Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Dawn McSweeney discuss some of the big news stories of the week including the first person sent home because of Bill 21, a subreddit thwarting Kellogg’s plans to hire scab workers and more. Plus a Legault rant!
On April 20, 2021 the Superior Court of Quebec issued a ruling on Bill 21, Quebec’s Secularism law which many Canadians were awaiting with baited breath. It was a victory for some, and a tragedy for others.
In its decision, it upholds the Quebec Secularism law with the exception of English schools in Quebec, and the Coalition Avenir du Quebec government under Premier François Legault has already announced its plans to appeal. This article will give a rundown of the ruling itself, the response by those affected, and what it represents to the people of Quebec and Canada.
I’m not going to go into all the nuances of Quebec’s Secularism Law, hereafter Bill 21. I gave a full and detailed rundown in multiple articles when the law was forced through the National Assembly in 2019.
In a nutshell, it severely limits employment in most of Quebec’s public sector as well as access to certain government services for anyone who wears religious symbols, including crosses, hijabs, headscarves, and kipas/yarmulkes. At the time, the government claimed the law would unite Quebeckers, but it has made us more divided than ever. Hate crimes and harassment of Muslim women are on the rise, something experts tried to warn the government about prior to the law’s passing.
The government knew that the law would never survive a legal challenge based on constitutional rights so they wrote in the Notwithstanding Clause, a clause written into Canada’s constitution to allow discriminatory rules to remain in effect for five years notwithstanding certain articles in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is largely the court’s measure of the effect of the Notwithstanding Clause that decided the outcome of the case.
I knew that no matter WHAT the court’s ruling, someone would appeal the decision. That someone is the Quebec government and it is unfortunate because for the most part, the Quebec government won the case.
Bill 21 is still in effect, and teachers and other people hoping for the stability that comes with public employment have had their hopes dashed, with one exception. The court decided that Bill 21 remains valid due to the province’s use of the Notwithstanding Clause, with the exception of English schools, which are constitutionally protected by a clause in the constitution that isn’t covered by the Notwithstanding Clause, as well as the National Assembly. It is this aspect that the government plans to appeal, claiming that this exception divides Quebec when the province’s society should be united.
William Korbatly, a lawyer, feels the government’s claim that the judge’s ruling split Quebec is erroneous and dishonest.
“[I]t’s the law 21 that did that by making some Quebeckers lesser citizens than those who think of themselves (as) superior or have more privileges just because they are part of the cultural majority. That being said, we cannot deny that a large part of Quebeckers have serious problems and are very allergic to any religious manifestation in public spaces. Thus, politically speaking, that law should be put to the courts’ authorities and they will decide what is constitutional and what is not.”
Unfortunately despite Quebec’s ongoing teacher shortage, English schools in the province will still be subjected to Bill 21 pending appeal.
Carolyn Gehr, an Orthodox Jewish woman and teacher with the Montreal English School Board who wears and headscarf and submitted an affidavit with the other plaintiffs had some choice words about the legal decision keeping the law in force for now.
“I feel horrible for the prospective teachers who enthusiastically applied to the English school boards who desperately need them, only to find out in a day or two that their hopes were dashed yet again, and that this ruling does nothing for them for the foreseeable future. The fact that the government is fighting this so vociferously reinforces in me the idea that I’m not really wanted here, especially in that I’m only allowed in my job as I am because ‘Oncle Francois’ magnanimously grandfathered me in so as not to offend the sensibilities of people who don’t like to see someone fired for no reason.”
M. I. a Muslim teacher working in the private sector who no longer wears her hijab for personal reasons spoke of why she chose to take it off.
“I grew up in a moderately conservative Muslim family and the choice to wear the hijab was mine to make and I chose to wear it until about a year ago. Why I chose to take it off was a completely personal choice because I was no longer wearing it for religious reasons. It just provided me with a sense of comfort and not wearing it felt like going out without my pants on since I had worn it for so many years.”
