The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) says it won’t use federal funding for a court challenge against Quebec’s secularism law known as Bill 21.
In a press release, the EMSB said it applied to the Court Challenges Program to challenge Bill 21 and a section of the Education Act, noting that its applications were approved.
However, the EMSB said it never received funds from the program.
“No federal funding has been used to fund litigation by the EMSB against the Quebec government,” the statement reads. “The EMSB has renounced any funding it could receive from the Court Challenges Program.”
The issue proved contentious at the National Assembly in Quebec City as well as in Ottawa.
Quebec Premier François Legault lashed out at the Trudeau government after learning the school board had reportedly received federal funds to contest the province’s secularism law in court.
Legault told reporters Thursday he was shocked to learn the EMSB received money from the independently administered Court Challenges Program.
The premier said it is unacceptable that federal dollars are going towards the court challenge against Bill 21 and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene.
The controversy stems from a Montreal Gazette report stating the school board received $250,000 from the program, which offers money to groups challenging human rights or language-related cases of national significance in court.
Trudeau said the Court Challenges Program is run by an independent body that makes its own decisions.
The EMSB said it will continue with its legal challenge and maintained it is well within its rights to seek help from third parties.
“The EMSB maintains that its power of management and control conferred on it by Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom covers the power to make agreements with third parties, including the government of Canada,” it said.
Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, responsible for the secularism legislation, applauded the EMSB’s decision.
“It’s the right decision, even if we don’t agree with the lawsuit,” he said.
Jolin-Barrette, however, did take the Quebec Liberal Party to task for refusing to support a motion Thursday morning against using federal funding to fight the legislation.
He also took aim at Trudeau, saying the federal government should be more transparent.
“Prime Minister Trudeau is responsible for that funding and he needs to take the responsibility of that.” he said.
“It is not acceptable that the federal government is funding an organization to contest a law that was validly adopted by the National Assembly and a law that was the will of the people.”
Quebec’s Bill 21 forbids some public-sector workers such as teachers from wearing religious symbols at work.
— With files from the Canadian Press