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?

ICYMI: A Quebec ban on religious symbols upends lives and careers

Raises visibility of Quebec not in a good way:

A Muslim lawyer who wears a head scarf has put aside her aspiration to become a public prosecutor.

A Sikh teacher with a turban moved about 2,800 miles from Quebec to Vancouver, calling herself a “refugee in her own country.”

And an Orthodox Jewish teacher who wears a head kerchief is worried that she could be blocked from a promotion.

Since the Quebec government in June banned schoolteachers, police officers, prosecutors and other public sector employees from wearing religious symbols while at work, people like these three women have been grappling with the consequences.

François Legault, the right-leaning Quebec premier, says the law — which applies to Muslim head scarves, Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps, Catholic crosses and other religious symbols — upholds the separation between religion and state, and maintains the neutrality of public sector workers. The government has stressed that the vast majority of Quebecers support the ban.

“I would not feel comfortable being faced with a judge or lawyer in court wearing a head scarf here, because I would worry about their neutrality,” said Radhia Ben Amor, a research coordinator at the University of Montreal, who is Muslim and said she moved from Tunisia to live in a more secular country.

But the law has prompted vocal protests and legal challenges, as well as condemnation by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Critics say it flouts freedom of religion, breaches constitutional protections and excludes minorities who choose to wear symbols of faith from vital professions. They also say implementing the law will be fraught because it can be hard to discern a religious symbolfrom a fashion accessory or nonreligious garb.

The English Montreal School Board said the law was forcing it to turn away qualified teachers. It said at least one teacher had removed her head scarf while at work to keep her job.

The Coalition Inclusion Québec — a group that includes Roman Catholics, Jews, Sikhs and Muslims — is challenging the law in court, along with three teachers, including two Muslims and a Roman Catholic.

Perri Ravon, a lawyer who has worked on two of the lawsuits against the ban, said that at least for now, “the law is disproportionately affecting Muslim women because the hijab is an outwardly visible religious symbol.” She noted that a Catholic cross was less conspicuous since it could be concealed in a blouse or a shirt while at work.

Nonetheless, the Catholic teacher named in one of the suits, Andréa Lauzon, who wears a visible cross and medallion of the Virgin Mary, said in court papers that her faith and identity were inextricably bound, and that her constitutional right to freedom of religion was being breached.

The ban has its roots in Quebec’s historic evolution into an abidingly secular society with a visceral distrust of religion, stemming from the so-called Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, when Quebecers revolted against dominance of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jean Duhaime, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Montreal, said that even before the recent law, the wearing of crosses in the public sector was stigmatized and discouraged in Quebec society.

He said Catholic opponents to the ban were in solidarity with other religious groups, adding that many proponents of the law saw Muslims wearing head scarves as “the phantom of religion reappearing in Quebec while viewing the hijab as an instrument of patriarchal domination.”

Here are four women whose lives and careers have been affected by the ban (see article).

National Council of Canadian Muslims thanks Conservative MP for entering anti-Bill 21 petition

Of note:

The National Council of Canadian Muslims on Thursday expressed its thanks to MP Garnett Genuis, Conservative Critic of Multiculturalism, for entering an anti-Bill 21 petition on the first day of session on January 27, 2020.

Bill 21, An Act respecting the laicity of the State, is the piece of legislation that prevents Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others from wearing religious symbols and becoming prosecutors, teachers, or police officers (among other professions) in Quebec.

“Since the day Bill 21 was passed, we have called upon all politicians, of all political parties, to condemn Bill 21”, said Mustafa Farooq, Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“Other legislative assemblies, including Manitoba and Ontario, have passed motions to formally condemn Bill 21. Today, we thank MP Genuis for filing the petition calling on the House of Commons to formally condemn Bill 21. The time is now for all elected officials to formally condemn second-class citizenship in the House of Commons”.

The text of the petition states:

We, the undersigned citizens of Canada, draw the attention of the House of Commons to the following:
Whereas the province of Quebec has passed An Act respecting the laicity of the State (“Bill 21”), that restricts the wearing of religious symbols; and;
Whereas our federation is built on a diverse community, where many Canadians wear religious symbols including turbans, hijabs, kippas, crosses and many other symbols; and
Whereas the fundamental right of religious freedom is enshrined in the Canadian constitution; and
Whereas national civil rights groups, including: the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, B’nai Brith Canada, the World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs have condemned the legislation’s infringement on Canadians’ rights; and
Whereas the federal government bears a responsibility to stand up in defence of the Canadian multicultural mosaic;
We the undersigned therefore urge the House of Commons to formally denounce Bill 21.