On Bill 21, she says she and most of her community were very concerned. There was this feeling that this sort of law would never happen in Canada and most members have been directly or indirectly affected.
“I know the law adversely affects all religious communities but as a Muslim woman who used to wear the hijab my feelings are very strong when it comes to the effect the bill has on the women in my community. I find this law to be discriminatory, anti-feminist and anti-human rights. As a woman, I cannot accept that someone can have any say in how I choose to cover myself. I am well-educated and have never been forced by any part of my religion and can say for a fact that his holds true for most women in my community.”
M.I. says the Muslim community is one of the fastest growing minorities in Quebec and that the law, like the hijab ban in France, is just a way of keeping minorities under control. She points out that this open hostility has just led to more anger and extremism among Muslims in France than ever before. Adding, like Carolyn Gehr, that Bill 21 made her feel she didn’t belong.
“I am many things: Iranian, Muslim, Canadian and a Montrealer but a Quebecker I am not. I no longer feel any pride in that.”
Francois Legault and the Coalition Avenir du Quebec and others with clear and open hostility towards visible and religious minorities in Quebec represent the worst elements of Canadian and Quebec society. A society that buys into the narrative of white victimhood and denial of a more honest history that includes everyone who contributed to the great society we have today.
In metropolitan areas like Montreal, more and more people find this attitude dangerous and even laughable and recognize that those who support it can either embrace the diversity that enriches our food and other aspects of our culture, or die with the dinosaurs. That said, let the government know their decision to appeal is a frivolous waste of Quebec tax dollars when there’s a pandemic and a housing shortage to address. The fight’s only over when we the people say it is, so keep fighting.
Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons
December 12th, 2019 was a sad day for visible minorities in Quebec. The Quebec Court of Appeal denied the application to suspend certain sections of the Laicity Act aka Bill 21 until the Superior Court decides on their constitutionality.
A lot of eyes were on the Quebec Court of Appeal in anticipation of this ruling. Some in favor of Bill 21 even tried to undermine the court by questioning the impartiality of the chief justice, Nicole Duval Hesler. Among them were historian and Dawson College professor Frédéric Bastien, who publicly argued ten days before the ruling that Hesler could not be impartial because she has spoken in favor of multiculturalism and religious accommodation.
While most people would consider Hesler an enlightened judge, her critics cried bias, going insofar to file a complaint against her with the Canadian Judicial Council, the body responsible for ensuring the quality of judicial services in Canada.
The authors of the law knew that Bill 21 could not withstand a legal challenge by an objective court. It’s why they wrote the Notwithstanding Clause into the law, and why in anticipation of the Court of Appeal’s decision, they attempted to undermine its chief justice.
Turns out the bigots were wasting their time questioning Hesler’s impartiality, for while Hesler voted to grant the appeal, she was overruled by her fellow judges. In the 2-1 decision, the court decided that the Notwithstanding Clause written into the law made suspension of articles within it impossible until the Superior Court gave their own ruling on its constitutionality.
Now let’s talk about the Court of Appeal decision.
The ruling was the outcome of an appeal of a Superior Court decision rendered on July 18, 2019. The plaintiff in this case is Ichak Nourel Hak, a student scheduled to complete her Bachelor of Education this winter. She hoped to teach high school French in Quebec, but the passing of Bill 21 last June made that impossible.
The law bans many public service employees – including teachers – from wearing religious symbols while working. Hak wears a hijab, and the law as it stands only allows existing employees who wear such symbols to keep their jobs.
New hires and people seeking a promotion would have to remove the signs of their faith in order to work. As it stands, and in spite of the teacher shortage in Quebec, many people have found their job offers rescinded or their applications denied since the enactment of Bill 21.
Hak and three other groups, among them the English Montreal School Board and the Canadian Council of Muslims, are all working to challenge the law in court, but until those challenges are heard and decided, the law remains in effect.
Hak went to the Superior Court seeking an injunction to suspend articles 6 and 8 of the Laicity law until the constitutional challenges were decided.
