Politics

Singh says he'd 'have to' look at Bill 21 as PM if it goes to Supreme Court

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says that as prime minister, he would have to get involved in Quebec’s controversial secularism law if it makes it all the way up to the Supreme Court. But says he has no plans to intervene until then.

'I don't believe in interfering with the court decision right now,' says Singh

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to media following the English-language debate at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. on Monday, October 7, 2019. (Chris Wattie/Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said today that, if he's elected prime minister, he'd have to get involved in Quebec's controversial secularism law if it makes it all the way up to the Supreme Court.

He also said this morning that he has no plans to intervene until then.

"One thing I want to make really clear is I don't believe in interfering with the court decision right now," Singh said Tuesday morning when pressed by reporters to clarify what appeared to be a shift in his stance.

"This is just a repetition of facts. When there is something that ends up in front of the Supreme Court, the government has the right to review what is going on. My position has not changed."

Campaigning in Toronto, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh fielded more questions about his approach to Quebec's controversial religious symbols law, Bill 21. 0:52

During last night's English leaders' debate, Singh was asked if he was letting Canadians down by not taking a stronger stand on the controversial Quebec law — often referred to simply as Bill 21 — which bans certain public servants from wearing religious symbols at work.

In the post-debate scrum, the New Democrat leader said he would have to look at the law if it ends up being appealed before Canada's top court.

Taking questions from reporters Monday following the English language debate, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that if he’s elected prime minister, he'll have to get involved in the debate over Bill 21 if it makes it all the way up to the Supreme Court. 1:09

"There's been no prevaricating," Singh said this morning, insisting he's fighting the law in the court of public opinion in Quebec.

"I think about growing up and being told that I couldn't be what I wanted because [of] the way I looked, and I know many people were told that they could not advance in their careers because of who they are. And now we've got a law that basically tells people exactly that," he said.

 "I'm going to Quebec on a regular basis, using my platform to say, 'Hey, this is not the way to go forward.'" 

Leaders clash on Bill 21 

The federal party leaders have been grilled on the campaign trail about whether they'd challenge the law in court.

Last night, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he was disappointed by Singh's decision to not leave the door open to a federal court challenge.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks about his battle against discrimination after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau challenges him to say he'll intervene on Quebec's secularism law. 1:15

"Yes it's awkward politically, because as [Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois] Blanchet says, [Bill 21] is very popular [in Quebec]," Trudeau said. "But I am the only one on this stage who has said, 'Yes, a federal government might have to intervene on this.'"

Speaking to reporters in Nunavut Tuesday, Trudeau said he's the only federal leader who has taken a clear stand on the issue, in both of the country's official languages.

Still, the Liberal leader — like Singh — has so far refused to intervene in an ongoing court challenge to try to stop a law that has been widely condemned in English Canada as discriminatory.

"Quebecers have taken their government to court because they feel that law limits their fundamental freedoms. I have committed to not engage in this particular process, but I have not ruled out the federal government weighing in at a later date on this issue," Trudeau said.

"The federal government cannot ever rule out the need to stand up for fundamental freedoms, whether it's linguistic rights, whether it's diversity rights, LGBT rights, women's rights or the rights of religious minorities."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau arrives for a campaign event in Iqaluit, Nunavut. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Quebec nationalists maintain the law will protect the neutrality of the Quebec state.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also has said he opposes the law, but is leaving it up to Quebec legislators to decide on the matter.

Speaking at a transit announcement in Markham Tuesday, Scheer said a Conservative government led by him would not try to overrule the will of the Quebec assembly through a legal intervention.

With files from the CBC's John Paul Tasker

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