The English Montreal School Board has taken Quebec to court over Bill 21. According to the EMSB’s lawsuit, “the Laity Act’s ban on religious symbols rewrites how teachers, particularly female teachers, in Quebec’s public education system can embody and express their religious identities.”

However, and contrary to popular opinion, the EMSB’s case is not just about individual rights as much as it’s all about the EMSB’s right to manage its own affairs. As an overwhelming majority of its teachers in all of its schools are women (88% in preschool and elementary schools along with 67% in EMSB high schools), any kind of job discrimination hobbles the school board’s ability to deal with a growing shortage of qualified teachers. According to the school board’s lawsuit, at least three qualified teachers are not working for the school board because of the religious symbol ban.

“These teachers met the EMSB’s needs and requirements and would be currently occupying teaching positions in the EMSB if they did not wear their hijab,” says the lawsuit. Not only is the EMSB restricted in the hiring of qualified personel because of the Laity Act, but ...the EMSB is also restricted in promoting teachers to principal and vice-principal positions, which are typically hard to fill.”

Aside from the law’s direct effect on individuals, the lawsuit maintains that the law also violates section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights that protects the nation’s minority language communities along with their right to manage and operate their own schools. According to the EMSB’s lawsuit, the province can legislate “objective norms and guidelines” as they relate to normal school board administration, but Bill 21 goes far beyond the province’s authority over its school boards when it begins to infringe upon basic human rights and the board’s ability to manage its own affairs.

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