Article 6 prohibits certain public employees from wearing religious symbols. It also defines religious symbols as all objects, especially clothing, symbols, jewelry, accessories and headgear worn with religious conviction or belief, as well as anything that could be considered religious clothing. Article 8 requires that members or employees of public institutions carry out their duties with their faces uncovered, and that anyone wishing to receive government services must uncover their faces in order to receive them – a clear reference to the Niqab worn by some Muslim women. Though the Laicity Law is supposed to apply to everyone equally, experts agree its effects will be felt mostly by Muslim women in Quebec.
The Superior Court refused to suspend these parts of the law because of the Notwithstanding Clause written into it. The Quebec Court of Appeal maintained that decision.
So what is the Notwithstanding Clause and why can it affect a provincial court decision?
All laws in Canada, be they provincial or federal, are subject to the Constitution, which takes precedence over all other laws. Included in the Constitution is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Laws that violate the Constitution can be challenged in court, and in the case of a successful challenge, struck down. In order to avoid such challenges, governments can use the Notwithstanding Clause.
The Notwithstanding Clause is section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is written into our constitution to allow governments, provincial and federal, to enact laws that violate sections seven to fifteen of the Canadian Charter – sections referring to equality, freedom from discrimination, and the rights of the accused in criminal cases – provided they indicate within the law that it applies notwithstanding the Charter.
The Clause is not, however, the great block to legal challenges Premier François Legault makes it out to be, as it’s only valid for five years. At the end of the five year period, the National Assembly can let it expire thus opening it to new legal challenges, or they can renew it by another act of parliament.
The five-year limit allows for governments to change and in cases where a law has been struck down by the courts, it can buy governments time to keep the law in effect while they rewrite the law so that it conforms to the Charter.
Any legal challenges to the Laicity law will either have to wait for the five years to expire, or find ways around the Notwithstanding Clause to successfully challenge the law. Current challenges include, but are not limited to:
- That the law violates section 28 of the Canadian Charter guaranteeing equal treatment before the law of males and females given that the law disproportionally affects women. In the past, section 28 has only been used to interpret laws, not challenge them.
- That the law criminalizes the wearing of religious symbols in certain professions and therefore is unconstitutional on jurisdictional grounds as it was enacted by a provincial government when only the Federal government can enact criminal legislation
- The law is too vague
The Court of Appeal was not there to render a decision on the Laicity law’s merits. It was there to decide whether or not the law allowed them to suspend certain parts of the law until its merits are decided by another court.
The Court of Appeal recognized that the Laicity Law causes harm to the people it affects, especially women. It recognized that the grounds for the legal challenges – set to be heard by the Superior Court in October 2020 – have merit. It refused to suspend the law until those challenges are heard and decided, stating that the use of the Notwithstanding Clause tied their hands at this stage.
Until the actual challenges to the Laicity law are heard and decided, do not lose hope. Be an open and vocal critic of François Legault and his government and step between those using the law as an excuse to harass and assault innocent people.
Support movements like “Non à la Loi 21” and wear one of their buttons with pride. Show solidarity with Quebec’s religious minorities and laugh openly and loudly at people who defend the law as anything but the legalized bigotry it is.
The fight is not over until we say it is. So keep fighting.
Featured Image of the Quebec Court of Appeals building in Montreal by Jeangagnon via WikiMedia Commons
The Quebec Government just passed a “Quebec Values Test” requirement for prospective immigrants. It was one of Premier François Legault’s easy-to-keep campaign promises aimed squarely at the most bigoted elements of his base.
My colleague Samantha Gold will have a detailed look at the specifics and talk to some of those it actually affects in a few days. For now, just know that it’s exactly as bad as you think it is, only it’s worse.
Though passed after Bill 21, the infamous religious symbols ban, it effectively acts as a first step towards forced assimilation into white mainstream European settler culture. It also attempts to normalize the xenophobia inherent in Bill 21.
