Milloy: Where is the outrage over Quebec’s discriminatory law?

Of note, including comment about spending the same amount of energy on current discrimination as on our first prime minister:

Want to see outrage these days? Mention any issue that even smacks of racism or prejudice and you will see Canadians respond with anger and passion.

Why has this energy not extended to Quebec’s Bill 21?

If there ever was a law that flies in the face of everything that social justice activists claim they stand for, it’s Quebec’s “Act Respecting the Laicity of the State.” This law, which prohibits entire categories of public servants, including teachers, judges or police officers, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs or turbans is an affront to anyone concerned about discrimination. Not only does it close the door to certain professions for many practicing Muslims and Sikhs, but it sends a clear signal that they are second-class citizens.

Don’t just take my word for it.

In his ruling on the law, Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-André Blanchard outlined how the law “dehumanized those targeted.” As he explained: “these people feel ostracized and partially excluded from the Quebec public service … Bill 21 also sends the message to minority students wearing religious symbols that they must occupy a different place in society and that obviously the way of public education, at the level of preschool, primary and secondary does not exist for them.”

Quebec’s use of the notwithstanding clause, however, meant that there was little the judge could do beyond ruling on a few of the provisions around the edges.

Why has Bill 21 not brought Canadians to the streets? Why has it not been given the same attention as debates over the removal of the statues, the renaming of schools or the defunding of police?

I am not suggesting that these issues be abandoned, but why has a current provincial law which effectively allows state-sponsored discrimination not become one of the primary targets in our fight for a society free of prejudice?

Source: Where is the outrage over Quebec’s discriminatory law?

Delacourt: There’s a line Justin Trudeau won’t cross when it comes to fighting Islamophobia

Unfortunate. Perspective of former CPC candidate Jeff Bennett revealing:

Justin Trudeau has made his clearest statement yet on what he will and will not do to stand up against Islamophobia in Canada.

The prime minister says he will call out anti-Muslim crime, using the strongest words possible — “terrorism” — to condemn the killing of a family in London, Ont.

Trudeau will not, however, call out Quebec for the secularism law that has made Muslims feel unwelcome in that province — Bill 21, which forces Muslims to relinquish any religious clothing if they want to work in public professions.

“No,” Trudeau said bluntly on Tuesday when asked whether Bill 21 bred intolerance of Muslims. He talked of how Quebec had a right to make its own laws, how people in Quebec might be having “conversations” and “reflecting” on the law in days ahead, and said his government would be “watching” and “following.”

In other words, not leading.

So, to recap: anti-Muslim sentiment is wrong. Anti-Muslim crime is terrorism. Legislation that denies religious expression to Muslims is something to be discussed, but not by this prime minister or other political leaders.

None of the fine-sounding speeches in the House of Commons on Monday came anywhere near mention of the legislation in Quebec.

“Right now, people are talking to their families and saying maybe they should not go for a walk,” New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said in an emotional speech. “There are people literally thinking about whether they should walk out their front door in our country.”

Singh was not talking about Bill 21.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole spoke from the heart about the nine-year-old child who survived the attack, and what kind of Canada he should be allowed to grow up in.

“He deserves a Canada where Muslim women of faith can wear a hijab without fear of being accosted or harassed in public,” O’Toole said.

He wasn’t talking about Bill 21 either, or his own Conservative party’s dog-whistle record on everything from “veiled voting” to “barbaric cultural practices” in the 2015 election.

What makes the silence so breathtaking is that all of Canada’s political leaders have just emerged from two weeks of hard talk about how governments in the past did too little about racism toward Indigenous people.

They are all collectively, retrospectively sorry that an entire culture suffered at the hands of successive politicians who were not courageous enough to stand up to the widespread racism at the time.

Would Canada’s blotted history be improved if we unearthed a speech of John A. Macdonald saying he was following events closely at residential schools and hoped Canadians were having conversations about them?

The contrast between Trudeau’s strong words in the Commons on Tuesday and his tiptoeing around Bill 21 was striking, and the latter may cancel out the former. The prime minister did allow that he has long opposed Bill 21, but he clearly doesn’t intend to use the weight of his office or his words to change the reality of it.

For real political bravery on Tuesday, one had to look in more out-of-the way places — to London, in fact, where a former candidate for the provincial Progressive Conservative party decided to tell the difficult-to-hear truth of racism in politics.

Jeff Bennett, who ran for the PCs in the 2014 election, recounted in a Facebook post how people in his riding were happy to see that he had replaced the former candidate, a man named Ali Chahbar. Loyal Conservatives in London told Bennett they were relieved that “his name was English and his skin was white.” Bennett remembered how Chahbar had been smeared on local talk radio with talk of sharia law and other nonsense.

Bennett wrote that he was tired of people saying London was better than what happened on Sunday. “Bullshit. I knocked on thousands of doors in the very neighbourhood this atrocity occurred. This terrorist may have been alone in that truck on that day, but he was not acting alone. He was raised in a racist city that pretends it isn’t.”

Bennett came in second in London West in 2014 and has likely abandoned any aspirations to be elected again, given his willingness to tell voters what they don’t want to hear about themselves.

This of course explains the silence on Bill 21 on Tuesday, even as the political leaders are making bold proclamations about intolerance towards Muslims. An election looms, Quebec is a crucial battleground and Bill 21 is popular.

