July 21, 2024
Will leaders tolerate religious segregation just because it's Quebec?
A woman holds a flag with the slogan "Where is my free Quebec" while protesting Quebec's new Bill 21 in Montreal on June 17, 2019.
A woman holds a flag with the slogan “Where is my free Quebec” while protesting Quebec’s new Bill 21 in Montreal on June 17, 2019.

According to the premier of Quebec, it’s all about pride. Quebecers, Francois Legault claims, are forever stopping him in the street to tell him “‘Mr. Legault we are happy.’ I say why and they say ‘it’s because we are proud.’… To feel this regained pride among our people, who are standing up, advancing, makes me the happiest man in the world to be their premier.”

And what is this miraculous thing that has restored Quebecers’ sense of pride to them? What has prompted ordinary Quebecers to buttonhole the premier to tell him how happy — and proud — they are? A bill that prohibits those in “positions of authority” in the civil service, including not only judges and police officers but teachers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Which is to say, that prohibits those whose faith obliges them to wear such symbols from working in those positions. Or if we are really being frank, that bars them to observant Muslims — also Sikhs and some Jews, but really Muslims.

That, according to the premier, is what has caused Quebecers to walk erect again: Bill 21, “An act respecting the laicity of the state,” passed in a special weekend sitting of the legislature, with the help of closure.

The bill will of course face a raft of court challenges, its prophylactic invocation of the notwithstanding clause, er, notwithstanding. The clause may save the law from judicial invalidation on the grounds of its manifest violations of Charter guarantees of equality or religious freedom, but it does not shield it from judicial scrutiny on other grounds: as a possible violation of the division of powers, say, or of women’s rights, or indeed as an improper use of the clause itself.

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See Also:

(1) Groups launch challenge of Quebec’s secularism bill one day after it becomes law

Update 4:07 am, June 19th, 2019:

Why some Canadian Muslims celebrated the Quebec hijab ban

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