EDITORIAL: The question you can’t ask in Canada

Good editorial in the Toronto Sun:

It says a lot that the most talked about moment in the leaders’ debate since Brian Mulroney nailed John Turner in 1984 for not rescinding Pierre Trudeau’s patronage appointments, had nothing to do with anything the leaders said.

Instead, it was the controversy over a question asked by debate moderator Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, to BQ leader Yves-Francois Blanchet about Quebec’s controversial language and secularism laws.

The essence of their exchange was this:

Kurl: “You deny that Quebec has problems with racism. Yet you defend legislation such as Bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones, and allophones. For those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws.”

Blanchet: “The question seems to imply the answer you want. Those laws are not about discrimination, they are about the values of Quebec … we are saying that those are legitimate laws that apply on Quebec territory … which is again, by itself, for Quebec.”

So, asked and answered. Except in Canada.

The post debate reaction — the criticism being that by even asking the question Kurl was falsely suggesting Quebecers are racists — was a sight to behold.

Everybody was upset. Blanchet was upset. Quebec Premier François Legault was upset. Pundits were upset. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh were upset — albeit belatedly since they didn’t raise any concerns when the exchange occurred.

Never mind that a Quebec judge had previously ruled Bill 21 is discriminatory, cruel and dehumanizing to Muslim women and others, but constitutionally valid due to the province’s use of the Charter’s notwithstanding clause.

Recently in the Globe and Mail Kurl wrote a column sensibly refusing to apologize.

But the most interesting part was Kurl explaining that, “every question was reviewed by the debate’s editorial team, which included representatives from all the networks that organized and produced it — CBC, CTV, Global and APTN. More than a dozen senior journalists and news executives had seen and vetted the questions I asked …”

Knowing that makes the spectacle of everyone running for the hills after the question was asked downright hilarious.

Source: EDITORIAL: The question you can’t ask in Canada

Canada’s federal leaders show cowardice by denying the racist premise of Bill 21

Hard to disagree.

The other question that few seem to be raising is why participation in the English language debate is limited to national parties that run candidates in 60 percent or more of all ridings. Hard to see any value in Bloc participation in the English debate, unlike in the French debate:

The only thing offensive about Shachi Kurl’s question in Canada’s English-language debate regarding Bill 21 is the cowardly reaction from our federal leaders.

On debate night, Kurl, the president of the Angus Reid Insitute, asked a question about a law that bans wearing religious symbols for some public-sector workers in Quebec. Even though she never implied all Quebecers are racist, many threw her under the bus for suggesting that she did.

While the reactions of the Bloc Québécois’ Yves-François Blanchet and Quebec’s Premier François Legault were predictable, regardless of how the question would have been framed, many religious minorities are disappointed by the deflection by our other federal leaders postdebate — from condemning the premise of the question to demanding an apology from the debate consortium.

Rather than using the moment to take a stand and talk about how problematic Bill 21 is for Canadians, federal leaders have opted for expediency and protecting votes in Quebec by adopting the language of apologists, manipulating the question and largely avoiding what should be a moment for a serious conversation.

While Justin Trudeau said he wouldn’t rule out “intervening” against Bill 21, he also claimed he had a hard time “processing” Kurl’s question and that it implied all “Quebecers are racist.” Erin O’Toole, in response stated that “Quebecers are not racist and it’s unfair to make that sweeping categorization.” Jagmeet Singh, who called the Bill discriminatory also said that “It’s a mistake to imply that only one province has a problem with systemic racism.” Despite this, many saw these responses as serious levels of deflection from the actual question put by Kurl.

As much as supporters for Bill 21 like to suggest that it is a product of Quebec’s unique culture and relationship with laïcité (secularism) that isn’t the complete story and it only works to mask some of the disturbing realities and motivations for the law.

Bill 21 is also a product of Islamophobia, bigotry, and, yes, racism. The sentiments driving support for Bill 21 also exist elsewhere in the country and impacted religious communities want us all to fight back. Canadians need to stop pretending this is a localized issue, and our leaders need to know that their positions concerning fighting hate and racism in all its forms appear hypocritical in light of their reactions postdebate.

The research on Bill 21 is incredibly clear. It results in greater racism against religious minorities. It creates second-class citizens. It disproportionately targets minority communities. And it drives people out of Quebec, including my friend Amrit Kaur who as an Amritdhari Sikh teacher is now working in British Columbia instead of in her home province due to that law.

What is upsetting is that it took a question from a racialized woman to ignite a conversation on Bill 21 that our federal leaders had been trying to avoid. What is even more upsetting is that instead of confronting the issue for what it is, many commentators and politicians took the moment to instead chastise Kurl for suggesting the bill is discriminatory, as well as express dismay that challenging the issue head on has, amongst other things, disrupted partisan campaigns in the province.

It is as if calling a piece of legislation discriminatory or racist is worse than the piece of legislation actually being discriminatory and racist.