Source: National Council of Canadian Muslims thanks Conservative MP for entering anti-Bill 21 petition

The sole premier to stand up against Bill 21


As Canada’s premiers gather Monday in Toronto, there will be no shortage of topics to discuss. But one topic, Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans the wearing of religious symbols by designated public-sector workers such as teachers and police, has been banned from the formal agenda.

Based on the principle of separation of church and state, Bill 21 would prohibit a person from wearing a crucifix necklace or a headscarf on the job.

Only one premier, Brian Pallister of Manitoba, has spoken out strongly and consistently against Bill 21. He introduced a motion in the legislature, passed unanimously, affirming the opposition of all MLAs to “any law that seeks to unjustifiably limit the religious freedoms of citizens, including passing a law that unjustifiably denies an individual’s right to wear religious clothing or symbols of one’s choice.”

Last week, that opposition gained national notoriety with the placement of pointed French language ads in Quebec daily newspapers by Manitoba citing “21 reasons to feel at home in Manitoba,” featuring a photo of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. Quebec Premier François Legault responded tartly, suggesting Mr. Pallister spend the ad money on French-language services and, by the way, keep a Winnipeg Jets hockey player in Manitoba, before you start asking Quebeckers to move there.

Premier Pallister was unrepentant. “If you are not willing to defend others’ rights and freedoms, do not expect them to defend yours.” he stated in the legislature. “Something ugly and unjust is happening right now in Quebec.”

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative premiers have had a mixed history when it comes to Charter rights and Quebec. Sterling Lyon was a long holdout against a Charter of Rights and Freedoms during the constitutional negotiations of the early 1980s, citing the supremacy of legislatures. Gary Filmon was a public skeptic of recognizing Quebec as a “distinct society” throughout the Meech Lake negotiations of the late 1980s.

Mr. Pallister’s opposition is grounded in neither of these shibboleths. It is an unapologetic defence of individual rights and freedoms and how they reinforce Canadian unity. It springs from a unique Prairie conservatism that combines libertarian individualism with progressive societal values of community. Turns out, he is one of the few – maybe only – practising proponents of this active progressive conservatism in the Canadian conservative movement.

Neither federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, nor Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, has expressed anything close to Mr. Pallister’s level of criticism. Mr. Scheer was hunting seats in Quebec in the federal election and Mr. Kenney hopes to get a pipeline through the province. Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford hastened to assure Premier Legault that a unanimous motion in the Ontario Legislature criticizing Bill 21 sprung from the opposition side and not his government.

Quebec’s political clout in the federation is, well, distinct. Its outsized influence has shaped Canada from Confederation. The key to a majority government only works in the Quebec door.

But premiers in the rest of Canada don’t have to win votes in Quebec. The cavilling of federal politicians is understandable if unsightly; but premiers?

They either quietly agree with Mr. Legault or they silently concur with his right to act as he is doing. Despite its billing as an instrument “to strengthen the Canadian federation,” the Council of the Federation has morphed into a forum where internal differences are muted in favour of securing consensus demands upon the federal government.

Bill 21 falls squarely into this category. It is a distraction to presenting a united front to Ottawa. More to the point: Why alienate Quebec when your own provincial alienation demands attention?

Such is politics but it also illustrates an emerging provincial force in the federation: autonomy. “Going it alone” through a more muscular exercising of provincial powers and authorities, as Alberta and Saskatchewan are currently contemplating, is the sister covenant to “distinct society.” Chastising Quebec on Bill 21 would contradict the autonomous impulse every province and premier cherishes to justify its unique circumstances now or in the future.

But the premiers’ collective silence on Bill 21 reflects something much more uncomfortable to Mr. Pallister: a potential erosion of rights requiring the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by Quebec to allow it to proceed and protect it from legal challenge.

But that too is no longer taboo. New Brunswick is invoking it on a provaccination bill and Ontario threatened to use it for legislation to upend Toronto City Council elections and cut the size of council by half. The notwithstanding clause is proving the autonomists’ tool of choice.

