Quebec’s Chief Justice Nicole Duval Hesler is distancing herself from the Lord Reading Law Society, which has filed a lawsuit to intervene in a legal challenge against Bill 21.
Duval Hesler will not give her lecture next week on “How to avoid conflicts of interest in the Court of Appeal.” The Lord Reading Association dinner and conference was scheduled for Dec. 10 at the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue in Westmount.
The decision comes after Duval Hesler was accused of bias in relation to her role in settling a dispute on the province’s secularism law, known as Bill 21.
She presided over an appeal hearing on Nov. 26 over a challenge to the law. Bill 21 prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by certain employees of the state when they are in the line of duty, including police and teachers.
Duval Hesler is the subject of criticism and more than one complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council. The complaints come on the heels of comments she made while hearing the arguments of the parties, including having asked which caused more suffering: “The visual allergies of certain people or the fact that teachers lose the right to enter into the profession of their choice?”
Historian Frédéric Bastien, who filed the first complaint, also criticized Duval Hesler for presenting at the Lord Reading Law Society, which describes itself as the collective voice of Jewish lawyers in Quebec.
The association has not only spoken out against Bill 21, but it also filed an intervention — a procedure that allows arguments to be presented to the court — in another case where three female teachers sought to invalidate the law.
For Bastien, Duval Hesler failed in her duty and showed bias.
“The judge is helping to fund an organization that is actively opposing a law that is the subject of litigation in its court,” said Bastien, who is calling on Duval Hesler to recuse herself from the case.
On Tuesday evening, the Lord Reading Law Society said that “Judge Duval Hesler was unaware that the Lord Reading Association had filed an intervention in a parallel case.”
In a statement, president Gregory Azancot said it was for that reason that she and the law society “have mutually decided to postpone her presentation before the association.”
The Lord Reading Law Society had announced on its Twitter account the conference on Nov. 26, the same day the judge heard the case. The association filed its intervention two days later, on Nov. 28.
— With files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise