Court judge had ruled that English school boards should be exempt from the law, saying the boards’ desire to foster diversity by choosing who they hire is protected by the minority-language education rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the Quebec government soon appealed that exemption, meaning it can’t be applied until the appeals court hears the case.
Meanwhile, there are several court challenges against the law, which could last years and eventually make their way to the Supreme Court.

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