Canadian history has been on trial, rightly, for the past two weeks, and Bill 21 is indeed making its own way through the courts. One wonders how history will judge the failure of political leaders to speak up against that legislation when they could have seized the moment.

Source: There’s a line Justin Trudeau won’t cross when it comes to fighting Islamophobia

Delacourt: Justin Trudeau isn’t fighting his father’s battles in Quebec. But maybe we should

Of note:

Justin Trudeau issued no statements on Thursday to mark the 41st anniversary of Quebec’s first referendum on sovereignty.

So the prime minister’s comments from earlier this week — on Quebec’s bid to unilaterally declare itself a nation in the Constitution — will have to stand as his remarks on how far Canada has travelled from that fateful moment on May 20, 1980.

“Our initial analysis …. (is) that it is perfectly legitimate for a province to modify the section of the Constitution that applies specifically to them and that that is something that they can do,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday.

There is no way to view those remarks in isolation from the signature battle of his father’s career, much as the current prime minister tends to resist the historical comparisons.

Forty-one years ago this week, Pierre Trudeau was soberly, cautiously celebrating the victory of federalism against the forces that wanted to make Quebec a separate nation, with words such as these:

“To those who may wish to recreate in this land those old nationalistic barriers between peoples — barriers of which the world has been trying to rid itself — I say, we Canadians do not have to repeat the mistakes of the past,” Pierre Trudeau said in a statement after 59.5 per cent of Quebec voted “no” to a bid to embark on separation from Canada.

“All of us have the opportunity to show the whole world that we are not the last colonials on earth, but rather among the first people to free themselves from the old world of nation-states.”

That old world has re-emerged in 2021 with a twist in the form of Quebec’s new language law, which has been presented — and disturbingly accepted by Trudeau and other political leaders — as a none-of-your-business bit of provincial housekeeping. Just keeping the French language alive, drive on, nothing to see here.

Source: Justin Trudeau isn’t fighting his father’s battles in Quebec. But maybe we should

Khan: In Quebec, an act of injustice receives no accountability

More good commentary:

Apr. 20 was a day marked by sharp contrasts in judicial verdicts relating to harm.

In Quebec Superior Court, Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard issued a ruling regarding Bill 21, Quebec’s “secularism” law, which bans the wearing of religious symbols for government employees deemed to be in a position of authority, such as judges, government lawyers, teachers and police officers. New hires must remove religious symbols, while those already employed with the government can keep their symbols and jobs; they cannot, however, get promoted or transferred.

And so systemic discrimination have been enshrined in law, in a province whose premier repeatedly denies the existence of systemic racism.

In contrast, we witnessed accountability for cruel behaviour in a Minnesota courtroom. There, a 12-member jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts in the death of George Floyd. The sheer inhumanity of Mr. Chauvin’s actions – namely, kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd while he was prone, handcuffed and pleading for his life – was broadcast for all to see. Mr. Chauvin was held accountable for his actions, and now awaits sentencing for the three charges of which he has been found guilty. Elation was tempered with the knowledge that the fight against police brutality and systemic racism is far from over. U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledged as much, calling systemic racism “a stain on our nation’s soul.”

A life, to be sure, has not been snuffed out by Bill 21. But livelihoods are being waylaid all the same by systemic discrimination.

While Justice Blanchard affirmed the bulk of Quebec’s law, he struck down portions that applied to English school boards and the wearing of face coverings in the National Assembly. He also had harsh words for the bill: “There is no doubt that in this case the denial by Bill 21 of the rights guaranteed by the Charter has severe consequences for the persons concerned. Not only do these people feel ostracized and partially excluded from the Quebec public service, but in addition, some see their dreams become impossible while others find themselves stuck in their positions with no possibility of advancement or mobility. In addition, Bill 21 also sends the message to minority students wearing religious symbols that they must occupy a different place in society and that obviously the way of public education – at the level of preschool, primary and secondary – does not exist for them. On the other hand, the beneficial effects appear at least tenuous.”

Quebecers aspiring to one of these jobs now face a dilemma, Justice Blanchard added: “Either they act according to their soul and conscience – in this case their beliefs – or they work in the profession of their choice. It is easy to understand that this is a cruel consequence which dehumanizes those targeted.”

Nonetheless, such cruel dehumanization is legal because of the province’s deployment of the Charter’s notwithstanding clause.

Meanwhile, Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, the law’s architect, will appeal the ruling, stating, “There are not two Quebecs – there is only one.” This is rich coming from a man who has himself created two Quebecs: One where opportunity is available for all, and another where opportunities are limited because of a person’s religious belief and expression.

Let’s not forget that the majority of Quebeckers approve of Bill 21 – cruelty, dehumanization and systemic discrimination be damned. Is it any wonder that Quebec has been facing a shortage of teachers? Lost is the irony that today everyone must cover their face in government institutions, including in the National Assembly.

Federal leaders, conscious of the significant number of seats in Quebec, have reacted along differing lines. Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have each unequivocally opposed the law, while the Conservatives have thrown Quebec’s religious minorities under the bus, stating they will not challenge the law but assuring Canadians that they would never introduce a federal version of Bill 21. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been non-committal about intervening.

We must now take inspiration from the U.S., where activists have pushed for justice for Black lives and are now opposing new laws in Georgia that will affect voters of colour. We must publicize the systemic discrimination, dehumanization and cruelty of Bill 21 far and wide, and confer with activists about the best way forward to address discrimination enshrined in law.

