June 17, 2019 12:32 pm
Updated: June 19, 2019 12:58 am

Quebec religious symbols bill to be challenged in court

WATCH: Less than 24-hours after the CAQ's bill 21 became law, a pair of prominent human rights groups have decided to take the Quebec Government to court. As Anne Leclair explains, while the CAQ invokes the notwithstanding clause to avoid a constitutional challenge, opponents to the law are looking at other legal options.


A national Muslim organization is joining civil liberties advocates to launch a court challenge of Quebec’s secularism law, less than 24 hours after the legislation was adopted.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) announced their challenge Monday.

READ MORE: UN experts ‘concerned,’ want answers about Quebec religious symbols bill

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Representatives state the Constitution of Canada is broader than the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and sets out rules that apply to public institutions.

“To be honest, the first word that comes to mind is devastating. This is not what one would expect in Canada, not one would expect in 2019,” said Noa Mendelshom Aviv, director of the CCLA.

“It’s just a very sad and difficult day in Canada and I personally am just horrified that this has happened.”

The court challenge also argues the act violates a number of constitutional rules — namely the notion that public institutions must be open to everyone.

It states the bill resembles criminal legislation and therefore acts beyond provincial jurisdiction, yet it violates the “basic requirements of the rule of law” since the wording “religious symbols” is vague and impossible to apply consistently.

Amrit Kaur, 28, just graduated with a teaching degree from Ottawa University.

Anne Leclair/Global News

“I don’t understand how this is inclusive and how this is for the betterment of Quebecers because I’m a Quebecer and it’s not for my betterment,” said Amrit Kaur, who just graduated with a teaching degree Sunday.

“I was celebrating in the morning, then I came home and it just broke my heart.”

“The fact that this was done with the notwithstanding clause and at 10 p.m. really shows that this law is unjust. Who is the state to tell me what I can put or not put on my body? That’s my choice, my human right.”

WATCH: ‘People are not judging me for my merits’: Quebec graduate student says racist stereotypes are hurting job opportunities

The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government used its majority to push Bill 21 through by a vote of 73 to 35 Sunday night after invoking closure to end debate on the bill.

Quebec’s new law prohibits public workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job.

READ MORE: Quebec immigration minister defines ‘religious symbol’ in proposed amendment to Bill 21

The law applies to teachers, police officers, judges, prosecutors and others.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims says one of the plaintiffs in the court challenge is a Muslim university student in Quebec who wears a hijab and is studying to work in a field affected by the new law.

WATCH: Quebec students studying to be teachers, police officers most affected by Bill 21

It pointed to last-minute additions to the law, including a special agency that would enforce the law, which the opposition calls the “secularism police.”

“Let me tell you, whenever anybody starts talking about surveying a workplace, I think that’s when you should start getting worried,” said Mustafa Farooq, the council’s executive director.

Rugia Malek, a first-year materials engineering student at McGill University, and a Muslim from Sudan told Global News while she plans on remaining in Canada after graduation, she won’t be staying in Quebec.

READ MORE: EMSB vows not to comply with Quebec’s proposed religious symbols ban

According to the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) the the law could have long-term ramifications.

WATCH: Bill 21 hearings hear from Montreal mayor, English school boards

“It’s just a mess that they didn’t need to impose upon us, and one we’re going to have to figure out over the next several years,” said Geoffrey Chambers, the organization’s president.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who tabled the bill, told reporters Monday he is not worried about the court challenge because the legislation invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution.

— with files from Global’s Billy Shields and Anne Leclair.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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