Insulting Questions That Distract
While the government hasn’t released actual questions that will be on the test, they did offer media five sample questions covering the general areas. Most of them are basic and, frankly, insulting.
There’s the one about what the official language of Quebec is. Gee, could it be the one the test is written in and also the one prospective immigrants have to take a whole other test on?
While that one may be insulting to the test taker’s intelligence, some of the others are potentially worse. Those are the ones also designed, most likely, to mollify progressive-minded people who already live here.
They ask about whether or not men and women are equal in Quebec and also if men can marry men and women marry women here. The questions ignore the reality that gender equality and LGBTQ rights might very well be the reasons behind the applicant’s desire to immigrate here in the first place.
Then there’s one about whether or not a police officer can wear a religious symbol on the job. Of course, Bill 21 goes much further than the police, but why not cherry-pick scenarios?
Coupled with the two questions I just mentioned, the intent is clear. The CAQ want to imply that a woman who chooses to wear the hijab, for example, cannot possibly be for gender equality.
At the same time, they want people to think of Bill 21 as something that actually has to do with secularism, gender equality and LGBTQ rights, when, in reality, it’s just about turning racist fears of the so-called “other” into votes. Nice try, assholes.
The final question they released, though, is really the white frosting on this cake of intolerance. It’s multiple choice:
Identify which situations involve discrimination. A job is refused:
- To a woman who is pregnant
- To a person lacking the required diploma
- To a person because of their ethnic background
While the correct answer should be that refusing a job to someone for being pregnant and/or for their ethnic background constitutes discrimination, Bill 21 really muddies the waters. It has made it not just okay, but also law, to discriminate against someone proudly displaying their ethnic and cultural background when applying for a job.
Five Better Questions
Okay, so here are five more accurate questions that the CAQ should ask:
- Are you aware that the current government of this province is actively scapegoating immigrants to appeal to their xenophobic base?
- You know French is the official language, women and men are equal and the LGBTQ community have rights, but did you know the government is using all of that to justify their bigotry?
- Did you know that this is actually Native land and the Quebec Government really should have no say in who comes here or not?
- If you do come, hockey is really a thing here and so is poutine (fries, cheese curds and gravy). So, get ready for that.
- Just fill out the “test” the way they want and then come here and help us get them removed from office.
Seriously, though, this “test” is the sort of racist BS we’ve come to expect from the CAQ. It’s sad, but it’s also what we’ve got to deal with for the next few years.
The 2019 Federal Election campaign is now underway, but before it even started officially, there were stories of the Green Party of Canada picking up support and poised for a breakthrough. This was largely at the expense of the NDP.
While I’m a card-carrying New Democrat and don’t plan on changing my vote, I’m always happy to see other progressive parties making inroads. The more the conversation veers left, the better for us all.
Unfortunately, this time, Elizabeth May’s success is fueled by a bigoted undercurrent that she and some in her party would rather the rest of us not notice. Plus some of their moves make it look like they are abandoning the left in favour of giving a coat of biodegradable green paint to some truly reprehensible stances.
Pierre Nantel’s Dubious Motives
Let’s start with Pierre Nantel. Member of Parliament for Longueuil – Saint Hubert first elected under the NDP banner as part of the Orange Wave in 2011. He announced a few weeks ago that he would finish out his term as an independent and run for re-election as a Green.
His rationale for leaving, as disseminated by the Greens to their email list (which, for some reason I’m on) is all about the environment. He didn’t cite any specific problems he had with the NDP’s environment platform, which is arguably more solid, or at worst, equally as solid, as what May and company are running on.
It’s also interesting that his concerns didn’t materialize sooner, given that getting elected as a Green was just as pie in the sky as getting elected as a New Democrat in Quebec at the start of the 2011 campaign. Guess he was just some misguided 48 year old kid who matured in the last eight years.
Or maybe, just maybe, Nantel’s defection has nothing to do with the fate of our planet, but rather what the current NDP leader wears on his head. Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh, wears a turban in keeping with his religion.