Let Quebec explain Bill 21 to the world. After all, those who aspire to a more just society should remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It does not bend on its own.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-quebec-an-act-of-injustice-receives-no-accountability/

Quick Quotes: Reaction to Quebec court ruling on Bill 21, religious symbols law

Useful compilation:

Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard on Tuesday upheld the bulk of the province’s secularism law, known as Bill 21, which bans many public sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job. Blanchard, however, struck down clauses pertaining to English-language school boards and a ban on members of the provincial legislature wearing face coverings. Quebec has announced it will appeal the ruling.

Here’s a quick look at some of the reaction to the decision:

“Our position has always been that Bill 21 conflicted with our values and our mission and with those of all Quebecers as expressed in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Its very adoption was contrary to our societal goal of promoting our peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic and inclusive Quebec.” — Joe Ortona, chairman, English Montreal School Board.

“Of course I’m happy, but this is one small victory because we live in a very big province. My colleagues who work in the French system, they don’t get to celebrate today, and all the other people who aren’t part of English schools, they don’t get to celebrate today.” — Furheen Ahmed, teacher, Westmount High School, in Montreal.

“The laws of the National Assembly apply throughout Quebec. There is no question of dividing Quebec in the application of Quebec legislation. Quebec is united and it will remain so.” — Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec justice minister.

“A complex decision was handed down by the Quebec Superior Court that recognizes the inordinate harms done to individuals who wear religious symbols and strikes down certain parts of the law as unconstitutional. The decision also keeps most of the law intact and many of the recognized harms in place.” — Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director, equality program, Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“Well, I’m disappointed with the judgment. I find it illogical. Currently, it is as if secularism and values apply differently to anglophones and francophones. So, in Quebec, we protect the rights of anglophones to receive services in English, but now, that would protect different values for anglophones and francophones. I think that in Quebec, all Quebecers, and for all Quebecers, there must be common values.” — Francois Legault, Quebec premier.

“A religious symbol is not a diversity, it is a religious choice, it is a religious message. In that judgment, and in general, there is a tendency in Canada to treat religious signs as an intrinsic part of the body or the person itself.” — Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, Parti Quebecois leader.

“Quebecers who wear religious symbols such as the hijab, the kippa or the turban have been second-class citizens for 674 days. The decision today by the Superior Court of Quebec puts an end to this situation for some Quebecers, but not for all.” — Yusuf Faqiri, Quebec director, public affairs, National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“I’m 100 per cent sure it’ll be appealed to the Supreme Court where I think it will go down and I don’t support the idea of discrimination against people on the basis of race, creed or colour and I believe that the charter is clear on that enough that I disagree with the Quebec court on the decision.” — Brian Pallister, Manitoba premier.

“The result of the Legault government’s Law 21 is: Do you want your fundamental rights respected? Go work in English! Ouch, that hurts. Bill 21 is a law that is discriminatory that simply shouldn’t be there.” — Manon Masse, co-spokesperson, Quebec solidaire, via Twitter.

Source: Quick Quotes: Reaction to Quebec court ruling on Bill 21, religious symbols law

Quebec court upholds law banning religious dress, with exceptions for English schools, MNAs

Don’t think anyone saw this split coming unless I missed it:

A Quebec Superior Court judge has upheld most of the province’s law banning religious dress in some public-service functions but carved out an exception for the anglophone education system, to the dismay of Premier François Legault and other Quebec nationalists.

Justice Marc-André Blanchard ruled Tuesday that Quebec’s “Act respecting the laicity of the State,” better known as Bill 21, infringes fundamental rights to religious expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and its Quebec equivalent. He found Bill 21 has “cruel and dehumanizing” effects on the targeted people.

But, he found, the Quebec government’s use of a blanket constitutional override power under Section 33 of the Constitution, known as the notwithstanding clause, prevents him from striking down most of the law.

The judge found an exception for anglophone school boards, which are protected under the Constitution’s minority language rights from having the override applied to them. The judge ruled language rights include cultural issues such as allowing religious expression among school staff.

The ruling cements Quebec’s debate over religious rights into a schism posing proponents of the Canadian model of multiculturalism, including many anglophones, against some Quebec nationalists, mostly francophone, who want to impose a more unitary vision of Quebec culture.

Justice Blanchard also overturned religious dress restrictions on members of the National Assembly who have a Constitutional right to run for election and sit in the legislature without such constraints.

The practical result of Tuesday’s ruling is Quebec’s English-language schools can hire teachers who wear Muslim veils or Jewish kippas, while the rest of Quebec’s school system cannot. Religious symbols will continue to be banned for police officers, judges, government lawyers and others the government has defined as people in positions of authority.

“I am elated and I’m proud of the English Montreal School Board,” said Furheen Ahmed, a high-school teacher who wears a headscarf, and works for the board that was a plaintiff in the case. “But it’s one small victory in a really big province.

“My French counterparts don’t get to celebrate today. And all the other people outside English schools don’t get to celebrate.”

Mr. Legault’s government has already said it will appeal the decision while most plaintiffs and advocacy groups who brought the challenge have strongly hinted they will do likewise. Many legal experts believe a showdown in the Supreme Court of Canada is inevitable.

Justice Blanchard found Mr. Legault’s legislation, passed nearly two years ago with the stated aim of promoting secular values in government institutions, has had serious negative consequences for Quebeckers who wear religious symbols, particularly Muslim women. “Law 21 steps more than minimally on the freedom to show or to practise religious beliefs,” the judge wrote. “This use of the prerogative seems to be imprudent and casual, and its sweep is far too large.”

But, the judge added, while the use of the constitutional exemption to shield the law from challenge appears to be excessive, it does not “violate the architecture of the Canadian Constitution nor primacy of the rule of law.”

The English Montreal School Board was about the only participant in the case declaring victory. While most of the law was upheld, Mr. Legault said he was disappointed and did not understand the judgment.

“I find it illogical. It’s like laïcité and those values are applied differently for anglophones and francophones,” Mr. Legault said. “Quebec and all Quebeckers should live with common values.”

Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, the architect of the law, accused the judge of dividing Quebeckers. “Quebec is a nation. Some are trying to divide us but we are united,” Mr. Jolin-Barrette said.

Quebec’s law imposes state religious neutrality and includes a dress code prohibiting civil servants holding “positions of authority” from wearing visible religious articles. The jobs under the dress code include teachers, police officers and government lawyers, among others.

People in those jobs who wear the symbols and already hold those posts are allowed to keep working. They cannot be promoted or transferred and new hires must remove the religious symbol to work.

Carissima Mathen, a constitutional law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the ruling sets up an examination of just how far use of the notwithstanding clause can go at the Quebec Court of Appeal and likely the Supreme Court of Canada.

“It’s the first time in maybe 20 years or more that we will have this kind of detailed consideration of Section 33,” Dr. Mathen said. “Lower courts may feel constrained by existing case law. It’s a question more for the appellate court and the Supreme Court of Canada to weigh in and decide if they want to chart a new path or new approach to Section 33.”

Dr. Mathen said while scholars debate how widely the clause should be used, the issue hasn’t gone before the courts because Quebec’s broad use of it is “such a rare choice.”

Advocates for Jewish, Muslim and Sikh organizations who backed the court challenge all expressed disappointment and vowed to keep fighting.

“It came out very clearly there are fundamental problems with Bill 21,” said Yusuf Faqiri, director of Quebec issues with the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“It’s not constitutional, it’s discriminatory. It has been 674 days that Quebeckers who wear religious symbols are second-class citizens. We will review it in the next couple of days and decide on next steps but one thing is clear. This battle is far from over.”

Source: Quebec court upholds law banning religious dress, with exceptions for English schools, MNAs

Robert Dutrisac in Le Devoir:

Dans sa décision rendue mardi concernant la Loi sur la laïcité de l’État, le juge Marc-André Blanchard, de la Cour supérieure, n’a pas chamboulé l’ordre constitutionnel canadien puisqu’il n’a pu invalider la protection que confère à la loi 21 le recours à la disposition dérogatoire de la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés. Mais il crée deux régimes de droits religieux dans les écoles suivant une démarcation linguistique, sorte de partition juridique du Québec.

À la lecture du jugement, il est évident que c’est à son corps défendant que le juge a écarté les arguments présentés par les demandeurs, notamment l’aspirante enseignante Ichrak Nourel Hak et le National Council of Canadian Muslims, qui visaient à contourner l’article 33 de la Charte canadienne accordant à toute province le droit de dérogation. En fait, le juge Blanchard a invalidé les deux seuls éléments de la loi 21 sur lesquels la dérogation n’avait aucune prise. Il s’agit de l’article 23 de la Charte qui garantit les droits scolaires des minorités linguistiques, droits scolaires qui s’étendent désormais à l’expression de la foi religieuse, selon l’interprétation nouvelle du juge. L’autre élément invalidé, c’est l’obligation faite aux élus de l’Assemblée nationale d’exercer leur fonction à visage découvert. Selon le jugement, cette obligation prive des personnes qui se couvrent le visage du droit de se présenter à une élection québécoise, ce qui contrevient à l’article 3 de la Charte. On peut voir dans cette invalidation une intrusion inédite du pouvoir judiciaire dans la régie interne de l’Assemblée nationale. Dans les deux cas, le gouvernement caquiste va demander d’en appeler.

Quant au recours à la dérogation, le juge Blanchard s’en est tenu au jugement Ford c. Québec qui établit que le législateur n’a pas besoin de justifier l’usage qu’il en fait, et ce, afin « de traduire l’importance que continue de revêtir la souveraineté des législatures », a écrit la Cour suprême il y a plus de 30 ans, préservant ce restant de souveraineté parlementaire britannique que détiennent toujours les provinces. Le juge Blanchard admoneste le gouvernement caquiste qui « ratisse beaucoup trop large » en suspendant des droits qui n’avaient pas de lien avec la loi 21 alors qu’il aurait dû agir de « façon parcimonieuse et circonspecte ». C’est un point de vue, mais si cette suppression est sans objet, elle n’aura pas d’effet. Quoi qu’il en soit, le juge prend sur lui d’envoyer un message aux tribunaux supérieurs : en cas de contestation, le législateur devrait justifier l’existence d’une « certaine connectivité » avec la législation visée. C’est à « l’urne », c’est-à-dire aux citoyens lors d’élections, de décider du sort d’un gouvernement qui exerce ce pouvoir de dérogation, fait-il par ailleurs valoir. Les tribunaux « se doivent d’éclairer cette connaissance [de l’électorat] des fruits de cette expertise », ajoute-t-il. Le juge Blanchard apporte certainement de l’eau au moulin à ceux qui exècrent la Loi sur la laïcité et qui, contre la CAQ, voteront pour le Parti libéral du Québec ou Québec solidaire.

Sur la question de l’accroc aux droits fondamentaux, le juge Blanchard, sans surprise, repousse les arguments qui pourraient justifier cette atteinte « dans une société libre et démocratique », selon la formulation de la Charte. Il rejette du revers de la main les prétentions féministes du groupe PDF Québec voulant que le port du voile soit un symbole de l’asservissement des femmes par une religion patriarcale. Il rejette la position, plus sérieuse selon lui, du Mouvement laïque québécois qui veut que la loi 21 protège la liberté de conscience des enfants et des parents. Reprenant les termes d’un jugement de la Cour suprême, il estime que refuser d’exposer des enfants à différents faits religieux « revient à rejeter la réalité multiculturelle de la société canadienne ». Et le prosélytisme « passif » n’existe pas ; l’enseignante qui porte le voile n’en fait donc pas, à moins de s’y prêter activement. Le fait qu’une enseignante portant le hidjab pourrait l’enlever à l’école afin de respecter la loi est pour lui une aberration en raison de la « symbiose » entre le port de signes religieux et la foi ; l’un ne peut pas exister sans l’autre.

En étendant les droits linguistiques des minorités que protège l’article 23 de la Charte aux droits religieux, le juge Blanchard innove. Qui plus est, la Cour crée une situation inédite de partition juridique de l’État québécois dont on peut craindre qu’elle nuise à la cohésion sociale, à ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler le vivre-ensemble, et qui ne correspond certes pas à la volonté des parlementaires. Quelle que soit l’opinion qu’on peut avoir sur la loi 21, on doit donner raison au gouvernement caquiste de porter cette cause en appel.

Source: Deux régimes de droits au Québec Éditorial La cour entérine une forme de partition juridique.

As trial over Quebec religious symbols ban wraps up, minority rights hang in the balance

Useful summary of the issues and positions in play:

Last week, Justice Marc-André Blanchard brought a cordial end to the hearings in a case about the constitutionality of Quebec’s ban on religious symbols, which bars teachers and some other civil servants from wearing such symbols at work.

“I’m very happy with how the trial went,” Blanchard told the lawyers in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday. He said he was taking some time off to clear his head and would have a decision likely some time after February.

The 29-day trial, which combined several legal challenges of Quebec’s Laicity Act brought by groups that included civil rights advocates, the English Montreal School Board and a teachers’ union, was, nevertheless, acrimonious at times.

Source: As trial over Quebec religious symbols ban wraps up, minority rights hang in the balance

Conservatives should show leadership on Bill 21 and defend religious freedom

Of note. Perhaps not surprising, after laying out the options, Kinsinger essentially adopts the Liberal government’s position of reserving the right to intervene in an exiting legal process:

Among the more discouraging aspects of the 2019 federal election was the failure of all major parties to take any meaningful stand against Quebec’s Bill 21. The legislation, which was passed by the National Assembly of Quebec last year, prohibits many public servants from wearing religious attire while they’re on duty. According to the Quebec government, one of the key purposes of the law is to promote the religious neutrality of the state. Civil libertarians and religious equality advocates, however, have widely denounced Bill 21 as an unjustified state intrusion into matters that fall outside of the its proper constitutional role.

To date, four separate legal challenges have been brought against Bill 21. The Quebec Superior Court will hear these cases together in the near future. In anticipation of this litigation, the Quebec government invoked section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, often referred to as the notwithstanding clause. This provision constitutionally insulates laws that would otherwise violate certain rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter, subject to a renewal by the enacting legislature every five years.

Even with the invocation of the notwithstanding clause, Bill 21 flies directly in the face of constitutional protections that limit the state’s ability to dictate matters of conscience or religious belief. All political parties ought to be opposed to this legislation and should develop policies based on the very real grounds they would have to challenge Bill 21 if they form government. However, it is especially disappointing that Erin O’Toole, the recently elected leader of the Conservative Party, has not taken advantage of this opportunity to differentiate himself from other federal party leaders by openly opposing Bill 21.

The Tories have numerous reasons to be particularly offended by Bill 21: conservatives have long affirmed the positive and important role that religion plays in the lives of individuals and in the public square, and they often bill themselves as the strongest defenders of religious freedom, even when it seemingly clashes with other shared values.

In this sense, it is unsurprising that O’Toole has vowed to protect the rights of religious minorities both in Canada and abroad if he becomes prime minister. Yet following a meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault on Sept. 14, O’Toole told reporters he backed provincial autonomy and would not interfere on the issue of Bill 21. While O’Toole has sought to frame this as an issue of national unity, he no doubt also fears alienating Bill 21’s numerous supporters in Quebec, a province in which, many observers insist, the Conservatives must make significant inroads if they hope to regain power. Indeed, O’Toole’s decisive leadership victory over frontrunner Peter MacKay is being attributed in large part to the high support he received from Conservative members in La Belle Province.

It would nonetheless be a mistake for O’Toole to assume that the endorsement he received from Quebec Tories will translate into support from Quebec voters more generally. If past electoral performance is any indicator, the Conservatives will still face an uphill battle in Quebec when the next election is called. On this point, O’Toole would do well to remember that the road to Conservative success also goes through racially and religiously diverse ridings, especially those found in the Greater Toronto Area: it is here that a conservative defence of religious freedom can make a strong appeal to both religious and immigrant voters.

