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EMSB to contest validity of Quebec’s religious symbols law in court

EMSB votes in favour of launching legal action against Quebec’s Bill 21
WATCH: The province's largest English school board is challenging Bill 21 in court. As Global's Tim Sargeant explains, the CAQ government is standing firm on its position and says the EMSB is losing credibility with all of its legal action.

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is challenging the validity of Quebec’s religious symbols law in front of the Court of Appeal of Quebec.

“Seeking an exemption through the courts concerning Bill 21 is particularly relevant to the EMSB and all of Quebec’s English school boards,” said EMSB Commissioner Julien Feldman, who chairs the Human Resources Committee.

READ MORE: Federal government can intervene in Bill 21 with untested legal options: experts

The EMSB has hired a legal firm, Power Law, to lead the legal recourse. The school board is challenging the law based on Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees minority language education rights to English-speaking minorities in Quebec.

“I think they are losing credibility in doing things like that,” said Quebec Premier François Legault.

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“This kind of law already exists for many, many years in some countries in Europe. I’m confident that [Immigration Minister] Simon Jolin-Barrette did a good job with the advisers and lawyers and we’re confident that Bill 21 will be respected.”

WATCH BELOW: Anglophone Quebecers have lost faith in CAQ government

Anglophone Quebecers have lost faith in CAQ government
Anglophone Quebecers have lost faith in CAQ government

Earlier this year, the school board’s council of commissioners expressed its strong opposition of Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law that bans civil servants in positions of authority, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

The Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) — Quebec’s largest school board — and the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) also refuted the bill.

In August, however, all three agreed to adhere to the law.

READ MORE: Why secularism is quickly becoming a ballot-box issue in Quebec

“We believe there are very strong arguments that Bill 21 infringes on the constitutional rights of our community to control and manage our school system,” said Russell Copeman, executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) in August.

As the school year started, there have been at least three reports of newly-hired teachers at the CSDM who removed their religious symbols in order to accept a teaching contract.

WATCH BELOW: CSDM says at least three of its teachers have agreed to adhere to Bill 21

CSDM says at least three of its teachers have agreed to adhere to Bill 21
CSDM says at least three of its teachers have agreed to adhere to Bill 21

“We’re telling people they have to remove religious symbols. It’s sad,” noted EMSB chairperson Angela Mancini.

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“It’s deplorable. It really is deplorable to think that people have to give up their beliefs to keep a job.”

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In addition, another new teacher received a written warning from the French school board to remove her hijab by Sept. 10 if she wanted to keep her contract.

The teacher chose to give up her job.

“Right now we have to work with this law,” CSDM president Catherine Harel-Bourdon responded.

READ MORE: At least 3 teachers remove religious symbols at work under Quebec’s secularism law

Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said he sees these moves as a sign of the bill’s success.

“I think it’s proof that the law is a good law, it’s a moderate law, it’s easy to apply and teachers and students understand the law,” Roberge said.

The EMSB said it will encourage other English school boards, as well as QESBA and other representatives of the English-speaking community, to participate in the legal action and its fundraising.

rachel.lau@globalnews.ca