During the NDP leadership race, Nantel, aping Pauline Marois, told Radio-Canada that “ostentatious religious symbols are not compatible with power, with authority,” and that Singh’s bid for leadership doesn’t align with what Quebecers want to see from their political leaders. Sadly, Nantel’s bigoted views are what the Federal Green Party doesn’t mind seeing from its candidates.
Memo to Quebec Candidates: Try Not to Piss Off the Bigots
Bill 21, the CAQ Government’s new law that bars public sector workers from wearing religious symbols while on the job, will definitely be an issue in Quebec this election. The Greens would rather it not be.
While officially opposed to the legislation, the party has issued a directive to its Quebec candidates to avoid talking about it, if possible. Meanwhile, May has no problem with Green candidates supporting 21, a position the National Council of Canadian Muslims calls unacceptable and said so to her face.
It makes you wonder if official opposition to such a bigoted piece of legislation is worth anything if you let your candidates support it and discourage them from opposing it in the very part of the country where it actually affects people.
May’s New Brunswick Statement
Last week, we heard that 15 former NDP provincial candidates in New Brunswick had jumped ship to join the Greens. Then we heard that five of them didn’t and are quite upset their names were listed.
While this is an interesting political story, it’s also pretty standard brinkmanship and somewhat dirty politics. The part that’s relevant here is what Elizabeth May said about the possibility that racism played a part:
“Indeed, it may be a horrible reality that some people will not vote NDP because they are racist. I condemn these attitudes. But it is quite wrong to attack anyone who is disillusioned with the NDP by saying that the only reason they are disillusioned is because they are racist.”– Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May
No. No it’s not wrong to attack someone if their racism factors into their reasoning at all.
Sure, there are completely valid reasons for being disillusioned with the NDP, even hating the NDP and Singh’s leadership, but if his brown skin or turban is one of them, then you are no longer someone making a political point, you’re just a racist. And it’s always okay to attack racism.
It’s also never okay to benefit from someone else’s bigotry, even if you’re not a bigot yourself. Even if it potentially increases your seat count.
Nazis Aren’t a Distraction, They’re a Threat
And then there’s Danny Celovsky, Green Party candidate in Bay of Quinte. That’s where, earlier this year, a man raised a Nazi flag over his property and Celovsky decided to try and stop a Twitter discussion and condemnation, arguing that fascism and even Nazism were distractions from the only real issue: climate change.
One part in particular was telling:
“I disavow the stupid fascist freaks called Nazis. Put them in jail. Covered? Now … let’s start solving the problems my kids futures face.”Danny Celovsky, Green Party of Canada candidate, Port Quinte ON, Twitter, May 18, 2019
His kids’ futures. What about the futures of the children who aren’t so white and Christian. Climate change is a real threat to them, too, but so are Nazis.
Imagine if AOC or Bernie or any of the other proponents of the Green New Deal south of the border, people who have called climate change the greatest threat of our time repeatedly, came out and said that what happened in Charlottesville and the kids in cages on the southern US border with Mexico are distractions. It would never happen, because while their environmental bona fides are beyond reproach, so is their commitment to social justice.
That’s what a real alternative from the left needs to be. Climate justice and social justice go hand in hand.
Not Left. Not Right. So, By Default, Right
At this point, you might be expecting me to say something like: “The Greens aren’t real progressives. They’re just neoliberals playing to the left to get votes!” Well, that’s not what I’m going to say.
Our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a neoliberal who likes to play to the left during elections to get votes if there ever was one, is clear in his opposition to Bill 21 and I can’t imagine him allowing anyone who thinks the rise of fascism and Nazism is a mere distraction to run, or continue to run for his party.
The Green Party slogan this election cycle is “Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together” and it’s a recipe for disaster. If you say “Not Racist. Not Anti-Racist.” you are essentially saying that racism is okay.
