CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence

Court upholds most of Quebec’s secularism bill

  • April 22, 2021

OTTAWA -- An effort to have the courts overturn Quebec’s controversial Bill 21 has failed, even though a provincial court did rule that some aspects of the law that infringe on language rights must be scrapped by the government.

In a 242-page Quebec Superior Court ruling released early April 20, Justice Marc-André Blanchard ruled that the Quebec government does have the power to require its employees not wear any religious symbols while they are at work. The restriction means that public workers such as teachers and police officers must dress in a secular manner when they are working in an official capacity.

Immediately after the release of the ruling most of organizations and the legal teams behind the court challenge of Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law — including the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and a university student — said they wouild not comment until after reviewing the ruling.

Montreal’s English language school board was also one of the groups challenging the law, but its challenge to the law was more successful. The court ruled that Bill 21 does not apply to English schools because of existing minority language rights that are covered under Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The CCLA and the NCCM joined forces immediately after Bill 21 became law and were the first groups to launch a legal challenge.

The bill that has been severely criticized both in Quebec and across Canada by religious groups, human rights organizations and some politicians for infringing on the religious freedom of Canadian citizens. After the CCLA and NCCM launched their court challenge, other challenges were filed including by the largest English language school board. All those cases were merged into one multi-faceted case at Quebec Superior Court.

Many human rights and religious groups have been calling on the federal government to get involved in the legal challenges to Bill 21, but so far the federal government’s position has been to stay out of the Quebec court cases while holding out the possibility of getting involved if those cases eventually end up in Canada’s Supreme Court.

Both the CCLA and NCCM said previously that they know the court fight against Bill 21 could go on for years, and that they were prepared to fight the law for however long it takes.

“We know this has the potential to go all the way to the Supreme Court, and we could be looking at a long battle of five-to-seven years,” a statement on the CCLA website said, adding “and we will fight this to the very end.”

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