(Audio) Secularism: How Far Can the Quebec Government Apply Law 21?
Since Bill 21 became a law in the summer of 2019 – some public servants wearing a religious symbol, including but not limited to the hijab, niqab, kippa, and turban are barred from working in a government job.
Nour is a lawyer in Quebec who is not only affected by this secular law, but is representing the Autonomous Federation of Education, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against law 21.
Ultimately, this law goes against “freedom of religion” in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. McGill Dean Robert Leckey explains how the notwithstanding clause is used to allow law 21 to work around the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Following the adoption of the law in 2019, there was a court hearing that summer to invite public opinion on Law 21 to be presented in front of the court. In November 2020, the trail on Law 21 started, lasting seven weeks. The result of this trial will decide whether the law is constitutional or not.
Some groups and one person have filed a lawsuit against the Quebec government for enacting Law 21. Currently the public is waiting for the judgement from Justice Marc-André Blanchard. This could be released any day now or within the next few months.
So to what extent can the notwithstanding clause be used? While Law 21 only applies to government jobs, if the Quebec government wishes to they can use the notwithstanding clause to apply Law 21 to private businesses.
Discussions of this law can be focused around secularism, which is separation of the state from religious institutions. Secularism is not new in Quebec, however, Quebec has a long history with secularism.
Law 21 is not the first of its kind, as Bill 62, which banned those with face coverings from delivering or receiving public services, was put into effect in 2017 by the former provincial Liberal government. This law was suspended twice as a result of being in violation of the Quebec and Canadian charters. The former government did not decide to appeal this judgement and did not invoke the notwithstanding clause to push for Bill 62.
This is the podcast version of the show, to watch the video version of this episode, click here.