Civil rights groups want to challenge Quebec religious symbols ban in Supreme Court

Civil rights groups say Quebec's controversial secularism law is causing "serious and irreparable harm," and they will seek to take their case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Appeals Court last week rejected request for injunction on sections of Bill 21

Members of the National Council of Muslims Mustafa Farooq, centre, and Bochra Manai, left, alongside supporters are seen leaving the Quebec Court of Appeal, where they challenged Bill 21 earlier this year. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Civil rights groups challenging Quebec's controversial ban on religious symbols want to take their case to Canada's top court.

Quebec's Court of Appeal last week rejected a request to suspend portions of the law, known as Bill 21, pending a ruling on its constitutionality.

In a statement Wednesday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, along with plaintiff Ichrak Nourel Hak, said they will seek permission to appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.

"We told Quebecers and Canadians that we would not stop our work until this unjust law has been defeated," said Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the NCCM.

"While teachers and other public sector workers are being forced out of their jobs, we will seek leave from the SCC to halt the serious and irreparable harm that Bill 21 causes."

In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court said last Thursday the law should be allowed to stand until the challenges are heard in Quebec Superior Court. 

All three justices, however, said there is evidence the law is causing harm to Quebecers who wear religious symbols. 

The law is being challenged in four separate lawsuits, three of which are expected to be heard together in October 2020.

It bans public school teachers, government lawyers and police officers, among other civil servants, from wearing religious symbols at work.

Premier François Legault has argued the law protects secularism in Quebec and will put an end to long-running debates about how to accommodate minority cultural practices.

Legault has repeatedly told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to stay out of the legal battle.

"I can understand that he's against Bill 21, but I'm asking him to respect a decision that has been taken by a majority of Quebecers, by a nation,'' he said last week.

Trudeau hasn't ruled out the possibility of federal intervention in the case but has so far stayed on the sidelines.

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler is a journalist with CBC Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.


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