Bill 21 mostly upheld by Quebec Superior Court

Protesters at a rally against Bill 21 in Côte St. Luc in 2019.

Bill 21, the law that demands that people in positions of authority in many provincial institutions not wear religious clothing or symbols on the job, has been upheld in Quebec Superior Court, with two exceptions.

The 250-page ruling, released Tuesday April 20, says the two exceptions are members of the National Assembly, and English school boards. Cases were brought against the law by several groups.

The English Montreal School Board celebrated the part of the decision that applies to them on Twitter Tuesday morning.

“@EnglishMTL is elated with the decision to strike down key provisions of #Bill21, An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State,” says the tweet. “This decision is specific to English-language school boards based on Sec. 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“We value the diversity of our students and staff and respect their personal and religious rights which are guaranteed both by the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights,” EMSB chair Joe Ortona wrote on Twitter. “This legislation runs contrary to what we teach and to the culture of respect for individual rights and religious freedoms within English-language schools. Moreover, a religious symbol worn by a teacher in no way affects their ability to provide quality education in a secular state, within a secular education system and in the classrooms of public schools administered by the EMSB.”

The ruling by Judge Marc-André Blanchard said Bill 21, in terms of English boards, “violates Section 23 of the Canadian Charter, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada, which provides guarantees for public educational institutions for linguistic minorities.” As for the National Assembly exemption Judge Blanchard ruled that MNAs are allowed to wear religious symbols even if they cover their faces in accordance with the Charter protection that guarantees every citizen “the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

However, the decision, which pundits expect will be appealed, still requires teachers and school principals at French schools, judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers and others to not wear such items as Muslim hijabs, Jewish kippahs, crosses and other religious items while at work. The judge ruled that Bill 21 does not violate the “architecture” of the Canadian constitution or the rule of law.

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