| 12 April 2024, Friday |

Canada court strikes down part of controversial Quebec law on religious symbols

A Canadian court on Tuesday struck down part of a controversial Quebec law banning public employees from wearing religious symbols, removing limits on some teachers but maintaining the ban for police officers, judges and other civil servants.

The 2019 law, which the Quebec government said was designed to preserve secularism in the mainly French-speaking province, prohibits many civil servants, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans on the job.

The decision by Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-André Blanchard says the ban is invalid for minority English-language school boards in the province since they have special standing under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“It means that we can now hire any qualified teacher to work in our system regardless of whether they choose to wear a religious symbol,” said Joe Ortona, chair of the English Montreal School Board (EMBS). “We are elated.”

The law was passed by Quebec’s current centre-right government, which took office in 2018, although provincial governments have been trying for years to impose such restrictions.

Like France, which passed a ban on veils, crosses and other religious symbols in schools in 2004, Quebec has struggled at times to reconcile its secular identity with a growing Muslim population, many of them North African emigrants.

Multiple lawsuits have challenged the law for being discriminatory and unconstitutional, with civil liberties and Muslim groups arguing it triggered “politics of fear” against religious minorities.

Several Muslim women have claimed they were refused teaching jobs because they wear a headscarf, or hijab.

  • Reuters