Consider the 2019 election, in which former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s personal religious views became a hotly debated election issue. Scheer never found a satisfying answer to an endless barrage of questions about whether he supported same-sex marriage. Had he defended himself on the grounds of religious freedom and conscience rights, and then made clear he wanted to protect these rights for all religious minorities, he might have been able to find a powerful message that resonated with voters in the ridings the Conservatives needed — and ultimately failed — to pick up.

To be sure, the Conservatives should denounce Bill 21 first and foremost as a matter of principle. But this doesn’t mean that O’Toole needs to ignore the compelling political reasons that favour taking a stand against this odious law. By promoting the rights of religious minorities, the Tories can show that religious freedom is truly about protecting the practices of all believers, and not just coded language used by social conservatives and Christians to defend their own beliefs. To this end, Garnett Genuis, a rising voice in the Conservative caucus and an early supporter of O’Toole’s leadership bid, has already shown how opposition to Bill 21 can be expanded into a broader platform for combating systemic discrimination in all its forms.

There are a range of policies that the federal government could adopt toward Bill 21, regardless of who occupies the Prime Minister’s Office. Admittedly, some of these are more advisable than others. The most radical would be to invoke the rarely used disallowance power, under which the federal government is permitted to constitutionally invalidate provincial legislation. Of all the available options, this is by far the least desirable. Although it was once employed regularly, the federal power to disallow provincial legislation has not been invoked for the better part of a century, and its use now would likely ignite a constitutional crisis concerning its legitimacy.

The next option would be for the federal cabinet to refer Bill 21 directly to the Supreme Court of Canada for an opinion on its constitutionality. The current challenges that have been brought against Bill 21 could take years to make their way through the normal appeals process. By referring the matter directly to the court of final appeal, the federal government could save these parties the considerable time and cost of litigating the constitutionality of Bill 21. Although advisory opinions don’t constitute precedents as weighty as do rulings on cases that were contested by litigants, in practice they’re usually treated as binding.

One of the key questions that will likely be addressed in the Bill 21 litigation concerns the Quebec government’s invocation of the section 33 override, even though the courts may ultimately decide to strike down the legislation on other grounds. Although invoking the notwithstanding clause was once considered taboo, provincial governments have increasingly relied on it in recent years to safeguard controversial legislation against unwanted Charter challenges. While a reference to the Supreme Court on Bill 21 would likely provide much-needed clarity on the constitutional limits of section 33, it could also result in undesirable tension with the Quebec government.

Thankfully, a less contentious alternative remains open to the federal government: the attorney general of Canada may, as of right, intervene as an added party in any litigation involving a constitutional question. Of the various responses to Bill 21 potentially available to O’Toole if he becomes prime minister, this would be the most prudent. Unlike a direct constitutional reference, an intervention by the attorney general would not force the Quebec government’s hand by initiating fresh litigation. Such an intervention could be further tailored to demonstrate the significant ways in which this law misapplies important constitutional principles, but without adopting a hard position on section 33 that risks open confrontation with the provinces.

The insistence that there are no politically viable options available to O’Toole and the Conservatives on Bill 21 rings hollow. To the contrary, Bill 21 has presented the Tories with a rare opportunity to offer leadership on a defining civil liberties issue while making the case to religious minorities that they have a home and champion in the party. The only question is whether Erin O’Toole is prepared to truly lead.

Source: Conservatives should show leadership on Bill 21 and defend religious freedom

O’Toole’s ‘Lack Of Courage’ Against Bill 21 Frustrates Muslim And Sikh Groups

Of note (and not surprising, “pandering” to Quebec more nationalist voters comes at a cost):

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole ’s tacit support for Quebec’s discriminatory Bill 21 caught the National Council of Canadian Muslims by surprise this week, leading it and the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) to denounce the move, saying they are deeply disappointed by the Tory leader’s “lack of courage.”

“It is an absolutely horrific situation that we never thought would happen in Canada, and the fact that none of our federal leaders are really showing the courage to stand up for freedom of religion and to stand up for minority communities, it is very disappointing,” WSO spokesman Balpreet Singh told HuffPost Canada Tuesday.

O’Toole’s comments on Bill 21 came after a meeting with Quebec Premier François Legault in Montreal on Monday. The newly elected leader of the Conservative party said he sought the meeting to “fully understand” the policy debates in the province, including those regarding questions about Quebec identity.

“That is a priority for me, personally,” he told reporters, in French, after the meeting. “We talked about Bill 101 [the French-language law] and Bill 21 [a bill that forbids new employees in certain public-sector jobs, such as teachers, police officers and judges, from wearing religious symbols].

“And I will respect provincial jurisdictions of all provinces, including on laws to protect secularism and the French language. That will be a priority for me, as leader of the opposition,” O’Toole said.

The Tory leader took a much more nuanced stance on whether his party would support a single income tax form for Quebec residents, saying that while he and Legault spoke about it, he would not commit to the proposal.

“I said I will speak to my caucus on that,” he said, declining to state his personal position on the tax form. “I am — I am going to take an approach — because we must protect jobs.  I’m going to talk to my colleagues, I’m going to talk to the unions, with the people in Shawinigan [where an important federal tax centre is located], and I will take a decision after the discussions,” he said.

O’Toole confirmed to journalists he would not intervene in court cases challenging the law.