Standing alone has never been a barrier to Mr. Pallister’s exercise of his conception of Canadian unity and protection of rights and freedoms. He sees Bill 21 as a threat to both. It is as much a national unity issue as Western alienation and an overreaching federal government.

With federal leaders, premiers and Conservatives mostly silent and provincial autonomy demands growing, Manitobans and Canadians can expect to hear more from this premier, not less.

Source: The sole premier to stand up against Bill 21: David McLaughlin

Amid political gamesmanship, some Quebec Muslim women enticed by offer to move to Manitoba

Cheeky of Manitoba but Premier Pallister has been one of the most principled Canadian politician on Bill 21:

As a political spat plays out between Manitoba and Quebec over Bill 21, some Muslim women affected by the province’s ban on religious symbols say they are tempted by the offer to move to the Prairie province.

“If this persists, and as a result of this there are more hate crimes against me and my people, then why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I go somewhere where I feel welcome?” said Chaachouh, who wears a hijab.”I know that if I go there, they will look at my skills rather than what I am wearing on my head.”

The ad campaign launched Thursday is aimed at Quebecers who feel limited by the province’s secularism law, which prohibits public servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols. These include the hijab, skullcap and turban.

In a nod to Bill 21, the ad lists 21 reasons why Manitoba is an appealing place to move, ranging from its diverse population to its plethora of provincial parks.

There isn’t, in fact, much history of movement between the two provinces. In 2018, for example, only 341 people moved from Quebec to Manitoba (and 799 went the other way).

A better solution: no Bill 21

Chaachouh is under no illusions a government ad means she would be safe from discrimination in Manitoba.

At the very least, though, Chaachouh said it is encouraging to see a province take a stand against the legislation, while Ottawa has shied away from doing the same.The Manitoba government’s campaign was dismissed as a political ploy by Premier François Legault and much of the opposition in Quebec City.

Legault said Bill 21 will ensure secularism in the public sector, and that the law is “a decision to be taken by Quebecers and Quebecers only.”

But Shahad Salman, a lawyer who runs a public relations firm in Montreal, said the message appealed to her as well.

“The fact that they used 21 reasons — that made me laugh,” she said.

“I think it’s an interesting move from another province: They take something bad happening somewhere else and turn it into a good thing for them.”

Salman, 32, said she would consider such a move. But a better solution? “Not having Bill 21,” she said.

The legislation is facing multiple legal challenges.

Critics say it infringes on a person’s right to practice their religion, and disproportionately targets Muslim women who wear a headscarf.

In a Quebec Court of Appeal hearing earlier this week, civil rights groups argued the law is causing immediate and irreparable harm.

“People’s lives are being ruined. People are being forced to leave their professions. People are being forced to leave this province,” Catherine McKenzie, a lawyer representing the groups, told the court.

Fighting inside Quebec

Nour Farhat, a 28-year-old Montrealer who recently completed a master’s in criminal law, is involved in one of the legal challenges.

She says the law thwarted her dream of becoming a Crown prosecutor in Quebec.

She said the Manitoba ad was like “a breath of fresh air,” and such a move is appealing.

But Farhat, who works in litigation, has no plans to leave.

“Why can’t I be this person here, where I was born and raised? Why do I have to go to the other side of the country to realize my dream?” she said. “This is why I won’t go to any other province — because I want to be able to do this here in Quebec.”

Source: Amid political gamesmanship, some Quebec Muslim women enticed by offer to move to Manitoba

Quebec’s values test: Why not focus on everyday gender equality?

Another good and thoughtful column by Sheema Khan.

One point of interest is her call for the long-promised revision of the citizenship study guide to include everyday examples of what gender equality means, not the criminal ones cited in the current guide.

As the government did not manage to get its revision published during its first mandate, it should consider this suggestion if not already included in the revision:

Galloping from one controversial social policy to another, the government of Quebec recently unveiled its “Values Test” for prospective immigrants. Derided by some, the test requires newcomers to the province to be aware of a few “key” values. French is the official language of la belle province. Polygamy is illegal, whereas marriage between two individuals is not. Men and women are equal before the law. There’s nothing wrong in letting immigrants know what to expect about their future society. However, in view of Bill 21, one can’t help but be cynical about the Coalition Avenir Québec’s attempt to narrowly define who is – and who isn’t – vrai Québécois.

