National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) on Monday filed a legal challenge
in the Quebec Superior Court to stay the application of Quebec’s Bill 21: An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State (Bill 21). The bill was passed into law late Sunday evening by the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ).
The NCCM and CCLA lawsuit challenges the validity of the new law, contending that it is unconstitutional and will cause irreparable harm to religious minorities. It is expected the stay application will be heard in court on Thursday, June 20.
The plaintiffs in the case also include Ichrak Nourel Hak, an education student who wears the hijab.
“The decision to wear a hijab was mine and came from me. The decision to remove it should also come from me, not the government. This law has stripped me of my dream and sends me a clear message that I am not a valued part of Quebec society. All my years of studying, all my efforts to be among the best teachers in Quebec went up in smoke in a snap. Being a hearing-impaired woman, I had to work far more than all my colleagues to get where I am today. However, this law has just cut off my wings,” said Hak.
Bill 21 bans people who wear religious symbols from holding a variety of public sector jobs, including as teachers, police officers and prosecutors. The law will most seriously curtail the freedoms of Muslim women who wear the hijab, Jews who wear the Kippa, and Sikhs who wear turbans.
“As of last night, the Quebec government has legalized religious discrimination – and we won’t stand for it. This shameful law is a black mark on the progressive and inclusive province that we know Quebec to be. It will upend people’s lives and livelihoods, pushing many Muslims, Jews and Sikhs to the margins of society in an already-tense time when Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are on the rise. That is why we will be taking immediate legal action to prevent state-sanctioned second class citizenship,” said NCCM’s Executive Director, Mustafa Farooq.
“Equality and freedom of religion are universally recognized human rights, and foundational principles in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. A law that picks on the most visible of minority groups (many of them racialized and newcomers); that harms women in particular; and that fosters an environment of intolerance and division has no place in a society that values equality and freedom. This is why we are fighting the law in court, and why we stand with those who oppose it,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Equality Director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The plaintiffs are represented by Catherine McKenzie and Olga Redko of the litigation firm IMK LLP of Montreal.