“No, we have a national unity crisis at the moment, particularly in Western Canada … and we need a government in Ottawa that respects provincial autonomy, and respects provincial legislatures and the national assembly, I will have an approach like that,” O’Toole said. “Personally, I served in the military with Sikhs and other people, so I understand why it is a difficult question, but as a leader you have to respect our Constitution and the partnerships we need to have in Canada. Focus on what we can do together.”

In his Conservative leadership platform, O’Toole pledged to defend religious rights. He said he would bring back the Office of Religious Freedom, a bureau established by Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper within the foreign affairs department. It sought to protect and promote religious rights abroad but was shut down by the Trudeau government. O’Toole called it an “important contribution to global freedom.”

Singh said he believes it shows the Conservative leader’s hypocrisy of standing up for religious rights abroad while ignoring their being trampled at home.

“This is all about votes,” Singh said about the bill, which is now law and enjoys widespread support in the province. “The [federal politicians] are all saying that on an individual personal level they oppose this. Erin O’Toole said he would never do this federally. That is really a cold comfort. I mean if individually we are opposed to it, then collectively should we not do something to make sure that the discrimination ends?”

Singh added that he thought it “even more disturbing” that O’Toole seemed to misunderstand what secularism means.

“If someone thinks that Bill 21 is about secularism, I think they have actually misunderstood what secularism actually means …. Canada doesn’t favour any religious group or any individual based on their faith. This is about excluding people because of their faith. That is not what secularism is all about.”

Both the World Sikh Organization of Canada and the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) reached out to O’Toole’s office after his comments to the media. Monday evening, his office sent the groups a statement saying that “Mr. O’Toole has been consistent and clear that he personally disagrees with Bill 21” and that as prime minister, O’Toole would “never introduce a bill like this at the federal level.”

Still, Mustafa Farooq, the CEO of the NCCM, said he was caught by “surprise” by O’Toole’s comments, believing that the new Tory leader was trying to extend an olive branch and a welcome mat to religious communities that haven’t always voted Conservative.

If you’re also not fighting Bill 21, there is a fundamental issue.Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims

Farooq noted that, in his acceptance speech after winning the Tory leadership, O’Toole told Canadians: “I want you to know from the start that I am here to fight for you and your family.”

He then went on to say:

“I believe that whether you are Black, white, brown, or from any race or creed; whether you are LGBT or straight; whether you are an indigenous Canadian or have joined the Canadian family three weeks ago or three generations ago; whether you are doing well, or barely getting by; whether you worship on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays or not at all, you are an important part of Canada, and you have a home in the Conservative party of Canada.”

O’Toole said the Conservative party would always stand for “doing what is right, even when it is not what is easy. That is what Canadians stand for.”

Farooq said O’Toole and the other federal leaders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, need to stand up for those who are being marginalized.

“You cannot fight for religious freedom or say the words religious freedom and also not come out very strongly in opposition to Bill 21, and that goes for every party leader,” he said.

“He needs to do something to fight it. I want to be unequivocal about that. He and all political leaders in Canada need to clearly state not only that they condemn it and they don’t like it but what they are going to do to fight it.

The federal Liberals have criticized the bill

“It’s not OK when you have one of our provinces in Canada where you have a Jewish man who isn’t allowed to wear a kippah and become a prosecutor, or a Muslim woman wearing a hijab is not allowed to become a police officer,” he added. “Even as we are having these discussions about systemic racism in policing, it’s not possible to have those kinds of conversations, to say that Canadians deserve better and we need change, and not to take an active role in clearly denouncing and consistently condemning Bill 21 for as long as it remains on the books,” Farooq added.

“For anyone that talks about systemic racism or talks about police reform, or anyone that’s talking about protecting constitutional rights… and if you’re also not fighting Bill 21, there is a fundamental issue.”

Farooq and Singh noted that the federal Liberals are “marginally better” on the issue, since the prime minister has opened the door to intervening in the Charter challenges at a later stage, while the Conservative and the NDP leaders are firmly opposed to fighting the bill.

“We feel this is an existential threat to human rights in Canada. The fact that the Canadian government is not intervening in this is disappointing to us … the Liberals have not ruled it out but the Conservatives and the NDP have been clear that they will not interfere,” the WSO spokesman said.

The Charter challenge is scheduled to be heard on Nov. 2 in Quebec Superior Court. The hearing is expected to last four weeks. Most observers expect the case will make its way through to the province’s Court of Appeal and, eventually, the Supreme Court of Canada.

Source: O’Toole’s ‘Lack Of Courage’ Against Bill 21 Frustrates Muslim And Sikh Groups

Mulcair: Jagmeet Singh calls MP ‘racist’, but has he forgotten about Bill 21?

Valid question:

In 2016, when I first prepared a House of Commons motion condemning islamophobia, we couldn’t get it past a handful of Conservatives who’d denied unanimous consent. We worked hard for all-party agreement, drew a big chalk circle around the stain of Conservative opposition and were able to present the motion again. This time it was accepted and passed unanimously.

Those events in Parliament immediately came to mind when Jagmeet Singh chose to call Bloc House Leader Alain Thérrien a racist. Thérrien had communicated the Bloc’s refusal of unanimous consent for the introduction of Singh’s motion, which called for the recognition of systemic racism within the RCMP. Singh confirmed that he had indeed called Thérrien a racist, but refused to withdraw the word when asked to do so by the Speaker. The Speaker, Anthony Rota, proceeded to expel Singh for refusing to respect his decision.

