The Quebec Superior Court has recently ruled on Bill 21, the Act respecting the laicity (secularism) of the State. Bill 21 bans public school teachers, judges, police officers and other public service workers from wearing religious symbols – like the hijab, kippah and turban – while at work. PSAC was an intervening party in this dispute, one of two unions to join the legal challenge.
It is important to note that the Court recognized the fact that Bill 21 has a disproportionately negative impact on Muslim women and racialized communities. The Bill perpetuates the racist narrative that people who wear religious symbols are not full-fledged members of Quebec society and sets a dangerous precedent about what women can and cannot wear. This Bill not only prevents full participation in the public institutions, it also forces workers to choose between their religious values and their jobs.
In its recent ruling, the Court indicated that the use of notwithstanding clauses prevents it from nullifying Bill 21 on the basis of violation of freedom of religion, conscience, expression and association or the right to equality, among other things. However, the Court finds that this Bill does not apply to those elected to the National Assembly. It further found that Bill 21 did not apply to the Quebec English school boards because the notwithstanding clause did not apply to the minority language education rights under the Charter.
In Quebec, PSAC represents more than 21,000 members in the university sector, as well as hundreds of researchers covered by this legislation. Although it doesn’t directly impact federal agencies or departments in Quebec, these workers may be mistaken by members of the public as provincial workers and may be subject to harassment and discrimination. It is imperative that Bill 21 be repealed to stop the erosion of important human rights and freedoms.
This judgment is the first step in a long legal battle. Both the Quebec government and the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement have already announced that they intend to appeal the judgment on opposing sides of the argument.
PSAC will continue to fight discrimination and racism in all its forms.