Quebec’s stance on gender equality is laughable in view of Bill 21 – hijab-clad Muslim women are barred from teaching in public schools, whereas Muslim men are not. Jewish men who sport a kippa or yarmulke cannot serve as prosecutors or clerks in a provincial court, while Jewish women face no such restrictions. The courts will decide if the notwithstanding clause overrides the violation of gender equality (as enshrined in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

Nevertheless, we should emphasize gender equality to those arriving from countries where women are accorded fewer resources and rights than men. According to the 2016 census, three of the top 10 countries of birth of recent immigrants were Pakistan, Iran and Syria – all of which finished in the bottom five (of 145 countries) of the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Index.

The culture shock can be great. I still remember my cousin’s surprise when he could not access his mother’s bank account as a matter of right, as he used to do in Saudi Arabia. Or one Middle Eastern relative who was dismayed that his wife was automatically a co-owner of the marital home. Or one husband’s disbelief that he would have to split marital assets 50-50 in the case of divorce. These are hard-won rights for women that should never be compromised. Immigrant men have complied and adapted to the new reality. And that’s a good thing.

While current guidelines from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada reiterate the equality of women and men before the law, they might want to add a line or two referring to everyday examples – such as financial independence and property rights of women. Instead, these guidelines leap to examples of criminal behaviour, stating: “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”

Such dramatic pronouncements, however, don’t help immigrants learn about the positive aspects of gender equality. And they lull Canadians into a sense of complacency that women in Canada are doing just fine. Not so fast.

In her compelling memoirs, Truth Be Told, Beverley McLachlin chronicles her own efforts to combat sexism within the legal profession but points to the broader fight for women’s equality throughout Canadian society. A fight that is by no means close to over.

According to the 2018 Gender Gap Index, Canada ranks 16th in the world (out of 149 countries) for its equitable distribution of resources between men and women. While we are tied for first in the field of education, we are 21st in political empowerment, 27th in economic participation and 104th in health/survival. The relatively high placements in politics and economics, however, mask absolute inequities.

For example, in 2018, Statistics Canada reported that Canadian women earned 87 cents for every $1 earned by men. A 2018 Angus Reid study indicated that women are more likely than men to experience poverty. Women in Canada live at greater risk than men of domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and sex trafficking. Even with the #MeToo movement, women still underreport sexual assault and harassment. Women and girls are often subject to online hate and sexualized abuse. While women make up roughly half the population, they are underrepresented in political and professional leadership positions. As MacLean’s Anne Kingston rightly observed, sexism permeated the 2019 election, culminating in a vicious, sexist slur painted on Catherine McKenna’s campaign office.

“Working toward gender equality is not only still relevant. It is urgent,” observes the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It’s a message we should all take to heart. The fight for gender equality begins here.

The battle against Quebec’s Bill 21

Good article by Paul Wells:

Sure, the leaders of Canada’s federal political parties didn’t have much to say during the election campaign when reporters asked what they planned to do about Quebec’s Bill 21. The law, which prohibits public servants in the province from wearing religious headgear and other symbols, is so popular politicians are reluctant to challenge it directly.

But that doesn’t mean nobody is challenging the law. Controversial laws usually find their way into a courtroom. One of the most pointed legal cases has been filed by the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), which released the text of its Quebec Superior Court challenge three days after the federal election.

Unfortunately, lately the English Montreal School Board is a bit of a mess. On Wednesday the Quebec government placed the board under trusteeship. Education minister Jean-François Roberge appointed Marlene Jennings, a former federal Liberal Member of Parliament, to take over the board’s management.

As further reaction to “an appalling situation” that included apparent contracting irregularities and the use of taxpayer money to buy alcohol and jewelry, Roberge handed the board’s financial statements over to the anti-corruption unit of the Sûreté du Québec.

This is all a handy reminder that history sometimes rests on unsteady shoulders. But the Quebec government is allowing the board to proceed with its Bill 21 challenge, which these days is just about the most popular thing the EMSB does.

Bill 21, “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State,” was one of the first laws passed by the government of Quebec premier François Legault, the founding leader of the popular, centre-right Coalition Action Démocratique (CAQ) party. It sets out a long list of government-affiliated jobs—certain members of the legislature, police, prosecutors, teachers and others—whose holders are henceforth banned from wearing “religious symbols” on the job.

