| 15 April 2024, Monday |

Canada court voids part of disputed Quebec law on religious symbols

A Canadian court on Tuesday struck down part of a disputed Quebec law against public employees wearing religious symbols, removing limits on some teachers and provincial politicians 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 police officers, from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans on the job.

Multiple lawsuits have challenged the law, calling it discriminatory and unconstitutional. Several Muslim women said they were refused teaching jobs because they wore a head scarf, or hijab.

Legal experts predict the Quebec Superior Court ruling will be appealed to Canada’s Supreme Court.

The law was passed by the province’s ruling center-right Coalition Avenir Quebec although other governments had been trying for years to impose such restrictions.

Canadian Justice Minister David Lametti said the federal government was reviewing the decision.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear in 2019 that he opposed the law but has not mentioned it since. The case is sensitive for the ruling Liberals since Quebec will be of critical importance in an election expected later this year.

Under the ruling, the ban does not apply to teachers or administrators in Quebec’s minority English-language school boards since they hold special rights over education 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. “We are elated.”

The ban also exempts elected members of Quebec’s provincial parliament since “the charter gives everyone the right to run and to vote,” said constitutional lawyer Julius Grey.

A March 2021 Leger survey said a majority of Quebecers favored a public ban on the wearing of religious symbols.

  • Reuters