PSAC disappointed Court of Appeal upholds Quebec’s secularism law

PSAC is disappointed by the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold Quebec’s Loi sur la laïcité de l'État (Bill 21) which prevents the province’s public service workers from wearing religious symbols while on the job. 

The law infringes on workers’ fundamental rights of freedom of religion and expression, the right to equality and freedom of association. 

The Court of Appeal’s decision quashes a previous ruling of the Quebec Superior Court, which had exempted English schools from certain provisions of the law, and which would have allowed these schools to employ teachers wearing religious symbols such as head coverings while at work. 

“We are deeply disappointed by the Court of Appeal’s judgment on Bill 21. This decision will continue to disproportionately impact Muslim women, members of the Sikh community, and other marginalized workers in the public service,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC National President. “We will continue to fight this unconstitutional law at the Supreme Court and defend the human rights of all workers." 

In its challenge to the Act, PSAC presented arguments based primarily on the infringement of fundamental rights. One of the main sticking points for PSAC and other human rights advocates is the use of the notwithstanding clauses to override fundamental rights and freedoms. The Court of Appeal refused to depart from previous jurisprudence and did not review the conditions for use of the notwithstanding clause. As a result, the Quebec government’s use of the clause has served to hinder any fulsome attempt to highlight human rights violations and the unconstitutionality of the law. 

The Quebec government’s use of the notwithstanding clause to isolate their actions from full Charter scrutiny is deeply worrying. Recently, we have seen a dangerous pattern of governments taking this course of action to override fundamental workers’ rights. PSAC criticized the use of this tactic by the Ford government in Ontario when it passed legislation forcing education support staff back to work in 2022.   

PSAC has always been at the forefront of efforts to promote human rights and build safer and more inclusive workplaces. We intend to continue to challenge the Act. If the Supreme Court of Canada accepts to hear the appeal in this case, PSAC will seek leave to intervene before the Court and argue against the constitutionality of this law. 



March 1, 2024