Lawsuit challenging Bill 21 filed by EMSB


Lawsuit challenging Bill 21 – On Monday October 21st, the EMSB filed a lawsuit against Bill 21, the Quebec government’s ban on religious symbols. The Bill not only prohibits provincial employees in ‘positions of authority’ from wearing religious symbols at work, but also public sector employees – that includes teachers working in public schools. The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government circumvented the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that ‘everyone has freedom of conscience and religion’ – by using the controversial ‘Notwithstanding Clause’ to pass the Bill.

Bill 21 – violates the ‘Freedom of Gender Equality’

In Section 33 of the Charter, it allows ‘federal, provincial or territorial governments to temporarily override or bypass certain Charter rights’. The EMSB is therefore unable to contest Bill 21 on the premise of violating that fundamental freedom. Instead, they are now challenging it based on the principle it violates the ‘Freedom of Gender Equality’. That particular right cannot be overridden with the Notwithstanding Clause – and lawyers for the EMSB say it unreasonably targets women, Muslim women in particular, because the Bill bans the wearing of the hijab. The lawsuit contends ‘the practical effect is that educated Muslim women are restricted in their professional opportunities’. And that goes for teachers in the public sector.

According to the lawsuit, they claim ‘88% of teachers in the EMSB’s preschool and elementary schools are women, with more than 67% per cent in its high schools’ and that ‘they are dealing with a shortage of teachers’. Due to the religious symbol ban, at least three qualified teachers have not been able to work in their schools. As well, the EMSB is also restricted in promoting teachers to the positions of principal and vice-principals. Their lawyers are disputing Bill 21 stating it was mainly intended by the CAQ to single out the hijab, based on public statements made their cabinet ministers. The lawsuit claims that their declarations ‘the hijab is a symbol of women’s oppression’ undermines Muslim women’s ability and right to choose how to practice their faith.

They also contend that Section 23 of the Charter gives the schoolboard the right to make decisions regarding religion within its schools and that Bill 21 far overreaches the authority of the province.

Jean-François Roberge, the CAQ’s Education Minister denied the lawsuit’s argument that Bill 21 engenders discrimination based on gender. “Gender discrimination? I don’t think so, he said to reporters. It’s not racist, it’s not sexist. It’s just the way that Quebecers want to have people with authority. We don’t want people with authority of the state, of the government, to wear religious symbols. It’s as simple as that, and it applies to men and women. A court date has yet to be announced.

By: Bonnie Wurst – [email protected]

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