PSAC backs constitutional challenge to Quebec’s ban on religious symbols

PSAC has filed an application to intervene in the constitutional challenge against Quebec’s discriminatory religious symbols legislation, Bill 21, which infringes on the human rights of PSAC members and Quebec public service workers. 

The Laicity Act bars public school teachers and many government civil servants and staff at arms’ length government agencies from wearing religious symbols – like hijabs and turbans – while at work. The law also requires anyone delivering or receiving a provincial public service to uncover their faces for identification purposes. 

If granted, PSAC’s application, filed June 5, will allow PSAC to support a Quebec trade union and civil liberties organizations challenging the legislation before the Quebec Superior Court. 

Legislation that requires individuals to remove their religious garment or symbols (e.g. hijab, kippa, turban, crucifixes, etc.) is unconstitutional and discriminatory on the basis of religion, race and gender. Furthermore, a ban on religious garments disproportionately affects Muslim women, and sets a dangerous precedent in which a government can dictate what a woman can or cannot wear. 

PSAC is arguing that the Act violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, and that the use of the notwithstanding clause – which the government used in an attempt to shield the legislation from inevitable court challenges – does not comply with requirements set out in the charters. It is also a serious and unjustifiable breach of fundamental freedom of association rights since it has resulted in changes to collective agreement rights without any consultation or consent from public sector unions. 

Thousands of PSAC members impacted 

Although the law doesn’t directly impact federal agencies or departments in Quebec, PSAC represents more than 21,000 members in the university sector and hundreds of researchers covered by the legislation. In addition, all public service workers in Quebec will likely be impacted, since the general public cannot always distinguish between public service workers employed by the federal government and those working for the province. 

It is imperative that Bill 21 is repealed to stop the erosion of important human rights and freedoms. PSAC will continue to fight discrimination and racism in all its forms.


June 9, 2020