Late last week, Québec’s Court of Appeals rejected a request to suspend several articles pertaining to Bill 21 – Québec’s secular state law. According to the court’s majority decision, Bill 21 must remain in place until all of its judicial challenges make their way through the courts up until such time when they will (inevitably) be heard in Canada’s Supreme Court.
While all three of the court’s judges agreed that the law overtly violates the fundamental rights and freedom of a significant number of people – especially Muslim women – the law must remain in place because it includes and relies upon the Canadian Charter’s ‘notwithstanding‘ clause for its own legal protection.
As Justice Robert Mainville put it in his own opinion, “...given the use of the notwithstanding provision, it does not appear legally possible at this preliminary stage to suspend the law.”
However, and even as she agreed with Justice Mainville’s majority opinion, Justice Dominique Bélanger singled out Muslim women when she wrote that “...it’s apparent that their fundamental rights are being violated.” Following her own reference to the fact that the ‘notwithstanding ‘clause was deliberately incorporated into the law and used to override the nation’s ‘Rights and Freedoms’ Charter, she wrote that the court was forced to “...abandon to their fate women graduates who are willing to work and who – for the sole reason that they wear the veil – have been denied access to a job for which they hold all the skills.”
Even as all three judges believe that invoking the charter’s notwithstanding clause is “...no trivial matter,” Chief Justice Nicole Duval-Hesler’s dissenting opinion strikes a harsh chord when she reminds the court that it’s hard to believe how allowing a few more women who choose to wear their hijab while they practise their profession “...will unduly affect the province’s collective interest.”
Following the court’s verdict, Québec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel said that “...she was satisfied with the court’s decision,” and that the government will continue to preserve and protect all of Québec’s laws – including those recently passed by the Legault administration in Québec’s National Assembly.
However, David Lametti, Canada’s federal Justice Minister – said that the federal government will continue to monitor the law’s progress through the courts right up to the moment when it will inevitably end up in Canada’s Supreme Court.
“Nothing’s changed,” he said during a recent press scrum outside of his Ottawa office after which he reminded the media that “...it’s not up to the government to tell its citizens what they can wear – or not wear – to work.”
It was a visibly moved Jennifer Maccarone witnessing firsthand the vast need and great success of the Centre d’activités récréatives et éducatives (C.A.R.E.) Monday. The Centre’s two dozen adult students are wheelchair-bound and are educated, stimulated, fed and toileted daily.
C.A.R.E.’s unique model breaks client isolation and provides crucial respite for families said the Westmount MNA and Official Opposition critic for families. “They don’t just provide the essentials and peace of mind; they engage, they encourage, and are constantly thinking about what they can do to improve the lives of those in their care” she told The Suburban.
In its third decade, the non-profit organization offering recreational and educational services for anglophones with severe disabilities outside the youth education sector has filled a large and tragic gap in the social safety net for the most vulnerable Quebecers.
Launched by parents for their heavily handicapped children graduating from Mackay School with no options for further education or integration, today the centre on the basement floor of the Wagar building in Côte Saint-Luc welcomes dozens of adult students most living with Cerebral Palsy, Rett Syndrome, Familial dysautonomia and other conditions.
At age 21, said C.A.R.E. board president Joanne Charron, school services stop. “What do they do?” A former English Montreal School Board commissioner and parent of a disabled young adult, Charron says choices are grim: “Stay at home all day with aging parents or be institutionalized. There’s nowhere for English-speaking young adults with severe physical disabilities to go in the city of Montreal.”
Maccarone toured the facility with Charron, executive director Olivia Quesnel and board vice-chair Ailsa Pehi, chatting with clients and learning about programs and assistive communication technologies. Charron lamented government redistribution of funds away from the physically disabled, while Pehi mused aloud about years of governments subsidizing care for these citizens more generously if they are placed in other people’s homes than if they stay in their own. “It’s clear with the right resources and support” said Maccarone, “that they would change the quality of life for so many more people in need.”
Maccarone also said she is supporting government changes to Quebec’s public curator scheme, changes that would gradually make it easier for parents of disabled adults.
Sainte-Rose MNA and the Quebec government’s Anglo point man Christopher Skeete had known about C.A.R.E. en passant, “but never with this depth of understanding” he told The Suburban after his visit on Tuesday. He was impressed with what he called “the beautiful, important and noble work that they are doing,” and was particularly struck by the idea that there are aging parents who may die fearful for the future of their handicapped adult child. “That’s brutal.”
Caring for severely disabled adults comes with an annual price tag of about $18,000 per client. With one staff member per two clients, that’s more than a dozen employees, with governments, foundations and partnerships providing only half the funding, and the centre needs a quarter million dollars just to maintain what they have says Quesnel, adding that with a growing waiting list people are tragically refused each year.
Skeete lamented the financial constraints the centre faces and that it didn’t have more of a voice at the provincial spending table. “C.A.R.E. is another English organization trying to exist in the English community ecosystem and despite doing great work, for all kinds of reasons, including political isolation, is not adequately represented at the provincial table.”
There are resources available he said and pledged to help secure a voice for C.A.R.E. where funding decisions are made. “That’s why the (Anglophone relations) Secretariat exists; we’re going to help them with their financing and navigating the system. We’re going to help them get their Quebec back.”