The law defines a “religious symbol” as “any object, including clothing, a symbol, jewellery, an adornment, an accessory or headwear” that is “worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief” or that is “reasonably considered as referring to a religious affiliation.” That’s really broad, but in practice it will most often be a device to keep female Muslim clerks, cops and teachers from wearing headscarves or veils at work.

At the end of October, before the government took most of the board’s powers away, I visited Montreal to discuss the impact of Bill 21 with EMSB officials. Angela Mancini, the board’s chairwoman, met me for breakfast.

Mancini said the board has had to turn down three teacher candidates it would otherwise have hired because Bill 21 doesn’t permit them to teach while wearing a headscarf. She worries about the message the law sends to students.

“When you tell a student that a teacher can’t wear her veil, or his kippa (a Jewish head covering for men) because it’s wrong, it’s almost like you’re telling them that when they wear those religious symbols, it’s a wrong thing. So we risk having a generation of students grow up thinking, if you wear a religious symbol, there’s almost something wrong with it,” she said.

Bill 21 is broadly similar to bills that were introduced by Quebec’s short-lived Parti Québécois government, led by then-premier Pauline Marois, in 2013 and, in milder form, by the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard in 2017. Defenders of such measures say it’s important for the Quebec government to show no religious preference in its relations with citizens. It’s often said to be justified by the fact that, until a half-century ago, Quebec was in many ways a Roman Catholic theocracy. The text of the law says it is “important that the paramountcy of State laicity”—an absence of religious affiliation—“be enshrined in Quebec’s legal order.”

The EMSB’s Mancini isn’t impressed. “I think the separation of state and religion has been going on for a while, regardless of whether teachers wear symbols in a classroom,” she said. “In my mind it goes back to fundamental rights. People are allowed to wear the symbols that they choose to wear.” In a school setting, parents and students should rest easy, she said. Wearing a headscarf or a crucifix “doesn’t mean teachers are going to impart” their religious convictions to their students, she said.

The board has retained the services of Power Law, a prominent Montreal firm, to challenge Bill 21. The lawyers’ argument is novel and promising, as we’ll see. And it’s probably for the best that the file has been turned over to outside experts, because Mancini and her colleagues have a lot of other concerns on their minds these days.

In January the majority on the board voted to cut Mancini’s pay from $38,000 to $10,000 after she missed a series of events in preceding months. She is unapologetic. “I’ve gone on record as saying I feel intimidated and harassed by certain members of the board,” she told Maclean’s.

The board was created in 1998 after a constitutional amendment replaced Catholic and Protestant boards in Quebec with French- and English-language boards. With 42,000 students, the EMSB is the largest English-language board in Quebec. Under Quebec’s language laws, only students whose parents were both educated in English in Canada, or the children of foreign professionals on short-term postings in Quebec, are permitted to receive an English-language education.

The EMSB’s administration has been factious for as long as the board has existed. In 2000 one commissioner attacked another, who had to be carried out on a stretcher and sent to hospital. But the board delivers results despite the fireworks, Mancini said. At 92 per cent, it has the province’s highest share of students who complete high school within seven years of beginning. The province-wide seven-year success rate is 79 per cent, well behind.

That record of school success despite distractions might bolster the board’s case in challenging Bill 21.

The board’s lawyers, Perri Ravon, Mark Power and Giacomo Zucchi, face a substantial obstacle: the law invokes the controversial “notwithstanding” clause of the 1982 Charter of Rights to affirm its effect despite the protections of Sections 2 and 7 through 15 of the Charter. Those are all the big Charter rights. Section 2 lists “fundamental freedoms” including freedom of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, and free association. So you can’t tell a judge the law defies freedom of religion. The Quebec government has already made full use of its ability to say, “We know, but we’re doing this anyway.”

Ravon, Power and Zucchi need to shop further down, in more obscure regions of the Charter that the “notwithstanding” provision can’t reach, for support. They’ve settled on two paragraphs. Section 23 guarantees minority-language educational rights. The EMSB’s lawyers argue that Bill 21 “impermissibly infringes” the delivery of an education under Section 23, because it limits whom the board can hire and promote.

The lawyers’ second line of attack is more novel and promising. They point to Section 28 of the Charter, which demands that rights be delivered equally to both men and women. It’s a short paragraph: “Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”

In the Charter’s 37 years, very little jurisprudence has built up around Section 28. Most of the action has been around Section 2, the sweeping guarantee of fundamental rights. And when Section 2 isn’t swept aside by the “notwithstanding” provision, which it almost never is, courts don’t need to consider Section 28. But in the case at hand, Section 28’s guarantee of gender equality may prove powerful indeed.