To illustrate this problem, let’s turn to another topic:
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently had to stress that his party would not re-open the abortion debate despite allowing individual members to try. Elizabeth May, meanwhile, said that despite the party’s official pro-choice stance, she wouldn’t stop anti-choice MPs from trying to open the debate.
Her party corrected her and she changed her tune later that same day, but if your party needs to issue a statement to correct the perception that you are to the right of Andrew Scheer, then you have a serious problem.
No matter how important the one issue you care about is (and the future of the planet is of paramount importance), you can’t ignore the rest. It’s not a distraction.
If Maxime Bernier woke up tomorrow and declared that he had been visited by three very white spirits and now believes that we need to stop climate change (dude’s loopy, could happen), he would still be a racist asshole. And, at this point, one I fear Elizabeth May would welcome to the cause.
Not All Greens
It’s important to note that quite a few people involved with and running for the Green Party are truly trying to be a progressive alternative to the mainstream political parties in Canada. In particular, I know that the Green Party of Quebec isn’t trying to bank on or ignore bigotry to get votes.
I also realize that a provincial party distancing itself from its national counterpart is risky. So is a federal candidate standing against their party’s leader on a particular point, while arguing for them to be Prime Minister because of a bunch of other points.
So I’m not calling on Green candidates and provincial parties to disavow their federal leader. I am, however, calling on potential Green voters to realize just who the leader is welcoming into the fold. And I’m calling on Elizabeth May and the federal Green leadership to, excuse the language, get their fucking shit together quickly.
People, myself included, have frequently warned the NDP against becoming Liberal lite. I never thought I’d have to warn the Green Party against becoming an eco-friendly version of the far right.
I really didn’t want to start this election campaign railing against the Green Party and I truly hope I don’t end it that way. Greenwashing bigotry is not how you save the planet, it’s how you marginalize yourself with voters who may otherwise rush to support you.
Featured image via CPAC
I had high hopes for the mayor of Montreal. I thought that in all the discourse about Bill 21, Mayor Valérie Plante, the leader of Quebec’s most multicultural city, would take a stand against it.
Instead, despite evidence that applying the law will only hurt Muslim women and prevent the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh people of Montreal from participating fully in our democracy, Mayor Plante has publicly stated that despite her objections to it, she will uphold Bill 21.
I have therefore drafted an open letter to our Mayor in both official languages which you can read below. You can add your voice to mine on change.org and I encourage everyone opposed to this law and the Mayor’s stance on it to send it to City Hall via their contact portal.
Dear Mayor Valérie Plante,
As a citizen of Montreal, I was overjoyed to see that we had finally elected a female mayor. I thought that as a woman elected to head the most multicultural city in Quebec, you would do what is necessary to stand up for the people you were chosen to lead. It is therefore disappointing to see that you have publicly stated that while you disagree with Bill 21, you will enforce and uphold it.
I understand that your position is difficult. As a woman in politics you are under greater scrutiny than your male peers, and as leader of our City you feel obligated to uphold the law. But history does not remember those who enforced unjust laws while wringing their hands in supposed discomfort. History remembers those who stood up in the face of them and said NO.
According to a 2011 study by Statistics Canada, 5.6% of Montrealers are Jewish and 9.6% are Muslim. Another 1.3% of the city’s populations are Hindus and Sikhs. All of these people will be affected by this law and thus denied a chance to assimilate and participate fully in our democracy. In these troubled times, they turned to you for guidance and in response you have turned your back on them. We therefore implore you to reconsider your position and prove yourself to be the leader we know you can be.
Stand up and say the City of Montreal cannot and will not enforce Bill 21.
We are counting on you.
Featured Image: Painting by Samantha Gold
Hosts Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney talk about Bill 21, Quebec’s proposed Religious Symbol Ban, with special guest Samantha Gold
Also: News Roundup, Survey Says, Dear FTB, Things You Did Not Know (Maybe) and Predictions!