In subsequent interviews, Singh affirmed that Thérrien had to be a racist because of the subject matter. He also said that he would not apologize for the personal insult, explaining that doing so would be like apologizing for being against systemic racism. As of Jun. 30, Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet was threatening a robust reaction when the House returns July 8, if Rota maintains the decision of expelling Singh for just one day. Blanchet went so far as to call Singh’s reaction “orchestrated.”

Rota has had to defend his credentials in his home riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming, after a local group called on the MP to demonstrate “stronger anti-racism leadership”. There is now little hope that the grave and urgent issue of systemic racism in the RCMP will ever be the object of the unanimous denunciation of the House of Commons.

In the case of that vote against Islamophobia, it had also been no small feat to get the Bloc Québécois onside. Beginning with my 2007 by-election for the NDP in Outremont, the Bloc rode anti-Muslim sentiment hard. I recall a thoughtful, soul-searching meeting with Alexa McDonough, Ed Broadbent, Jack Layton and our key organizers in the basement of our campaign headquarters where we struggled to find the right words to push back. In that particular by-election, the Bloc was decrying Muslim women’s right to vote with a face covering. We came out four square against the Bloc’s toxic position but personal name-calling wasn’t part of the game plan. We won handily and the Bloc lost two-thirds of it’s vote, finishing third.

In the 2015 general election, of course, the issue came to a head. My support for a woman’s right to wear a niqab at a citizenship ceremony cost us dearly. I remember my campaign director, who’d flown in from Ottawa, imploring me to change my position because it was causing a precipitous drop in Quebec that was playing into our national numbers. Many voters, she said, were just waiting to see whether the NDP or the Liberals, could defeat Harper to make their final choice. She was concerned it could cost us the election. A publication forthcoming in the prestigious Journal of Politics, has confirmed that the NDP got clobbered over the issue of niqabs in Quebec; it was pivotal in deciding the outcome of the election.

In France, even socialist governments have banned certain outward expressions of the Muslim faith. Other religions, such as Sikhism and Judaism have not been spared. Under the guise of separation of church and state, Muslim moms have even been denied the right to accompany their kids on school field trips, because of their headscarves. Outside every school in France is a poster explaining the rules against religious symbols.

Astonishingly, even the European Court of Human Rights has upheld the ban. Public French intellectuals like Michel Houellebecq and Élisabeth Badinter write openly about the threat religious symbols pose to French society.

For those of us who support Canada’s multicultural traditions, such views are an anathema. From our perspective, it’s easy to view them as racist, which I do. In Europe, they are widely shared and accepted as being part of public debate and have gained some currency here amongst those who find fault with multiculturalism.

When Quebec Premier François Legault is asked about systemic racism in Quebec, he too restates the question: “Ah, you’re saying all Quebecers are racist, and I’m saying some Quebecers are racist but that Quebecers are not systematically racist.” It’s a rhetorical trick where politicians repeat the issue in terms that suit their purpose while answering their own question.

Systemic racism doesn’t mean everyone is systematically racist. It means the dice are loaded against some members of our society because of their ethnic, religious or cultural origin. The result of that racism within the system can be proven by looking at results, measuring and comparing outcomes. Legault is too well-informed not to know that, but he also knows his base. Like the crafty populist politician he is, he’s talking to that base bysaying, “I won’t let them call you a racist!”

Legault seems to have in part, at least, won his point. In the aftermath of the dispute between Singh and the Bloc a “premiers’ statement” issued by Justin Trudeau and all of the provincial premiers, on Jun. 26, talks several times of racism and discrimination but never uses the word “systemic”.

I made my first appearance in a parliamentary commission in Quebec City on the subject in the mid-80s and it’s an issue I’ve felt passionately about since. Government reports showed a huge, systemic under-representation of minorities in the Quebec civil service back then. We worked hard to change that. It began by making people understand the problem. The situation has indeed improved considerably, but just this month, the Quebec Human Rights Commission released a study showing that there are fewer than half the number of visible minorities in the Quebec civil service than their proportion of the overall population. Historically, this situation is also a reflection of another old divide: there was much discrimination against French-Canadians in the business sector in the past and good civil service jobs were seen as a way of levelling the economic playing field.

These issues are complex and Jagmeet Singh knows that. He has proven it in the past, notably when confrontedby a voter who told him to remove his turban in order to “look more Canadian”. Singh was almost spiritual in his calm reaction. He knew he was dealing with someone who just didn’t get it and it became a teachable moment. Many people called that man a racist, but Singh never did.

Right now Québec has a law on the books, Bill 21, which openly discriminates against religious minorities, in particular against observant Muslims, Sikhs and Jews. Thus far, no opposition party in Parliament, including the NDP, has dared challenge that law for what it is. They all, including Mr. Singh, say Quebec has a right to adopt it. Trudeau is still refusing to refer the case to the Supreme Court and instead, the victims of Bill 21 who  are being denied the right to teach, become cops or government lawyers, will have to fight for years as the issue slowly wends its way through the courts.

Singh could choose to use all of his credibility and deep personal experience with this issue to persuade Trudeau to finally do the right thing and challenge the discriminatory Bill 21 immediately by referring it without delay to the Supreme Court. That would be helpful.

Source: Jagmeet Singh calls MP ‘racist’, but has he forgotten about Bill 21?