Ravon and her colleagues point out that 88 per cent of preschool and elementary teachers in the EMSB are women and that 53 per cent of all Muslim women in Canada, according to some public-opinion surveys, wear headgear. They further note that Simon Jolin-Barette, the cabinet minister who steered Bill 21 through the National Assembly, specifically restricted the law’s applicability to men when he said facial hair, such as the beards of Jewish or Sikh judges or police officers, is exempt from the law.

The government’s repeated assertion, the board’s lawyers write, is that Muslim women are “subjugated” into wearing religious garb. “No consideration is given to women’s agency and autonomy”—to the possibility that they simply want to dress as they do, the lawyers write.

The first two words of Section 28 are “notwithstanding anything.” Kerri Froc, an assistant law professor at the University of New Brunswick who’s made a career out of studying the parts of the Charter everyone else ignores, wrote her doctoral thesis on Section 28. She notes that it almost certainly trumps Section 33, the “notwithstanding” clause. A 1982 federal government guide to the charter calls Section 28 “one guarantee that cannot be overridden by a legislature or Parliament.”

What judges will do with all this, we’ll have to wait and see. To add to the EMSB’s internal struggles, there’s a government-imposed, potentially existential problem. Bill 40, another proposed law introduced by Legault’s CAQ government and making its way through the legislative process, aims to eliminate school boards in Quebec altogether. It’ll probably be law early in the new year.

Can the EMSB’s challenge to Bill 21 continue past the legal demise of the board that launched it? “Short answer: We don’t know,” an EMSB spokesman said when I asked.

Meanwhile, Bill 21 contains sunset provisions that protect the jobs of public servants who were already in place when the bill became law. In the school-board setting, that means teachers who wear headscarves can’t be hired (or promoted), but they can keep the jobs they already had.

On my visit to Montreal I visited Carlyle Elementary School, a richly multicultural school in the leafy northwestern Montreal suburb of Town of Mount Royal. I met Haniyfa Scott, a kindergarten teacher. She grew up a few kilometres from the school. She and her husband converted to Islam in the 1970s. She has adult daughters who were raised in the faith until they were 18, after which they could make their own choices. They have continued as observant Muslims.

Scott showed me an agenda she uses to keep track of plans and appointments, the sort of richly-decorated spiral-bound thing you see in schools all over. This one contains a note on one page which she read aloud to me. “Canada is multicultural. In 1971 we made a rule to be multicultural. People come here from the whole world. In Canada, we like to respect everyone.”

Scott looked up from the page. “Did the CAQ not read that? Did they not understand that?”

That’s actually the crux of the controversy, I reminded her. Supporters of Bill 21 intend it precisely as a rebuttal to multiculturalism “à la Trudeau,” a reference to the belief, widespread in Quebec nationalist circles, that Pierre Trudeau introduced his multiculturalism policy as a way to contain Quebec nationalism. The state has no religion, the argument goes. Multiculturalism’s prerogatives end, or should, where Quebecers’ collective right to define the terms of their distinct society begin.

Haniyfa Scott is skeptical of such claims. “I’m listening to you,” she said slowly as I repeated these arguments, then paused. “I don’t know. Talk is cheap. I don’t know.” She says she has a daughter with two young children, one of them a four-year-old girl. “She dresses just as I do. She goes on the bus or Métro every day, and she is never offered a seat. Never offered a seat. Doesn’t that strike you as a little strange? And it brings me to tears.”

As an emissary of the Quebec state, shouldn’t she be religiously neutral? “I don’t think I’m going to persuade anybody in my classes to become a Muslim. I don’t think I have that much influence. I might influence them to do better in their math or their language or study science, that’s what I would aspire to, but my job is not to convert anybody.”

I followed Scott into her classroom, where she quizzed a roomful of 5-year-olds on the sound the letter U makes. Some of them were mightily distracted by the presence of a Maclean’s photographer. None remarked on the wardrobe choices of their teacher, whom they’ve never seen dress otherwise. Around them, all unseen, swirled a political, social and legal controversy that won’t end anytime soon. The kids paid all of it no mind. Does the word “cup” have a U sound? Yes, they agreed solemnly, it sure does.

Source: The battle against Quebec’s Bill 21