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Canadian Bar Association calls on Quebec to drop notwithstanding clause from Bill 21

The Canadian Bar Association has come out against Quebec's pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause to shield its controversial secularism bill from court challenge.
The Canadian Bar Association has come out against Quebec's pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause to shield its controversial secularism bill from court challenge. Getty Images

The Canadian Bar Association has come out against Quebec’s pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause to shield its controversial secularism bill from court challenge.

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The president of the association’s Quebec branch, Audrey Boctor, said Thursday that the Quebec government is depriving citizens of the ability to make an enlightened decision about legislation that limits the rights of religious minorities.

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Bill 21, introduced last Thursday, would prohibit public sector workers deemed to be in positions of authority, including school teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

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The inclusion of the notwithstanding clause blocks citizens’ from challenging the bill over violations of fundamental rights protected by the federal and provincial charters.

Premier François Legault has said his government invoked the clause to avoid legal challenges that would cause lengthy delays in the law’s implementation.

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Boctor says Legault’s comments suggest the court process is useless or illegitimate.

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She adds that while the use of the notwithstanding clause blocks obvious court challenges, it would be wrong to assume the bill won’t end up before the courts.

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Boctor says legal scholars have already raised a number of grounds on which it could be challenged.

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A spokesman for Bill 21 sponsor, Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, was not immediately available for comment.

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