Montreal

Quebec's attempt to gather info on what teachers wear violated charter rights, union says

A labour federation representing Quebec public school teachers is taking legal action against the provincial government for trying to track how many teachers wear a religious symbol such as a hijab or kippa.

'When there is rule of law in Canada, you should not have to choose between your faith and your job,' FAE says

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette is the point person for the CAQ's religious neutrality bill, expected to be tabled Thursday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

A labour federation representing Quebec teachers is taking legal action against the provincial government for its attempt to track how many teachers wear a religious symbol such as a hijab or kippa.

The Fédération autonome de l'Enseignement (FAE), which represents 43,000 teachers in the public school system, argues in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the move violated Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

The government tried twice to collect that information — once under the CAQ, in January 2019, and once under for the former Liberal government, in June 2018, the FAE said.

"When there is rule of law in Canada, you should not have to choose between your faith and your job," said Rémi Bourget, a lawyer for the FAE.

"We ask that these requests be considered unconstitutional and that all the information gathered be destroyed."

CAQ poised to table bill

The filing comes as the Coalition Avenir Québec government prepares to table a bill as soon as Thursday that would ban public workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.

Teachers, as well as school principals, would be subject to the ban, sources have told Radio-Canada. 

It would also apply to lawyers, judges, police officers, courthouse constables, bodyguards, prison guards and wildlife officers.

According to Radio-Canada, the proposed legislation will contain a grandfather clause to allow an estimated 500 public sector workers to keep wearing their religious symbols.

However, Bourget said such a grandfather clause would merely shift the discrimination from practising teachers to those hoping to one day work in the classroom.

Quebec's Superior Court must decide whether it will hear the FAE's legal challenge. Bourget said it's too soon to say whether the legal challenge will affect the CAQ's proposed law.

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