Quebec judge rejects groups’ attempt to have secularism law suspended

People wait to enter the courtroom for a hearing challenging Bill 21, Quebec's religious symbols law, Tuesday, July 9, 2019 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

A judge Thursday rejected an attempt by religious and civil liberties groups to have Quebec’s secularism law suspended.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau says Bill 21 will continue to apply until a court rules on the merits of a court challenge against it. The law prohibits some public sector workers, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

READ MORE: Quebec court hears challenge against religious symbols bill

Lawyers representing a national Muslim organization, a civil liberties group and a university student who wears an Islamic head scarf had asked for a judicial stay on the central parts of Bill 21.

They argued the law is causing serious, immediate harm to religious minorities across the province, but Yergeau says the applicants failed to demonstrate the law is causing harm that would warrant a stay for the duration of the court challenge.

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Yergeau said he came to that conclusion after carefully reading through sworn statements.

“The majority of them were a matter of opinion, many were purely hypothetical and often speculative,” he wrote in French.

He also said the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate urgency — one of the requirements necessary to grant a temporary injunction.

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

As an example, he pointed to the case of plaintiff Ichrak Nourel Hak, who is studying to become a teacher. She expects to obtain her university diploma in 2020.

“She is therefore not in a situation where she could be denied a job now, due to the law coming into effect,” he said. “Under the circumstances, an injunction seems a little premature.”

He concluded the court’s job is to judge on the legality of a law and not on the wisdom of it. The plantiffs failed to demonstrate their concerns superseded the law when it comes to the benefit of the public.

Bill 21 was adopted in June and it invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution, which prevents citizens from challenging the law for violating fundamental rights and liberties protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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WATCH: Quebec teacher on why Bill 21 should be struck down

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Quebec teacher on why Bill 21 should be struck down

Lawyers challenging the bill did so on grounds rooted outside the charter. They argued the law is unconstitutional because it encroaches on federal jurisdiction, it is impermissibly vague and  violates citizens’ rights to participate in their democratic institutions.

“It’s a very disappointing decision,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Equality Program Director for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association CCLA. “This denial means that a discriminatory law that is going to push people out of their jobs continues to exist and continues to operate.”

Mendelsohn Aviv reiterated the CCLA’s commitment to keep on fighting.

“We are not deterred by this decision,” she said.

In a joint statement, the CCLA and the Canadian National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), said they are reviewing their legal options and are considering an appeal.

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We are reviewing the decision now, and are considering our options to appeal.”

Thursday’s decision means Bill 21 will remain in effect until a trial judge rules on the wider challenge to the legislation, which could take several years.

— With files from The Canadian Press


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