Recorded April 13, 2019 in Montreal
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Hosts: Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney
Special Guest: Samantha Gold, Forget the Box Legal Columnist and Montreal-based artist
Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons
Lately, talk in Quebec political circles has focused on the CAQ Government’s proposed law 21. Currently a bill before the National Assembly, it is better known as the Religious Symbol Ban.
In a nutshell, it bars people considered to be public servants, such as teachers, bus drivers, nurses and police officers, from wearing religious symbols while on the job. This includes hijabs, kippahs, turbans and, what some may erroneously think is the only item banned, the Niqab.
For a comprehensive breakdown of what Bill 21 entails, please read Samantha Gold’s report.
Despite mounting vocal opposition, Premier François Legault points to polls to argue that the public is with him. So, we’ve decided to make our own poll, or rather a survey.
Why a survey? Because just one question doesn’t really show how much people understand, are personally affected by or care about the issue.
We will announce the results on our podcast this coming Saturday, so you have about a week and it only takes a minute or two.
Here it is:
Featured Image: Quebecois, a painting by Samantha Gold
Canada is a secular society, but we are a society that has recognized that secular laws and practices can coexist with many people’s religious beliefs and expressions. It is why in Montreal, for example, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and seculars live together in relative harmony. If Quebec Premier François Legault gets his way, this might all change.
Legault and his Coalition Avenir du Quebec party ran on a platform of promising to bar people who wear religious symbols from positions of authority in the province. They are attempting to do this with Bill 21.
This article is not going to discuss how the CAQ is so clearly pandering to the most disgustingly racist, xenophobic members of Quebec society. It is not going to talk about how the Bill represents the longstanding dispute between welcoming, diverse, multicultural Montreal and the rest of Quebec.
This article is going to talk about what Bill 21 actually contains and the very real fallout for the Quebecois affected if the bill passes. For the purposes of this article, “Quebecois” means anyone living in Quebec (and not just people descended from the original French settlers).
Bill 21 contains important changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, a quasi-constitutional law enacted in the 70s that contains some of Quebec’s strongest protections against discrimination. As the Quebec Charter is only quasi-constitutional, it can be changed by a simple act by the National Assembly.
Bill 21 changes section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter from:
“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.Section 9.1 Quebec Charter of Human Rights, current text
“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.”Proposed version of Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights
The change thus creates an obligation among citizens to have respect for democratic values, state secularism, public order etc. in the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Quebec Charter. It does not, however, abolish section 10 of the Quebec Charter which states that:
“Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”Section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights
The Charter also forbids discrimination in “the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” based on the aforementioned grounds. As these sections of the Quebec Charter remain on the books, any institutions that enforce Bill 21 could find themselves open to legal action under said Charter which also states victims’ rights in such cases:
“Any unlawful interference with any right or freedom recognized by this Charter entitles the victim to obtain the cessation of such interference and compensation for the moral or material prejudice resulting therefrom. In case of unlawful and intentional interference, the tribunal may, in addition, condemn the person guilty of it to punitive damages.”Quebec Charter of Human Rights
Matt Aronson, a lawyer in Montreal says that “if a state funded institution practices discrimination as an employer, causing damages to a citizen, it’s possible that not only could a citizen sue to have the discrimination stopped, they may even be able to sue for punitive damages. Now, there is a section of the Quebec Charter that allows for rights and freedoms to be limited in scope by laws, but that would be a fairly difficult retort to state sanctioned discrimination.”
As a result, the government can and will find itself open to costly lawsuits if Bill 21 passes as increasing numbers of people have publicly committed to fighting back.. The English Montreal School Board, for example, has publicly stated that they will not enforce the Bill, and a public protest in scheduled on Sunday, April 7th, in Montreal.