Some have even suggested that making this a topic only plays into the hands of Blanchet and the Bloc Québécois, as if that means we should just ignore the problem and pretend that it will somehow solve itself. It has been years of political tiptoeing and appeasement around Bill 21, and as someone who has helped in the fight against it, enough is enough.

What happens in Quebec is also not operating in a vacuum. Fears of similar legislation and sentiments creeping into other parts of Canada are very real.

For the Sikh community, a community I have worked in as the Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, we have fought turban and Kirpan accommodation battles across Canada. The fights never end as we maintain a precarious relationship with religious accommodation.

Bill 21 just legitimizes the racism and discrimination our people face every day everywhere, not just Quebec. Seeking an apology from the debate consortium and Kurl for a perfectly appropriate question, rather from the law makers disproportionately impacting racialized Canadians, aids and abets the othering our people face coast to coast to coast.

Leaders claiming to understand the fears of minorities and the magnitude of hate in Canada comes up hollow when held up against their reactions to what was one of the most honest descriptions of the Bill 21 in the political arena to date.

Source: Canada’s federal leaders show cowardice by denying the racist premise of Bill 21

Erna Paris: The leaders’ sycophantic acceptance of Quebec’s Bill 21 is dangerous for all of Canada

Sad but true:

In his famous 14th-century work The Inferno, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri created a special abode in hell for wily flatterers. He considered sycophancy a wrongdoing against the entire community – a deceit with the potential to alter society for the worse.

Dante might have nodded knowingly had he observed Canada’s leader-courtiers line up to pay obeisance to Bloc Quebec leader Yves-François Blanchet’s defense of the indefensible during last week’s federal election debates. The quid pro quo was each leader’s personal support for Bill 21, the Quebec legislation that prohibits the display of religious symbols by public-sector workers in the workplace, in return for potential electoral support in the province.

Although Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have previously implied that as prime minister they might challenge Bill 21, they and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole have confirmed their support for a noxious law that discriminates against the rights of religious minorities. To back such legislation is not only hypocrisy on the part of Canadian leaders, but an affront to the fundamental commitments we espouse in this country. During the debate, it was striking to note that in the same breath as the main party leaders refused to challenge Quebec’s right to discriminate, they simultaneously mouthed their support for the Canadian shibboleths of human rights and equality.

Bill 21 is not innocuous. Some religions require a dress code as an element of orthodox worship. Think the Jewish kippathe Sikh turban and the Muslim headscarf, to name just three. This is frequently a religious obligation – which, if rejected, places the individual in contravention of his or her faith. While it is likely that everyone on the debate stage understood the true nature of the law, they succumbed to Mr. Blanchet’s assertation that they agreed, although sheepishly. Given that he would presumably be denied the right to work in Quebec’s public sector because he wears a turban, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s long-time acquiescence seems particularly ingratiating. “Quebec has the right to make its own determinations,” he has repeatedly said.

We are inured to degrees of pandering during election campaigns, but the collective compliance of our leaders with legal discrimination against minorities is galling. Because, as Dante understood centuries ago, there are larger consequences at play.

To understand this, let us consider that from the time of Confederation, nation-building has been the job description of Canadian governments. To keep this unlikely country from fracturing, Canadian leaders have practiced compromise, especially with Quebec, while our courts balanced civil rights using case-law precedents. This hasn’t been easy; for the first half of our history our policies were overtly racist, as the uncovering of residential school realities has laid bare. In the 1920s and 1930s, Canada’s immigration policies favoured British arrivals while denying entry to other “lesser” peoples.

These attitudes slowly changed in the years following the Second World War – culminating, in my view, with official multiculturalism, which confirmed that no group of Canadians was superior to another, and with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Like all social transformations, these remain controversial in many quarters, but they have become the foundation of contemporary Canada.

It is for this reason that the sycophantic acceptance of discriminatory legislation in Quebec is dangerous for Canada as a whole. When our leaders trade foundational principles for electoral purposes, they undermine the country at large.

The pushback has been so weak that the most egregious distortions of language have gone unremarked upon. During the debates, Mr. Blanchet said that Bill 21 cannot be described as discriminatory because it reflects the values of Quebec – perhaps the most specious argument for discrimination that we have heard since the pre-war years. When Catholics and Italians were undermined in an earlier Canada, was this acceptable because the “values” of Canadians were in favour? Was it acceptable for Indigenous children to be maltreated in Canada because those were the “values” of the day?

In 1995, three generations of my family travelled to Montreal to appeal to our Québécois co-citizens not to separate from our shared country, but what is even more harmful today is that Quebec no longer has to leave. By consenting to an injurious law, our federal leaders have joined the rest of Canada to that province. In doing so, they separate usfrom the underlying vision of equality of opportunity and the protection of minorities that today characterizes this country.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-leaders-sycophantic-acceptance-of-quebecs-bill-21-is-dangerous-for/

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