True to Legault’s election promise, Bill 21 bars government employees from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions. This is the list of employees who will be affected – I am including the full list so people fully understand how many will be hurt if this law passes:
- Judges, clerks, deputy clerks, and sheriffs
- Members of the Comité de déontologie policiere – the group responsible for holding police to account for misconduct
- Members of the Commission de la fonction publique
- Members of the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole
- Members of the Commission des transports du Quebec
- Members of the Commission Municipale
- Members of the Commission quebecoise des liberations conditionelles
- Employees of the Regie de l’energie
- Employees of the Regie d’alcools, courses, et jeux
- Employees of the Regie des marche agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec
- Employees of the Regie du batiment du Quebec
- Employees of the Regie du Logement
- Members of the Financial Markets Administrative Labour Tribunal
- Members of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec
- Chairs of the Disciplinary Council
- Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions and lawyers and notaries working for said commissioners
- Arbitrators appointed by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
- The Quebec Justice Minister and Attorney General
- The Director of penal prosecutions
- Lawyers, notaries, and penal prosecuting attorneys
- Peace officers who exercise their functions mainly in Quebec
- Principals, vice principals, and teachers of educational institutions under the jurisdiction of the school boards
It must be noted that the law does contain a grandfather clause allowing all current employees wearing religious symbols to keep their current jobs. That said, anyone hoping for advancement would have to choose between their faith and a promotion to even be considered a candidate for one.
In addition to barring people wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 also demands that some government employees keep their faces uncovered in the exercise of their functions, a provision clearly meant to exclude women who choose to wear the niqab. Those affected include:
- Members of the National Assembly (MNAs)
- Elected Municipal officers except in certain Indigenous communities
- Personnel of elected officers
- Personnel of MNAs
- Personnel of the Lieutenant Governor
- Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions
- Persons appointed by the government to exercise a function within the administrative branch including arbitrators whose name appears on a list drawn up by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
- Peace officers who work mainly in Quebec
- Physicians, dentists, and midwives
- Persons recognized as home childcare providers
- Anyone else designated by the National Assembly
- Employees of government departments
- Any bodies receiving government funds
- People and bodies appointed in accordance with the Public Service Act
- Employees of municipalities, metropolitan communities, and intermunicipal boards, and municipal and regional housing bureaus with the exception of some in Indigenous communities
- Employees of Public Transit Authorities
- Employees of school boards established under the Education Act
- Employees of public institutions governed by the Act respecting health services and social services
- Employees of bodies in which most of the members are appointed by the National Assembly
- Institutions accredited under the act respecting the Ministere des Relations Internationales
- Private family-type resources governed by the Act Respecting Health Services
In addition to barring certain government employees from having their face covered in the exercise of their functions, the law also requires certain people to show their faces in order to receive government services “where doing so is necessary to allow their identity for security reasons.”
The law does make an exception where the face is covered for health reasons, a handicap, or requirements tied to their job. The law also says that there will be “no accommodation or derogation or adaptation,” which means there are no exceptions anywhere.
Bill 21 not only alters the Quebec Charter of Human Rights to exonerate the government from open acts of discrimination, it also applies the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to bypass articles 2 and articles 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply by including in a discriminatory law an article stating that said law applies notwithstanding the Charter.
Articles 2 of the Canadian Charter deal with fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion, and articles 7 to 15 deal with legal rights including the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, equal treatment before the law, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Article 30 of Bill 21 states that it applies notwithstanding these articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the Notwithstanding clause has a failsafe in it requiring the government to renew the law in five years or open itself to legal challenges when that time expires.
That said, all hope is not lost. The law is currently tabled, meaning that the National Assembly has begun to consider it. It has not, as of the publication of this article, passed.
That means there is still time to resist. If you value our province’s protections against discrimination, contact your members of the National Assembly and pressure them as you never have before.
Point out that Quebec has a labour shortage and alienating and barring people won’t work to solve it. Tell them that the scores lawsuits they’ll face will be more expensive than any benefit they hope to gain if the Bill passes.
Tell them that if they want a truly secular state, all towns and streets and institutions bearing the names of Catholic saints should be changed immediately. Let them know how ridiculous their position is.
The fight is only over if we the people give up, so keep fighting.
Featured Image: Screengrab of François Legault defending Bill 21 in a Facebook video